Thursday, September 27, 2012

NFL Thursday: The Unmushable matchup

If you tuned in either of the last two weeks you witnessed the birth of an anti-prophet.
In picking huge offensive outputs from both the Bears and the Panthers (among other ridiculous prognostications) I have set myself up in the comfortable position of being a so wrong my information is invaluable

Unfortunately tonight's game features the Ravens against the Browns in what is a game even a mush of my pedigree can't screw up. Let's cut to the stats of this year's Art Modell Bowl:

  • John Harbaugh is 8-0 against the Browns - advantage Ravens
  • Browns' Defense is giving up 269 yards per game through the air - advantage Ravens
  • Browns have lost 9 straight games dating to last season - advantage Ravens
  • Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith > Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Greg Little - advantage Ravens
  • Ravens are at home - advantage Ravens
  • Browns' corner Joe Haden suspended until mid Oct. - advantage Ravens

In fact the only discernible advantage the Browns have is that I am picking the Ravens to win big. I'm envisioning Flacco airing the ball out early and often to Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. I see Ray Rice rushing for for 150 yards. I see touchdowns everywhere. I see Ray Lewis gnawing on one of Weeden's severed limbs. The whole thing is much closer to a scene from Braveheart than an NFL game.

So there you have it, in a game featuring an unstoppable force facing a very movable object I'm picking the unstoppable force. Now let's see what karma can do with that one. If the Browns even come close and the final score is 10-6 then I'm going to have to register my psychic powers with the Alliance of Magicians.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday Hangover: What if you catch the guy who catches the pass?

We know what REALLY went down.

Football! Yeah! The game that America deserves.

Violent? Check.

Big Business that rakes in money and crushes opposition? Check.

Oversight on product has diminished to levels that would appall even Ayn Rand? Check.

I honestly don't know where to begin. My own personal favorite moment of the week was watching my karma finally get right when, after struggling over whether to start or sit Jamaal Charles or Stevan Ridley, I finally made a good choice. The result of that choice: just about the single best one-player performance a guy on my team has had in probably 5 years. And even better, the rest of my team didn't completely collapse around him (except the Lions D I picked up b/c they were matching up with the Titans - gah) and I ended up going 3-1 for the week. This feels like a major success since my teams have followed a very Chargers-like template, start 0-3 then when I'm basically forgotten about I'll string together 5 or 6 wins and make the playoffs in half my leagues, finish in the money in one. It's no way to get ahead in life.

Of course this week the topic isn't so much the playing of football as it is the officiating of football. I should mention here that I hate the Seahawks, so I have a very hard time celebrating any success they have. But in this case I'm willing to get on board since the last minute mangling of that game's outcome was probably the only thing that was going to hasten the return of Ed Hochuli's pipes. You see, if that officiating squad - who destroyed calls on both sides of the ball all game long - had somehow gotten that last one right, at least one of the Mikes, and half of the rest of the radioheads would have been playing the "got the right outcome" card they love so much. Fortunately, in a final, literal, definitive game-altering moment the refs publicly messed themselves. One says TD, the other says turnover, the wrong one wins and we cut to Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson bouncing around like little kids who broke the cookie jar then let their brother take the beating. In this Family Circle analogy a rage-filled Mike McCarthy is the kid wrongly getting whipped. This is this the kind of injustice that makes high school kids go Goth. I guarantee Aaron Rodgers listened to Joy Division on his iPod all the way home.

This week's wrap is brought to you by delicious beer.

Non-Alcoholic Beer
Lions @ Titans - Could things have gotten more jacked up in that game? For 3 quarters one of the best offenses in the league gets tied to a tree and beaten by one of the worst defenses. The Titans, after scoring a grand total of 23 points in two losses, drop 44 on the anemic Lions D. But the best part is Chris Johnson owners who checked in late, saw the score and said "finally" only to be completely devastated when they realized their guy was a total non-factor. Someone in the office told me that CJ was due - but I knew they were wrong and I benched him. I'll start him in week 6 when he's actually due. CJ2K is like a fine wine, you have to let him breathe for 6 or 7 weeks before you can enjoy him - said no one ever.

Jason Witten - Who knew spleens were so integral a component to hand-eye coordination?

Michael Vick - On the upside he didn't throw any interceptions. On the downside he fumbled the ball twice and spent more time sprawled on the ground than a bearskin rug from the 1970s. I'd like to blame the O-line, but Vick holds on to the ball longer than I hold on to the remote control. If any player is going to die on the field this year, it's going to be him.

Rob Gronkowski - Hooking up with a porn star is one thing. Having your social life revolve around them might skew your focus from football. Just sayin'

Light Beer 
DeMarco Murray - Either Murray is a barometer for the Cowboys, or vice versa, either way, what started hot has become much less hot. Maybe even luke warm, bordering on cool. Did you know that the NFC West is currently 3-0 against the "powerhouse" NFC East? Yeah, I know.

Roddy & Julio -  Speaking of the 70s, they sound like the name of a great Vegas lounge act from that era. What they look like is a couple of guys not tearing it up this week. WRs always have reliability issues and sometimes a 10-15 point game is good enough. But the more we talk about the Falcons as one of the best teams int he NFC, the more we want dominating performances.

C.J. Spiller - Welcome back to earth bud.  Might I add, perfect timing for that sprain. Congratulations to my good friend Coach Hicks who kept Spiller's 28 and 34-point performances on the bench then started him the week he busts out with 12 points. Couldn't happen to a more hirsute fellow.

Stout Beer
Jamaal Charles - I believe that nearly 300 yards in total offense and a TD takes the cake for command performance so far this season. The best part is that Charles says after breaking off that 91-yard TD scamper he no longer feels timid about his knee. Seriously, if Stevan Ridley had been playing anyone BUT the Ravens I would have benched Charles. Then I would have lost my game. I would have cried myself to sleep. And I might have been too depressed to come in to work today. I'd probably just have given up on fantasy football altogether. Thank you Jamaal for restoring my faith.

Torrey Smith - When he caught that TD and the flag came fluttering in - there was seriously not one part of my brain that didn't just KNOW it was getting picked up. I mean, it was a TD regardless so it was easy to have confidence, but still. I was poised to substitute Randall Cobb for Smith on the chance Smith's grief over his brother's death was going to keep him from the game. But when it was announced he was playing you kinda knew he was going to get in the end zone. This type of live action movement also illustrates why playing fantasy football from Afghanistan is difficult. A guy in one of my leagues is a contractor over there and naturally he left Torrey on the bench - probably because he wasn't able to react in time, either that or the Taliban has taken over his account. They really could only improve his team.

Andy Dalton - How many Dalton owners flat out dropped him after the Ravens game in week 1? Did those folks miss out on two straight monster games from the Bengals' 2nd year guy? Yes, yes they did. Two 33 point performances later and Dalton is the 8th best fantasy QB ahead of Flacco, Stafford, Romo, Cam, and Rodgers. Discount-double check that, Aaron.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hindsight Friday: The Panthers stink, and so do I

The good news today is that I now have a name for my Thursday column: The Mush Zone. Or Thursday Mush. Or, I don't know, something that communicates quickly that whatever I write on Thursday should not just be discounted, but completely reversed.
Let's see, how'd I do yesterday?

1) The Panthers are due for an offensive explosion with DeAngelo and Cam leading the way. 
Result: Opposite. The one bit of fantasy enjoyment I got out of last night's game was that the guy who owns Cam Newton in my keeper league has been busting my stones about owning Mike Vick for years now. On the downside it'll take more than a slumping QB to shut that guy up.

2) Bench the defenses for this high scoring game.
Result: Pretty much opposite. I mean, you weren't going to start the Panthers D no matter what. Giants D? 3 picks, fumble recovery, 2 sacks in what was practically a shutout? Yeah, opposite.

3) Eli is unreliable and can't be counted on for back-to-back big games.
Result: This is trickier, Eli played a solid NFL game, but his fantasy numbers were fairly pedestrian, so not really opposite, but not really correct either.

4) Start Brandon LaFell and Victor Cruz.
Result: Opposite. Starting Andre Brown and Ramses Barden? Now that would have been brilliant. But since I thought Ramses Barden was an Iron Chef or something, it didn't occur to me to mention him. And who knew Ahmad Bradshaw could be replaced by just any ole guy you have hanging around the locker room?

Like I said, Mush City. I'd feel a little worse about cursing the Panthers with my bad karma if Carolina didn't play like a bunch of Pop Warner rejects getting whipped around their home field by an injury-riddled Giants team. Sheesh.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

NFL Thursday: In which I try not to mush the Panthers

Tonight the big tent rolls into Charlotte. The Super Bowl champs (and my current least favorite team of all time) the New York Giants coming off an incredibly emotional comeback over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take a deep breath and dive back into the waters of the NFC South to face the Panthers.

Only tonight they do it without no. 1 receiver Hakeem Nicks and no. 1 rusher Ahmad Bradshaw.

Despite Eli's 500-yard game and recent claims by supporters that he walks on water, I remain unsold on his ability to maintain a consistently high level of play. Especially when his two most potent weapons are at home catching up on recent episodes of Honey Boo Boo and Chandler Bing's new show.

Last week my horribly inaccurate crystal ball showed me a smoky future where the Bears and the Packers went up and down the field for hundreds of actual points and thousands of fantasy points. Turns out the smoke wasn't a vision, it was my crystal ball getting high. So high.

It wasn't that I thought the Pack would lose, I just thought they'd win in a tight, high-scoring affair. The complete dismantling of the Bears' offense was surprising to say the least. But that's what happens when your coach game plans for the Titans when he's playing the Packers.

Since we're still very early in the season I'm not yet completely gun shy about making outrageous claims. So here goes: Even with a 35-point win over the struggling Saints, it feels like the Panthers haven't really opened up the offense yet. I'd bench both defenses and look for some big plays on both sides of the ball. Victor Cruz no longer has to share the spotlight with Nicks, but the Panthers no longer have to leave him in single coverage. He'll probably have a good day, but I'm not expecting him to push the 200 yard mark no matter what kind of deficit the Giants have to overcome in the 4th. Basically I'm looking for a Giants hangover from Sunday's game and for the Panthers to be amped up. Feels like it's time for DeAngelo's numbers to get right, and for, Mike Tolbert and  Brandon LaFell to step up. I don't own Williams, but I'm starting LaFell (Probably a sure sign he'll break a kneecap).

Bottom line: If this game turns into a slowed down, field position game and the fantasy scores are in the single digits I'm going to start calling this pregame column The Thursday Mush and you can just count on reading my words and then having the opposite happen.Which, by the way, you're welcome.

 *For those not familiar with the term, in gambling parlance a "Mush" is a gambler who does nothing but lose. Kinda like William H. Macy in the movie "The Cooler," he'd walk up to a table and suck the life out of it. In the world of sports betting the last thing you want is a mush to get on board your bet with you. Even the biggest lock can get easily mushed by a gambler who just can't win. Well, folks, when it comes to gambling, I'm a huge mush. I've had success with fantasy only because it's not so zero-sum based. But the second I start predicting how games are going to play out, just head the other direction and you'll be very successful. Remember, bad advice is just as good as good advice if you can spot it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Hangover: Officially Getting on My Nerves

Colin Cowherd thinks the replacement officials are doing fine, so does Peter King and about half of ESPN's talking heads. Of course ESPN wouldn't take an anti-establishment position on any issue that didn't involve Jerry Sandusky, so that's to be expected.
The running rhetoric seems to be "The Replacement Refs Haven't Altered the Outcome of Any Games." Which I consider the most preposterous suggestion possible. Refs alter the outcome of games. They do it in small doses across 4 quarters, and when they are doing it right we never notice that a holding call here, and an offsides there is killing a drive that may result in a punt that may have been a field goal, or a field goal that may have been a TD. Jon Gruden, one of the top 5 most bombastic blowhards on television made a point Monday night, in the face of rampant incompetence on the part of the officials, that the second half of the football game would be decided "by these two quarterbacks."
We all know Gruden slobbers over QBs the way middle-aged single women slobber over their lapdogs: incessantly, publicly and with no regards to boundaries. And  I can't begin to catalog the problems with putting the whole of the game on two players, who has the time? But the bogus implication is that good quarterbacks aren't bothered by bad officiating - and so we should all just get over it. After which I imagine Roger Goodell winked at Gruden, slipping him a glitter-covered $100 bill.
Even tremendously fair refereeing can be beset by human error - with the resulting penalties costing offenders between 5 yards on upward to the pass interference that wasn't called and the one that was botched. In a game that refers to itself as a "game of inches" it doesn't take too much math to figure out how much damage can be inflicted by even the smallest of these penalties.
The story that is being sold is hung on the notion that unless a last second, goal-line call is screwed up, then the game wasn't changed. Well, just ask Rob Gronkowski if the late-game holding call that kept Danny Woodhead out of the end zone affected the outcome of the game (and for the record I am NOT one of the 20 million people who had the Patriots in a suicide league). Ask the San Francisco 49ers if the blatantly missed block in the back call that let Randall Cobb run back a punt that sparked a Packers comeback didn't affect the game. Of course it did. Just because the Packers didn't actually come back to win doesn't mean the missed call had no impact. And just how happy is a Giants fan going to be when the same type of oversight costs them a W? Or a Redskins fan? Or God forbid a Philly fan?
It bugs me that the NFL got away with being greedy against the players and now it just assumes it can be greedy across the board. This sum of money is so insignificant in terms of NFL dollars that we are dealing with this issue on principle, and the NFL should beware that acting on principle is not necessarily in the best interest of the game right now.

This weeks fantasy highlights sponsored by the replacement refs

Bad Calls:
The Kansas City Chiefs RBs- Before the season began the big debate was who will be the more effective back? Jamaal Charles or Peyton Hillis? The debate is now which one of those bozos can I afford to drop to clear up room on my roster for a backup kicker? If Charles' first week was the definition of underwhelming, then his week 2, 3-yard rushing performance was somewhere south of comatose.  Peyton Hillis looked like a guy who you might trust to start on the week when your entire team is on bye.

Larry Fitzgerald: Sure, Cardinals fans are excited, unless that fan also started Fitz in fantasy. Then they are in a state of total confusion, their favorite team is 2-0, but their star receiver was a complete fantasy non-factor.

Brandon Marshall: People put a lot of stock in chemistry, like, Marshall and Jay Cutler have lots of chemistry. The thing I remember about chemistry is that if the elements aren't combined just exactly right you are going to end up with a dumpster fire on your hands. Mostly I blame coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Tice for defiantly ignoring the "How-To-Beat-Green Bay" playbook which consists of using lots of run plays mixed with some short passes and is the opposite of the "let's send Marshall on deep routes all game and see if the pocket will hold up long enough for him to get open" plan.

 Kevin Ogletree: Rule number 1 - never start the guy you picked up off waivers because he blew up in week 1. It NEVER works out.

Dez Bryant: You can't say you weren't warned.

Chris Johnson: Who was I kidding? The Chargers were going to eat him alive. Sorry about that.

Missed Calls:
C.J. Spiller:  I'm in a league where one owner has managed to get to 2-0 while keeping C.J. Spiller on his bench for two weeks. Week 1 is completely forgivable, week 2? nah. He's acting like his team is too good for Spiller to have a starting spot. Which is like saying my driveway is too filled with BMWs for me to park this Maybach there. I just pray he keeps the ruse up at least until after I play him.

Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks: Sure, they were mostly started, but a lot of people were spooked by the combination of the Giants week 1 ineptitude and the Buc's week 1 defensive dominance and kept these guys on the bench - which looked like a swell idea through about half time, then turned into one of those nightmares where you are falling face first into the jaws of some primordial Goliath with horrid breath and bits of triceratops still stuck in his teeth.

Willis McGahee: There was one piece of the the Bronco's offense that neither the refs nor Peyton Manning's first half jitters couldn't contain: McGahee. I'm pretty sure John Fox told his group after the game "The Manning experiment was fun, but from now on this is McGahee's show.

 Thank God for Replay
 Michael Vick: Say what you will about the Michael Vick Experience, the last part of the ride has definitely been the best these first two weeks. He's never been better at digging himself (and his owners) out of some pretty deep holes. Think of how many points he can score if he cuts his turnovers in half.

Reggie Bush: Don't get all excited about that week 2 business. He was playing against me in two leagues, so this was the natural bad karma outcome. Next year I'm toning down my "player haters guide" to a "Players not living up to their amazing potential guide." I think the language should get me around any of these karmic pitfalls.

Vernon Davis:  It's taken years, but VD seems finally to have shaken the "can't be trusted" label. In an upgraded aerial attack that includes Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, Davis is the go to guy for Alex Smith. I couldn't draft him because I didn't want any of my bad luck to spill over into the 49ers season, but I'm enjoying his play almost as much as if I had him on all my teams.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sometimes you eat the Bears, sometimes the Bears eat you

Good advice for the Dude is good advice for the Packers.
Today it will be suggested at least 600 times that tonight's is a Must Win game for the Pack, which, of course it's not. But that doesn't mean we're not in for some fireworks that should lead to some big fantasy scores.
Whether Green Bay is in a do-or-die spot or not is barely debatable, what's not debatable is that the Pack will hit the Bears with their very best punch. No one wants to drop two big games at home, and the Bears D isn't quite as smothering as it once was.
On the other side of the ball, however, the Bears' offense is primed for a big year behind Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte and Michael Bush.
The no. 1 rule to beating the interception-happy Pack is ball protection. The blueprint is to run the ball often, keeping it out of the thieving hands of the Pack backfield. Look for both Bears backs to pile up the yards and Marshall to pick up good chunks across the middle.
Basically this game feels like a fantasy shoot out. If you got 'em start 'em.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Defense of Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson owners recall the first half of the 2011 season with the sort of fondness usually reserved for invasive dental work,  the last season of Glee and colonoscopies. So to see him drag out onto the field last Sunday with such a regressive performance might be enough to cause a mass benching.

And while week one offered no actual hints of promise for Johnson, it was ripe with excuses that I'll use rationalize starting him in week two against a Chargers team that last week held Darren McFadden in check on the ground.

CJ's in-game style is a little like dragging a teenager out of bed in the first it's slow going, almost glacial, then when he finally gets going it's shower, eat, brush teeth, pack bag, sprint to school all in about 45 seconds. And with only 11 carries on Sunday CJ never really got out of bed.

In typical N.E. Patriot fashion Brady and his boys jumped out to any early lead and were up close to 3 TDs by the half, rendering moot the Titans run game. With any luck for the Titans, Kenny Britt will get some reps in week two. Britt and Nate Washington might not be the biggest knockout punch in the league - but they surely will put up more of a fight against the Chargers secondary than did Oakland's Rod Streater and Darrius Heyward-Bey. I'm looking for San Diego to have to devote a little more time to covering the receivers than they did a week ago, so CJ should have a little more room to breathe than RunDMC did.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday Hangover - No Defense Is Better than the Bengals

Will the real AJ please stand up?
Seriously, I'd have been better off with no defense than with the Bengals. At least then I wouldn't have expected to score any points.

By about the middle of the day on Sunday is when you realize your draft plans held water, they were hit and miss or you were about to get cooked in a stew of fantasy delusions. The more teams you field the more likely you were visited by each of these revelations.

Here's what we definitively know after week one, brought to you by the Beef Council:

The Gristle
 The Bengals D - Watching the Baltimore Ravens physically abuse the Bengals on MNF was what I imagine it must be like to get tied down and watch as your neighbor beats your dog. You're as helpless as they are, and it hurts dammit, it hurts. Now, the patient man will say - "the Ravens are SuperBowl contenders, give the Bengals a chance." And perhaps we should, they do play the Browns next week. So maybe they can transfer their anger at this fresh violation onto their in-state rival. Either that or they should fire their defensive coordinator and relegate themselves to the SEC, they can send Alabama to take their place.

 DeSean Jackson - This is hardly news, but we know he got drafted high so he warrants inclusion. Owning DJax is like owning a lottery ticket, lots of hope, but nine times out of ten when you scratch beneath the surface you end up with a loser. But we'll always have the dream of that 45pt game we can retire on. Did I mention I hate him?

Jordy Nelson - Again, we saw this coming a mile away. Sure, he's a lot more reliable than DJax, but the reality is you never know who is going to get the points in that system. I mean, after Rodgers gets done with his first serving. Jermichael Finley was the beneficiary this week, no telling who will draw the long straw next week.

Darrius Heyward-Bey - They say he's fast. Well, he sure started fast and then got shut down faster. After Carson Palmer caught him blowing an open route most of the passes went to Darren McFadden and some rook named Rod Streater. Bey's personal ineptitude in my opponent's lineup netted me a tie game that I was certain the Bengals' zero-point performance had lost me. Stupid Bengals.

Chris Johnson - I'm not sure who's more upset here: Titans fans? Fantasy owners? The folks who own the mortgage on his grill?

The Bone
 Kevin Ogletree -The first game of the season was good for Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray, but better still for the undrafted Ogletree who just about broke the nation's internet bandwidth when every owner with a connection raced to be the first to put in a waiver request on him.

Stevan Ridley -So I guess they really WILL run the ball a little this year. With 125 yards and a TD Ridley was promoted to fantasy starter faster than plastic surgeons could fix up Tom Brady's scratched up schnoz.

C. J. Spiller - No one thinks to handcuff Fred Jackson. It's simply not done in polite circles. Late in every draft I attended I thought to myself "I'm taking C.J. Spiller with my next pick - he's really fast." And in every draft he was gone before my next pick came up. Oh well.

The Meat
Julio Jones - Turns out he's not too worried about Roddy stealing touches from him. His performance at WR sits behind only breakout free-agent Ogletree. He made A.J. Green forget that it was supposed to be his year.

Aaron Rodgers - The 49ers may or may not be the very best defense in the NFL, but they're certainly in the conversation and a struggling Rodgers still squeezed a 300-yard, 2-TD day out of them. Can you imagine if he got to play the Bengals this year? Sheesh.

Matt Ryan - Many people expected Matt Ryan to have his best year yet. But I don't think anyone foresaw Ryan's complete dismantling of an allegedly decent KC defense in Arrowhead. After one week, four or five teams put up what could be labelled dominant performances and the Falcons might have the weakest schedule of the group.

Andre Johnson - Welcome back Andre. If you can keep the high part of your ankle from getting sprained and you can manage not to punch Cortland Finnegan in his weaselly face, you might just come out on top this year.