1. New England Patriots 11-5
2. Miami Dolphins 8-8
3. Buffalo Bills 6-10
4. New York Jets 6-10
Comments/Fantasy predictions: The Patriots scored the third most points in the NFL last season despite dealing with a ton of injuries. They continue to benefit from playing in a mediocre division and having the best head coach/QB combo in the league. Bringing in a now healthy Darrelle Revis with improved health on offense means New England is once again a legitimate title contender…Tom Brady suffered the second most drops by his receivers among all teams last season – 10 more than Peyton Manning while attempting 31 fewer passes. Despite that as well as Rob Gronkowski missing more than half the year, Brady performed as the No. 3 fantasy QB when Shane Vereen was in the lineup (h/t Rotoviz). Brady is in store for a monster season. He’s the No. 4 quarterback on my board and likely won’t cost nearly that price…New England produces a top-three fantasy defense, while Aaron Dobson emerges as the team’s most valuable wide receiver over the second half of the season…Gronkowski misses a couple of games but ultimately rewards those who gambled on him, while Vereen finishes as a top-15 fantasy back.
Ryan Tannehill doubled his TD passes from year one to two last season (12 to 24), although that came with a small drop in YPA (6.8 to 6.7). He also has a whopping 18 fumbles over 32 career games. But shockingly, Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 5 quarterback last season, ahead of Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, who all (except Newton) had more snaps. He now gets a Chip Kelly disciple to the run the offense, and the O-line should obviously have more continuity in 2014…Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno form a timeshare in Miami’s backfield, frustrating each of their fantasy owners…Mike Wallace is better than last year but once again fails to approach his production in Pittsburgh. Wallace got 12.7 yards per target during his second year in the league. He got 6.6 last season (only three wide receivers who saw at least 100 targets produced a lower mark).
I’m a believer in Sammy Watkins’ talent, but there’s a real worry E.J. Manuel is a bust…Fred Jackson finally succumbs to age, although that just results in Bryce Brown blocking C.J. Spiller from becoming a top fantasy back…Mike Williams is a fantasy WR on par with teammate Watkins on a weekly basis, as at least two other rookie wide receivers are more valuable than Watkins in 2014…The Jets recovered just 30.3 percent of their fumbles last season, which was by far the lowest mark in the NFL. New York was really good in close games last year despite being the first team in NFL history to recover fewer than three opponent fumbles. Expect something in the middle in 2014, although they are a strong Week 1 fantasy defense to stream at home against the Raiders, even while dealing with some injuries…Chris Johnson had one run of 25-plus yards last season, while Chris Ivory had five on 97 fewer carries…I’m in no way a Geno Smith believer, but when it comes to backup QBs, I’d rather own Mark Sanchez than Michael Vick if speculating in deep fantasy leagues.
Here’s a legit between the legs shot by Roger Federer, whose opponent had already considered the point over (it also impressed Michael Jordan).
1. Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6
2. Baltimore Ravens 9-7 (Wild Card)
3. Cincinnati Bengals 9-7 (Wild Card)
4. Cleveland Browns 5-11
Comments/Fantasy predictions: The Steelers were pretty much a disaster last season, although they were a 41-yard field goal miss by Ryan Succop against the Chargers in Week 17 away from still making the playoffs. Pittsburgh was an unlucky 2-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer and lost its center during the first quarter of the first game. OC Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger are finally seemingly on the same page, and the QB was sacked just seven times over the final seven games last season...The defense is no longer an elite unit, but there’s promise with this team’s offense, and thanks to what looks like a favorable schedule, I went back to the well and took their over...Roethlisberger finishes with more fantasy points than Andy Dalton, while Heath Miller approaches double-digit touchdowns and easily outscores trendy sleeper Ladarius Green…Antonio Brown doesn’t regress like many are predicting, once again finishing as a top-10 fantasy wideout...Le’Veon Bell had the second most carries inside the three-yard line last season as a rookie over just 13 games, so it would be pretty bad news for his fantasy value if LeGarrette Blount really does take over goal-line duties.
After winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens allowed seven touchdown passes in Week 1 and finished 8-8 while missing the playoffs. The offense was a big problem, scoring fewer points than the Raiders. After posting an 11:0 TD:INT ratio with a 9.1 YPA mark over four games in the 2012 postseason, Joe Flacco recorded a 19:22 TD:INT ratio with a 6.4 YPA last year…It remains to be seen how the new zone-blocking scheme will translate, but early signs point to it being a better fit for Bernard Pierce than Ray Rice. Unless one gets hurt neither is a top-25 fantasy RB in 2014…Torrey Smith is a top-15 fantasy wideout, while Dennis Pitta is a top-eight tight end.
The Bengals are a very good football team, featuring a strong defense, one of the league’s premier wide receivers and a strong collection of backs. However, Andy Dalton remains a question mark, and Cincy will have to face a first place schedule in 2014, which might be the slight difference in who takes this division this year (they also face the tough task of losing both of the team’s coordinators to promotions elsewhere)…A.J. Green had the most interceptions (12) on passes targeted his way (172) last season, although to be fair, two Giants (Rueben Randle and Hakeem Nicks) combined for 15 picks on 175 targets. Obviously, Green is good at football…Giovani Bernard owners are infuriated by Jeremy Hill, as the former finishes outside the top-15 fantasy backs thanks to the rookie.
The Browns ended last season on a seven-game losing streak and cleaned house afterward, even though the coaching staff/management was fairly new and pulled off the ridiculous Trent Richardson for a first round pick trade…They have some interesting pieces in place, but ultimately this franchise will come down to how Johnny Manziel develops, and obviously the season long suspension of Josh Gordon is a huge blow…Despite 26 other backs seeing more snaps, PFF graded Ben Tate as the worst pass-catching RB in the NFL last season as well as the seventh worst blocker. Still, only health will prevent him from being a weekly RB2 in fantasy leagues…Jordan Cameron scores 10 touchdowns and is worth a third round fantasy pick.
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1. Indianapolis Colts 10-6
2. Houston Texans 8-8
3. Tennessee Titans 5-11
4. Jacksonville Jaguars 4-12
Comments/Fantasy predictions: Andrew Luck has a sub-par 6.8 YPA over the first two seasons of his career, and it’s highly unlikely he’s able to maintain such a strong record in close games (he’s 15-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer during his career, including the playoffs) moving forward, but it’s also highly likely he’s a future star. Whether he becomes a fantasy star in 2014 is mostly up to OC Pep Hamilton, and playing in the NFL’s worst division actually hurts him in this aspect. This is a QB who won a playoff game in which his team trailed 38-10 in the second half during just his second year in the league. Unleash him Pep!…Dwayne Allen finishes with more fantasy points than Coby Fleener, although neither is a top-15 tight end…T.Y. Hilton is more valuable than Larry Fitzgerald, while Trent Richardson is someone whom I remain agnostic. He could be one of the bigger steals based on his ADP or be out of the league within a year or two. Your guess is as good as mine…Despite finishing in first place last season, the Colts have the easiest schedule in the NFL based on their opponents’ winning percentage in 2013 (the next three most favorable are Tennessee, Houston and Jacksonville, as I’m beginning to sense a theme).
Houston was an NFL-worst 2-9 in games decided by seven points or fewer last season to go along with a league worst -20 in turnover margin (h/t Bill Barnwell). No team had ever started 2-0 and then lost the final 14 games like the Texans did. Of course, they are one year removed from a 12-4 campaign and bring in a new coaching regime. Add Jadeveon Clowney to a defensive front already featuring the NFL’s best defensive player, and you have a unit that could be pretty terrifying. With an easier schedule, it’s not totally crazy Houston contends for a wild card spot if Ryan Fitzpatrick is competent…Since he entered the league, no wide receiver has more yards than Andre Johnson, and his fantasy value will be dependent upon how the new staff uses him in the red zone…J.J. Watt wins Defensive Player of the Year, but Arian Foster disappoints yet again, as Ryan Mathews proves to be the more valuable fantasy back. Jonathan Grimes is a highly aggressive FAAB bid at some point this season.
The Titans project to have a strong offensive line with two wide receivers who could be very good. Still, Jake Locker has gotten 6.9 YPA since his rookie season and is a huge question mark when it comes to durability. Tennessee is currently only favored in four of its first 15 games this season (and play the Colts in Week 17), which is why I took their under, making it my biggest O/U wager of the year…For what it’s worth, Locker averaged 0.50 fantasy points per drop back last season (Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees averaged 0.53)…Bishop Sankey has insanely impressive measurables if you’re into that sort of thing, but he’s currently running with the third unit, so taking a late round flier on Shonn Greene instead sure seems like the better strategy right now…Justin Hunter also currently projects not to be a starter, but his talent ultimately prevails, as he finishes as a top-30 fantasy receiver and ahead of teammate Kendall Wright, whose ADP is 37 spots higher.
The Jaguars didn’t have the worst record in football last season, but they were outscored by 202 points, which was 50 more than the next worst team in the NFL…Here’s your yearly reminder this team drafted a punter ahead of Russell Wilson, although Blake Bortles has impressed this preseason…Rookie Marqise Lee finishes with more fantasy value than Cecil Shorts, while Toby Gerhart is a top-20 back based purely on volume.
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Longread of the Week: In case you missed it, here’s my NFC Season Preview from earlier this week.
1. Denver Broncos 11-5
2. San Diego Chargers 8-8
3. Kansas City Chiefs 7-9
4. Oakland Raiders 3-13
Comments/Fantasy predictions: The Broncos were pretty good last year, scoring 606 points en route to a Super Bowl trip. They proceeded to add DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward during the offseason. They lost Eric Decker but also return Von Miller and Ryan Clady, who both missed significant time due to injuries last season. This team is absolutely loaded…Denver fields a top-three fantasy option at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and defense, while Montee Ball finishes as a top-five fantasy back. This offense is going to regress, but its stars are going to continue to put up huge numbers. Anyone who drafts Marshawn Lynch or DeMarco Murray ahead of Ball is going to regret it.
The Chargers won their final four games of the season last year to make the playoffs, where they won a road game against a Bengals team that went 8-0 at home during the regular season. New head coach Mike McCoy revitalized Philip Rivers’ career, although the team did lose OC Ken Whisenhunt during the offseason…Antonio Gates prevents Ladarius Green from being a weekly TE1, but Ryan Mathews finishes as a top-12 fantasy back (although in case I’m wrong and he gets hurt again, prospective fantasy owners should draft Donald Brown, who was the second best runner according to DVOA last year).
The Chiefs went from going 2-14 in 2012 to starting the season 9-0 last year to then proceeding to finish worse than any team ever after that start. Oh, and then they blew a 28-point lead in their first playoff game. Still, the Andy Reid era clearly got off to an impressive start…There are some problems though, as K.C. lost three offensive lineman during the offseason, and last year’s No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher might be a total bust…Moreover, the team’s schedule now goes from easy to hard, although that might actually benefit Alex Smith, who’s something of a fantasy sleeper for those in deep or 2-QB leagues. His 431 rushing yards were the sixth-most among quarterbacks last year (over 15 games), including more than Andrew Luck…The Chiefs’ fantasy defense takes a big step back, but thanks to employing the league’s best special teams coach (Dave Toub), they remain relevant…Jamaal Charles proves to be the safest among the “big-five” fantasy backs, but not because he doesn’t get hurt, as his backup (Knile Davis) is the most obvious handcuff.
The Raiders are projected to be underdogs in every game this season, as it doesn’t seem fair a team that finished 4-12 last year is set to face the highest opponents winning percentage based on 2013. Oakland also has a “home” game in London and another against a San Francisco team just down the road (OK fine, a Santa Clara team). That’s not ideal, as they are also the only team in football to still share a stadium with a baseball team, meaning there’s dirt in the middle of the field over the first month of the season…D.J. Hayden is opening the year on the PUP list, Rolando McClain hasn’t played a snap since 2012, and JaMarcus Russell is currently being featured in this commercial. It’s almost as if Oakland has struggled drafting…PFF graded Maurice Jones-Drew as the second best blocking back in the NFL last season, whereas Darren McFadden ranked second worst. MJD is the only viable fantasy option on the entire Raiders team in 2014.
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