2017 NFL Previews: AFC

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It’s finally football season again! It seems as though the whole country is counting down until action kicks off on September 7th. There are plenty of stories to look forward to, so let’s jump in and take a look at what we can expect from each division in the AFC in 2017.

AFC East

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We’ll start with the Patriots’ division…I mean, the AFC East. It’s easy to forget that there are actually 3 other teams that play with New England as the Pats have taken the division title 13 out of the last 14 years. In addition, they have put up no less than 10 wins each season since 2002, and dominate their division rivals with an NFL-best record of 73-20 during that span.

The Bills, Jets, and Dolphins are far behind New England and would need a miracle and a half to unseat the defending Super Bowl champions. I’d say the Dolphins have the best chance to make some noise though. After making the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Miami looks to repeat playoff appearances for the first time since 2000-2001.

Their story doesn’t start well this season as starting QB Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL in a non-contact play in practice. Miami called upon the services of retired signal caller Jay Cutler who will happily return to the gridiron donning the orange and green. While I might agree with those who call this move an upgrade from Tannehill, Cutler definitely has a lot of rust and some chemistry to build. Still, an 8-8 season should be an easy goal to meet.

As for the Bills and Jets, it might already be time to look ahead to 2018-2019. It’s been a rough couple of years for these New Yorkers, but it only seems to get worse as each day passes. The Bills have one of the league’s best running backs in LeSean McCoy, but because he carries the entire offense, it’s going to be incredibly easy for opposing defenses to shut Buffalo down.

Not to be outdone, the Jets maintain instability (get it?). They face relentless quarterback questions, they’ve let two top receivers leave, and they also have one of the most porous defenses in the league. I guess the Browns are getting a run for their money…

AFC North

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Speaking of the Browns, here we have the AFC North. While I loved Cleveland’s draft, they still won’t get more than 3 wins this year. But hey! That’s 3 times the amount they got last year! Circle the calendar for October 8: Browns vs. Jets; the loser gets the #1 draft pick. It’s a process, Brown’s fans. Hang in there.

A lot of analysts speculate that the Steelers are running away with this division. I have to disagree. While Pittsburgh will most likely repeat as AFC North champions for the first time since 2007-2008, there is a reason it has taken so long. This is, and always has been, one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL year in and year out. With four great drafts and opposing rosters at full strength, the Steelers can’t be on cruise control to claim the top spot.

Antonio Brown and a returning Martavis Bryant are among Ben Roethlisberger’s loaded receiving core. Also, despite not being present for the preseason, Le’veon Bell will certainly make his presence felt across the country. The Killer Bs are back.

Not so fast! Pittsburgh has 2 huge arch-rivals to look out for. Joe Flacco and the Ravens picked up speedster Jeremy Maclin to improve their deep-threat offense, and Baltimore drafted 4 nice talents in April to strengthen a mediocre defense. If they fall just short of the AFC North crown, the hard-nosed Ravens are definitely a Wild Card threat.

And the Bengals. The problem with Cincinnati isn’t their lack of talent… it’s their attitude. They always shoot themselves in the foot during key matches through strategic mistakes, clock management, or by notoriously racking up pointless penalties to put the opposition in game-winning field goal range. I’m sure Joe Mixon will be a great addition and help Cincinnati finally break into the Divisional Round, right?

AFC South

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Oye. Here’s another competitive division, but for all the wrong reasons. The last time a team from the AFC South became World Champions was the Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy Colts way back in 2006. Since Manning’s infamous departure, it’s been a power struggle. Starting with Manning’s last season for Indy in 2010, no division winner has surpassed 11 wins on the season besides the 2012 Texans. With abysmal records like that, it’s no wonder the AFC South can’t escape the Wild Card round.

The Houston Texans will try to win the AFC South for the 3rd straight time, which would be the first time in franchise history that they would do so. While the first two titles were shaky at best (limping into the playoffs with a 9-7 record), they hope 2017 will be different. With the atrocious contract of Brock Osweiler finally behind them, the era of Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson has begun. Yeah… they still don’t have a firm starting QB. Maybe 2017 won’t be so different…

Speaking of quarterback questions, the Jaguars have suddenly run into the league-wide problem. Blake Bortles has been awful this preseason. While his cannon is still there, his accuracy has disappeared. I’ve never been a huge believer in preseason (or spring training, for that matter) being a huge factor on how the season will go, but maybe there is reason to think that Bortles’ job, and Jacksonville’s future, is in jeopardy.

The Colts are hanging in there too. They’re always a contender, and despite a handful of key injuries this past season, they hope Andrew Luck can be back to full strength and propel Indianapolis back to prominence. If he is indeed 100%, the Colts’ weakness will be the defense. Despite some muscle on the defensive line, Indy constantly struggles to stop the run which opens them up for big passing plays downfield. Which is exactly what team #4 does very well…

Now, my pick to come out on top for the first time in 9 years, the Tennessee Titans. Marcus Mariota is locked in. Demarco Murray loves this offense. The addition of Eric Decker makes this group of receivers dangerous. This is going to be a really fun team to watch. However, with a poor defense as well, the Titans are going to be in their fair share of shootouts. Luckily, they have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL and should be able to rise to the challenge.

AFC West

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Meanwhile, the AFC West has quietly been one of the strongest divisions in the NFL. They have sent 8 teams to the playoffs over the last 4 years, which is the most by any division during that span. Leading the pack have been the Denver Broncos, who before last year had won 5 straight AFC West titles.

Well, before last year the Broncos were a different team. Again, an aging Peyton Manning retired and Denver was left to “rebuild”. They did a pretty good job with Trevor Siemian at the helm, as a 9-7 record would have been good enough to win the aforementioned AFC South. Instead, they were left out of the playoffs to hope for better luck in 2017. With much of the same talent and a good draft class including OT Garett Bolles, Denver has a real shot at getting back on top… but it won’t be easy.

Before I get to the top contenders, pardon the Los Angeles Chargers. I guess San Diego was sick of them, because they couldn’t match L.A.’s pitch to host the team in 2017 and beyond. For the fans who will stick with them through the move, let’s hope a change of scenery jumpstarts the franchise. I feel for you, too. Philip Rivers has done all he can with some really good wide receivers, but in some way or another they always seem to find defeat in the last few minutes of the game. I’m sure new head coach Anthony Lynn will make it a priority to work on those clutch moments.

Now we get into one of the most bitter rivalries in the NFL…the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. It was easy to forget them behind the glory of the Pittsburgh Steelers- Baltimore Ravens or even Dallas Cowboys- Washington Redskins rivalries, but there’s no hiding from them now. The Chiefs and Raiders are firmly in the limelight, but for different reasons.

The Raiders own the 2nd highest-paid player in all of football…Derek Carr. After an MVP-caliber year cut short, he is back to 100% with the same receivers that got him there… but also the same defense. Infamously and consistently one of the worst defenses in the league, Oakland needed to find some support for Carr. Their A+ draft class did just that.  For the Chiefs, it’s the opposite. They have a great defense that suffocates opponents and allows some of the fewest points in the NFL, but hardly an offense to capitalize on it. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill carry the load for Alex Smith, and unless more playmakers can emerge, KC may surrender their AFC West crown to their hated arch rival.

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Fantasy Football: When to Draft a Quarterback

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With ESPN recently concluding their 28-hour Fantasy Football marathon, I’ve decided to weigh in. Unfortunately for me, one of the program’s main focuses was ensuring that everybody know to draft a QB late… my longtime foolproof strategy. Not only was this strategy divulged by ESPN’s analysts, but by their draft board as well (the best QB is Aaron Rodgers ranked at #40, when two years ago it was Tom Brady at #12). So now that the secret is out, I might as well embrace it. Let’s take a look at every player you should draft before a quarterback.

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  1. Le’Veon Bell (RB, PIT)
  2. David Johnson (RB, ARI)
  3. Julio Jones (WR, ATL)
  4. Antonio Brown (WR, PIT)
  5. Mike Evans (WR, TB)
  6. LeSean McCoy (RB, BUF)
  7. Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, NYG)
  8. Melvin Gordon (RB, LAC)
  9. A.J. Green (WR, CIN)
  10. Jordy Nelson (WR, GB)
  11. T.Y. Hilton (WR, IND)
  12. DeMarco Murray (RB, TEN)
  13. Devonta Freeman (RB, ATL)
  14. Michael Thomas (WR, NO)
  15. Dez Bryant (WR, DAL)
  16. Jay Ajayi (RB, MIA)
  17. Brandin Cooks (WR, NE)
  18. Jordan Howard (RB, CHI)
  19. Doug Baldwin (WR, SEA)
  20. Amari Cooper (WR, OAK)
  21. Demaryius Thomas (WR, DEN)
  22. Leonard Fournette (RB, JAC)
  23. Ezekiel Elliot (RB, DAL)
  24. Alshon Jeffrey (WR, PHI)
  25. Todd Gurley (RB, LAR)
  26. Lamar Miller (RB, HOU)
  27. DeAndre Hopkins (WR, HOU)
  28. Michael Crabtree (WR, OAK)
  29. Keenan Allen (WR, LAC)
  30. Isaiah Crowell (RB, CLE)
  31. Terrelle Pryor Sr. (WR, WAS)
  32. Marshawn Lynch (RB, OAK)
  33. Carlos Hyde (RB, SF)
  34. Rob Gronkowski (TE, NE)
  35. Jordan Reed (TE, WAS)
  36. Travis Kelce (TE, KC)
  37. Greg Olson (TE, CAR)                                                                                                        NOTE: Get a TE in the 4th Round; it doesn’t matter which of these 4. If all are taken, feel safe to wait until Round 8 or 9 for one.
  38. Jarvis Landry (WR, MIA)
  39. Julian Edelman (WR, NE)
  40. Larry Fitzgerald (WR, ARI)
  41. Golden Tate (WR, DET)
  42. Emmanuel Sanders (WR, DEN)
  43. Davante Adams (WR, GB)
  44. Ty Montgomery (RB, GB)
  45. Allen Robinson (WR, JAC)
  46. Sammy Watkins (WR, LAR)
  47. Jamison Crowder (WR, WAS)
  48. Dalvin Cook (RB, MIN)
  49. Christian McCaffrey (RB, CAR)                                                                                       NOTE: I know that more than a few QBs have already come off the board…       Don’t Panic! You’ll thank me later.
  50. Brandon Marshall (WR, NYG)
  51. Kelvin Benjamin (WR, CAR)
  52. Frank Gore (RB, IND)
  53. Bilal Powell (RB, NYJ)
  54. Mark Ingram (RB, NO)
  55. C.J. Anderson (RB, DEN)
  56. Jeremy Maclin (WR, BAL)
  57. Tyreek Hill (WR, TE)
  58. Willie Snead (WR, NO)
  59. Martavis Bryant (WR, PIT)
  60. Eddie Lacy (RB, SEA)
  61. DeSean Jackson (WR, TB)
  62. Theo Riddick (RB, DET)
  63. Donte Moncrief (WR, IND)
  64. Pierre Garcon (WR, SF)
  65. Adrian Peterson (RB, NO)
  66. Tevin Coleman (RB, ATL)
  67. Stefon Diggs (WR, MIN)
  68. Spencer Ware (RB, KC)
  69. Mike Gillislee (RB, NE)
  70. LeGarrette Blount (RB, PHI)
  71. Matt Forte (RB, NYJ)
  72. Eric Decker (WR, TEN)
  73. Darren McFadden (RB, DAL)
  74. Tyrell Williams (WR, LAC)
  75. Doug MArtin (RB, TB)
  76. James White (RB, NE)
  77. Mike Wallace (WR, BAL)
  78. Jonathan Stewart (RB, CAR)
  79. Kyle Rudolph (TE, MIN)
  80. Delanie Walker (TE, TEN)
  81. Cameron Meredith (WR, CHI)
  82. John Brown (WR, ARI)
  83. Rishard Matthews (WR, TEN)
  84. DeVante Parker (WR, MIA)
  85. Kenny Britt (WR, CLE)
  86. Randall Cobb (WR, GB)
  87. Jimmy Graham (TE, SEA)
  88. Tyler Eifert (TE, CIN)
  89. Sterling Shepard (NYG)
  90. Jordan Matthews (WR, BUF)
  91. Paul Perkins (RB, NYG)
  92. Corey Coleman (WR, CLE)
  93. Josh Doctson (WR, WAS)
  94. Rob Kelley (RB, WAS)
  95. Martellus Bennett (TE, GB)
  96. Giovani Bernard (RB, CIN)
  97. Jeremy Hill (RB, CIN)
  98. Adam Thielen (WR, MIN)
  99. Ameer Abdullah (RB, DET)
  100. Hunter Henry (TE, LAC)
  101. Duke Johnson Jr. (RB, CLE)
  102. GET THAT QUARTERBACK!

Congratulations! If you’ve been able to tough it out through 101 picks, and survive numerous quarterbacks prematurely dropping as you fill your bench with handcuffs and backups, you’re about to be rewarded for your bravery! Not only will you have the deepest roster in your league, but you can pick up quarterbacks from lower-profile but pass-heavy teams like the Raiders, Redskins, and Lions.

Yes, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, and Matthew Stafford aren’t the flashiest names, but they are among the top pass attempt QBs in the league… far ahead of household names like Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. By waiting until the 11th Round, you may miss out on a dual-threat QB like Russell Wilson, but besides Aaron Rodgers, the best Fantasy quarterback with significant rushing yards in 2016 was Tyrod Taylor at #9, with Wilson right behind him.

So again, hold off on those 25+ points a game with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, and “settle” for 20+ points a game with Carr, Cousins, Stafford, or Taylor. Hey, even if they are gone, you can look at Phillip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger for quality starts every Sunday from competitive teams.

Oh, and one more thing…Jameis Winston is going to have an MVP-caliber year with DeSean Jackson joining the Buccaneers’ high-powered offense. Winston now has two All-Pro receivers, question marks at RB (leading to more passes), and some of the worst defenses in his division. Heck, he can even run a little bit too.

While all 7 of these quarterbacks won’t be available in the 11th Round of your league, take your chances and wait to see which ones will fall in your lap. In fact, I’m sure you’ll be able to grab another in the 12th Round.

What do you think? Did I get it wrong? What are your secrets to dominating your Fantasy League? Let me know in the comments and like me on Facebook for more fantasy advice as well as all of my great content!

2017 MLB Playoff Predictions

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It’s the dog days of summer, and every sports fan dreads the lull of action throughout August. With football season still a few weeks down the road, and MLB division races already starting to heat up, it’s the perfect time to check back in with my 2017 MLB Predictions from April. Let’s take a look at what’s changed…or in my case… what hasn’t!

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I’ll begin with what I got right. All 6 of my preseason division winners are currently atop the standings, and I’m sticking with them down the home stretch. In the NL, the Nationals and Dodgers hold commanding leads in their respective divisions, while the defending champs are still clinging to a small lead over the Brewers. I expect the current seeds to hold for the most part, as the Dbacks and Rockies are in a league of their own, appearing destined to meet in the Wild Card game.

That leaves just the 3 seed up for grabs as Chicago and Milwaukee battle for the N.L. Central crown. There is no question who the better team is here. It’s been a great story for the Brewers, and I hope they can keep up their good fortunes, but there shouldn’t be a doubt in anyone’s mind that the Cubs will repeat as division champions. Though they certainly won’t have the best record in the league as I had predicted, it’s really not that important. Once the Cubs make it to the postseason, the tables will reset, and they’ll be ready to chase history once again.

As for the American League, the Astros continue to stave off questionable pitching and potentially season-altering injuries en route to the #1 seed. Meanwhile, the Indians have held the AL Central in check for most of the year, and I expect their lead to grow as the hot-hitting Royals eventually cool off. But the drama rests in the AL East.

My preseason World Series Champion Red Sox is locked in a battle with a surging Yankees team. It’s been another great story for a team that’s a year ahead of schedule in New York, but I’ve got Boston hanging on in a division that’s up for grabs.

There is a lot of criticism being thrown at the Red Sox’ front office for not keeping up with all of the blockbuster moves the Yankees made, but what exactly was Boston supposed to do?  Before the deadline they picked up the hottest hitter in baseball in Eduardo Nunez for scraps, leaving room to beef up their bullpen with Addison Reed. I guess you could say they should have gone after starting pitching… but why? Not only do they have the defending Cy Young Award winner, but they also have one of the best pitchers in the MLB with Chris Sale. A rotation like Boston’s is good enough for most teams, and it’s definitely good enough with the way the Red Sox hit, and Craig Kimbrel and company lock up the late innings. The Yankees did a great job to challenge the Sox and should have at least a Wild Card spot to show for it, but make no mistake: this is Boston’s year.

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Now here’s where I missed the mark a little bit. The Rockies, a team that I thought was going to step back, instead took a giant leap forward. Along with a surge from my dark horse in Arizona that I didn’t fully commit to, now they can smell the postseason. As 3 of the top 5 teams in the MLB hail from the NL West, someone has to lose… and lose the Giants did.

With Madison Bumgarner going down in April in a dirt bike accident, and causing San Fran to inexplicably plummet to the worst record in baseball, I will miss out on going a perfect 10/10 in playoff predictions. Now they are only trailed by the White Sox and Phillies, but the damage has been done…thanks, MadBum!  I’m still clinging to a little hope that the Cardinals can put it together and get over the .500 hump, but in reality, the Rockies and Dbacks won’t surrender their holds on the 4 and 5 spots.  

However, we do a complete 180 in the AL. Seemingly everyone has a shot to play in the Wild Card game with 13/15 teams within 6 GB of the final spot. Therefore, I’ve got my fingers crossed for the Rangers and Orioles. However, again, with the Rangers dealing away their ace Yu Darvish, even they are looking ahead to 2018 and will try one last time to go all in before their entire roster either leaves or retires.

That said, I’m sticking with the Orioles to just squeak into that final playoff spot… and here’s why. They have a similar dynamic to the Red Sox: great, balanced hitting, one of the best bullpen’s in the MLB, but not a lot of starting pitching. A small step to help their rotation was picking up Jeremy Hellickson from the Phillies for a bench player and cash. Hellickson isn’t world class by any means, but you have to remember he was the Phillies’ ace for a reason. Not to mention, the O’s also managed to pick up another hot bat in Tim Beckham. While they may not have a team to go deep into the postseason, they do have a team built to win now. So mark it down, the O’s will fight over the next couple of months and get to play in Game 163.

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Playoff Predictions

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Here we go. With all of that said, not much has changed since my thoughts in April:

AL Wild Card – Orioles at Yankees

Yankees fall just short of the AL East crown while the Orioles just get into the playoffs. Momentum makes a difference- Orioles advance in a shootout.

NL Wild Card – Rockies at Diamondbacks

The long-awaited matchup could go either way, but Arizona proves to be too much…they move on behind clutch hitting.

AL Division Series

Orioles vs AstrosYou know, if it was any other team, I might go against the Astros. Besides Dallas Keuchel, they don’t really have the pitching to compete against top-level competition. However, neither do the Orioles. Houston’s hitters > Baltimore’s batters, they move on after 4.

Indians vs Red SoxHere are two teams craving revenge from heartbreaking ends to 2016. In what will be an entertaining 5-game series, Sale spins a gem and the Sox roll into the ALCS.

NL Division Series

Diamondbacks vs DodgersThese guys are very familiar division foes, so throw records and scouting reports out the window and go after ’em. The Dodgers want this more; sweep.

Cubs vs NationalsAfter a very evenly-matched season series, this one lives up to the hype. The Nationals have everything going for them, including some relief from the bullpen and finally, FINALLY, win a playoff series.

AL Conference Series – Red Sox vs Astros

See above. Red Sox are in the Fall Classic with time to rest after winning Game 5.

NL Conference Series – Nationals vs Dodgers

I CAN’T WAIT. Clayton Kershaw vs. Max Scherzer. Yu Darvish vs. Stephen Strasburg. Are you kidding me?? This is going to be a hell of a series. I go back and forth on this every day, but for now I’ll go with Dodgers over Nationals for the 2nd straight time.

World Series Prediction: In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Dodgers or Nationals. It’s the Red Sox’s year.