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The 2011 season: Your grades are now available online

by Patrick Wall

Welcome to the dark days of the NFL.

We’re a month from free agency, almost three before the Draft, and months and months before players head to training camp. And now that most of the bad taste that was the 2011 season has been wiped from my mouth, it’s time for reflection.

Today I’d like to take some time to reflect on my 25 Bold and Occasionally Baseless) Predictions from this past season. Because I have a delicate ego, I’ll start with some of the ones I got right:

1. I totally called both #1 seeds. To be fair, it wasn’t really a tough choice. And I sure as hell didn’t see the Pack losing in the playoffs–I had them winning it all.

2. Mark Sanchez is still pretty awful. In his third season, the Jets’ signal caller did little to elevate himself from the ranks of the Joe Flaccos and Kyle Ortons of the world. Though he threw a career-high 29 touchdowns, he also threw 18 picks–two short of his rookie year. Meh.

3. Only one of the QBs to find a new home in ’11 did much of anything. Kevin Kolb might be on his way out the door in Arizona, Donovan McNabb is staring retirement in the face, and Tavaris Jackson is still Tavaris Jackson. Only Matt Hasselbeck is a lock to start the 2012 with the same team he joined a year ago.

Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck threw for 3,571 and 18 TDs in 2011

As impressive as those three hits were, I also whiffed harder than Nnamdi Asomugha on a number of these:

1. Fine, Detroit. You’re a good teamThe first prediction I made was that neither Tampa Bay nor Detroit would make the playoffs. And while the highlight of the Bucs’ year was seeing the $100 dollar man dressed like a Creamsicle, the Lions made a very impressive playoff run and look to be a team on a serious, ’06 Saints-style upswing.

2. Everything I said about the Eagles was wrong. The reports of Juan Castillo’s defense “flying around and playing nasty” were greatly exaggerated, when Michael Vick was healthy he was pretending to be Jay Cutler, and Nnamdi Asmougha was recently named the second worst tackling CB in the NFL last year. Seriously, I will throw a cheesesteak at Vince Young if I ever heard the words “Dream Team” uttered again.

3. So, uh… how ’bout those Niners? I, like many other writers, bloggers, players, pundits, cabbies and semi-educated football fans, thought the winner of the NFC West was going to be a nonfactor in the playoffs. Boy, were we all wrong. If the 49ers can get a legitimate QB, look out. They could be scary for a long time.

All told, I was right on 14 out of my 25 predictions, giving me a better record than the Eagles.

Next time, I’ll be analyzing what the Eagles must to do reach the Super Bowl next year. This, and at least three passive-aggressive jokes about Adele are all coming up in only a few days! Stay tuned!

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Trials of a Closet Fantasy Football Maven III

By Evan Benton

Week 3: Dealing with Loss and Disappointment – and silly team names

I won’t hesitate; losing is bad enough, but losing by FOUR POINTS.  Frustrating.  Thankfully, I’ve been in this situation more than enough times to realize that dwelling on what you did wrong, rather than concentrating on how to make sure this outcome never happens again, is paramount.

But I’m still going to dwell, even if I know better.

Vernon Davis, kept in my tight end spot, got a whopping 18 yards on Sunday.  I kept Brandon Marshall out at the last minute, and in his absence Reginald Wayne went touchdown-less while Marshall earned 13 points from his good play.

All those muscles are primed for production. So, obviously, it's Alex Smith's fault.

All of my players besides these two did extremely well, making the loss more frustrating, because if I had swapped either of Wayne or Davis I would have won,  the score, with everything tallied, resulted in a 117-121 loss for me.  I did not stop Brian in his tracks, and instead had to listen to him, seething, as he reminded me how close of a game it was – the ultimate nice-guy postgame tactic that I had to swallow in my narrow defeat.

Okay, good things.  First, Ray Rice and Chris Wells got me 15 points each, and are showing themselves to be week in, week out producers.  LaGarrette Blount, who I nearly bagged because of his poor performance last week, came back in the last quarter to provide a spark that brought Tampa Bay to a come-from-behind win thanks to his two rushing touchdowns to get me 19 points.

The Lions’ defense 48-3 neutering of the Kansas City Chiefs netted me 21 points thanks to their three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.  And Josh Brown kicked his way to 10 points, a great addition.

But even with my main man Philip Rivers throwing for 378 yards and two touchdowns, it wasn’t enough to overcome the lack of play by Vernon Davis.  Brian’s monster backs performed, with Adrian Peterson getting him a 26-point game to lead all scorers, while Peyton Hillis stabbed me in the back with 21 of his own against the lackluster Indianapolis Colts.

But the real nail ion my coffin was Brian’s ace in the hole, Chargers’ RB Ryan Mathews, who put up 18 points, literally stealing points from me every time Rivers handed the ball off.  DeSean Jackson and Percy Harvin on his team accounted for eight points combined, while Chris Cooley in his TE slot did worse than my Davis, who lost all his catches to Fred Davis and got . . . none.

Brian was gracious in his victory.  I won’t get so lucky next time.

This week I face “The Soup Nazis”, a team that blanked out in the final of last season, which helped me on to Fantasy Bowl IV’s mantle.  The presence of Drew Brees on his team is enough to send shivers down my spine, but I am looking good – if I do say so myself – with my team.

Rivers is up against the Chiefs, who he frequently cuts up, while Ray Rice faces St. Louis and Wells is set up against Seattle.  Blount’s Week 2 successes have silenced naysayers (myself included) and that confidence in him may turn his Week 3 matchup against rivals Atlanta into a show.

In my WR slots, I’m finally starting Marshall as my number one receiver (and this being said, he’ll probably bottom out now . . .), while deciding whether I should stick with veteran consistency in Moss, or the same in Wayne.  I’ve benched Davis, and in my TE slot wanted to put in New England bruiser Aaron Hernandez, but he’s unfortunately doubtful.  So I went to the waiver wire quickly, knowing that half of my contenders were doing the same, and scanned.  I picked up 6’7” Buffalo target Scott Chandler, who has had two three touchdowns in two games.  For good measure I also picked up Denver wideout Eric Decker (who?), who has had 166 yards and three touchdowns in two games.  Laugh at this low-ball pickup, but remember this is how I found Peyton Hillis last year.

On defense I’m sticking with Detroit, a defensive team that may be able to stop McNabb  but certainly not Peterson.  So I’m not thinking big.  But there’s also my 49ers defense, who are up against rookie QB Andy Dalton and Cincinnati on the road.

Of course, Brown is still my main guy with the magic foot.  Unless this changes, I won’t bore readers with this information any more.

So, like last week, all I have to do is make the right decision.  Start Wayne or Moss?  Start Chandler or give Davis another nother chance?  Lions @ Vikings or 49ers @ Bengals?

My back is in no way up against the wall, but there is an element of panic.  Four out of five teams in my division – the MAFL West – are 1-1.  And my opponent this week is in there.

And finally, it is my terrible duty to let readers know that my partner-in-crime Patrick Wall’s “Philadelphia Finishers” team is 0-2 on the season having lost his first two games by a collective total of a paltry 10 points.  He’s now up against “Hail to the Redksins”, a new team with a new face who just happened to put up 158 total points last week.

Patrick started out poorly last season, but then waged some war to come back and nearly made it to the postseason.  Let’s not have such a stressful repeat, please.  Let us pray . . .

Trials of a Closet Fantasy Football Maven II

By Evan Benton

Week 2: Understand and Amend

First things first.  I realized last week that the name of my team was never addressed in the first installment I unleashed upon the blog last week.  Which, in itself, was strange because such a team besides my own will never be seen again.  This is because my team name has a direct reference to Bret Michael’s “Rock of Love”, specifically the second season’s runner up Daisy De La Hoya, who remains steeped in my mind with her blond hair extensions, plastic surgery puffed-out lips (and just about everything else) and incredible and unabashed slut appeal.

Daisy, the face of my franchise.

Daisy’s Rocks of Love took to the world of ESPN-enabled fantasy football three years ago, and won in its freshman season.  Before that I believe the name was Topeka Knights, which used to be Topeka something else – think four letter words that rhyme with “bunt” – and never amounted to anything.

Okay, so even while traveling in Europe I remain ahead of my competitors, winning last week against Dane 118-96.  Ray Rice proved to be a hell of a pick, as now he’s being touted as one of the best in fantasy football if he continues to slice up defenses as he did against the Steelers, formerly the best run defense in the NFL.  His 107 rushing yards with a touchdown and 42 receiving yards with a score netted me 26 total points to lead both our teams.

As I spoke of in my last post, I had dropped Ryan Torain and picked up the 49ers’ defense, anticipating not only a better display than the Lions’ but one that could be a veritable explosion of picks, fumbles and touchdowns.  I was right.  Against the Seahawks they tallied one interception, two fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns, which is pure gold in our league, and rarer still.  This gave me 24 points – the biggest defensive display in fantasy points for the league.

Reggie Wayne still has shown how dependable he can be in any situation, and was interim QB Kerry Collins’ top target over Dallas Clark, with 106 yards receiving and a touchdown.  Chris Wells has silenced his critics with 90 yards rushing with a touchdown to boot, and looks to be a viable option this year as he is on his way to earning guaranteed starter stripes.  Both guys put up 16 points each for me.

Philip Rivers started out slow – he made two mistakes which led to two interceptions – and couldn’t really find Vincent Jackson for the pick heave, but still managed by game’s end 335 passing yards.  This large number, combined with his two touchdown passes, gave me 17 points.

Santana Moss, although targeted many times only accumulated 76 yards.  I remain hopeful that if he continues to get the same number of looks a game then he’ll get the scores.  Vernon Davis was a big disappointment, only because he only managed 47 yards (four points) in the fight against Seattle.  The main reason I’m sticking with him, as with Moss, is that he was the most targeted of all Niners’ receivers and will eventually get his licks.

Josh Brown missed one out of three field goals, but I believe that was a fluke.  Had he made all three I would’ve gotten 9 points – quite a good show for a kicker.

Ah, LeGarrette Blount.  I’m not sure what happened in the Buccaneers’ game against the Lions but this back was not in the equation.  Five attempts for 15 yards is nothing, as is the single solitary point his mass gave me.  Time will tell if he will bounce back, but if not I’ll have to make a decision and soon.

A fantasy owner is often fickle, but being too judgmental about an opening game...? Maybe the second week is the charm.

That being said, there were many good things this week.  I proved myself to new players and bypassed the quickest morale depletion in fantasy – losing the first game.  Even with one back neutered and several guys not measuring up to expectation, it was more than enough and tallied the second-most points totaled this week.  And my well-conceived idea to pick up a new defense, which gave me about 15 points more than expected, increases my confidence going into the next week.

Now I’m up against second-year man Brian Chan, whose spuriously named “DeSickest of ‘Em All!” – with a picture of DeSean Jackson sprinting off down the sidelines – has never really amounted to much, but his tendency to talk up a big game is becoming infamous.

He’s coming off of a win over my partner-in-crime Patrick Wall’s “Philadelphia Finishers”, but I aim to stop him cold.  His trio of Matt Schaub, Adrian Peterson and Peyton Hillis (my old friend) are the only ones I fear, as its unimaginable they’ll have the same poor performance (25 points combined) two weeks in a row.  Right now my only enemy is myself, as I am not sure whether to put Brandon Marshall and his 139 yards last week against the Patriots in instead of Santana Moss – or top put them both in and bag LaGarrette.

[To note, this is one of the best plays I’ve ever seen, and to me certifies NFL record-breaker Brandon Marshall’s legacy even at this early stage.]

Decisions, decisions.

What I aim to do – as always in the week before a match – is to consistently and sporadically shuffle some guys in and off the bench.  For example, every time I sign in I may put in Marshall, then the next time put in Moss.  Same with Davis and maybe Aaron Hernandez.  Because many players – I doubt Brian is one – look for the presumed amount of points and plan around that, which change according to who is starting.  I use inconsistency and second-guessing to my advantage.

Again, this is one of those little things that, if I win, I’ll bring up again.  If I lose, just pretend I never said anything so pathetic.