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Mostly NFL Notes: An NFC Season Preview

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles 9-7

2. Dallas Cowboys 8-8

3. New York Giants 8-8

4. Washington Redskins 8-8

Comments/Fantasy predictions: There’s no doubt Nick Foles’ INT% will regress (he threw the most passes of any player ever with 0, 1 or 2 interceptions in a season last year), and he also got lucky when it came to drops, as his receivers suffered just 13, as 29 other quarterbacks dealt with more. Despite that as well as losing DeSean Jackson, the Eagles’ system is sure to produce a bunch of points once again. They might even play faster during Chip Kelly’s second year in the NFL. Foles’ average TD pass last season was 17.4 Air Yards, which was the highest in football. He’ll safely finish as a top-10 fantasy QB…Adding Darren Sproles, who PFF graded as the NFL’s best receiving back last season, should only help…Jeremy Maclin is a top-15 fantasy WR on a per-game basis but misses a half dozen contests, as he’s kind of an injury riskZach Ertz scores double-digit touchdowns en route to a top-five fantasy season, while LeSean McCoy wins the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award.

The Cowboys have an interesting roster, possessing one of the league’s best offensive lines to go along with one of the league’s worst defenses. It’s a recipe for fantasy success, especially in the passing game…Thanks to a 2-4 start, calls for Jason Garrett’s firing get louder, but an ensuing four-game winning streak saves his job one last time, but ultimately, Dallas fails to make the postseason…The Cowboys recovered the highest percentage of fumbles (67.6) of any team last year, and did you realize Tony Romo has a better career winning percentage than Troy Aikman?…DeMarco Murray is a top-five fantasy RB on a per-game basis but misses a handful of contests (in which a committee ensues, frustrating all of his owners), while Terrance Williams finishes as a top-25 WR…Dez Bryant, who did things like this last year, ends the season as fantasy’s No. 1 wide receiver.

The Giants’ defense is better than most expect, but a highly shaky offensive line and the growing pains of learning an entirely new system results in a middling year…Eli Manning bounces back to a degree but still finishes outside the top-15 fantasy QBs despite once again not missing a game…Rashad Jennings approaches 70 catches but misses a few games and during that time, Andre Williams is a top-10 fantasy back, while Rueben Randle has the better fantasy season than Victor CruzRobert Griffin has just about as much upside as any fantasy quarterback, as his 815 rushing yards (in just 15 games) as a rookie were the most by a QB since Michael Vick in 2006 and more than any season during Cam Newton’s career. The hope is he’s back to form now fully recovered from knee surgery, but he’s too often shaky as a pocket passer and still hasn’t learned to avoid big hits. He goes down as a fantasy bust in 2014, while neither Pierre Garcon nor DeSean Jackson finish as top-20 wideouts.

Here’s a funny compilation of the most outrageous umpire calls

Here’s a stealing car tires prank

Here’s a new candidate for the worst ever local commercial, although the outtakes of this one still probably wins

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers 11-5

2. Chicago Bears 9-7 (Wild Card)

3. Detroit Lions 7-9

4. Minnesota Vikings 5-11

Comments/Fantasy predictions: The Packers somehow made the playoffs despite winning just eight games last season, but with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, this team is once again a title contender in 2014…Jordy Nelson scores 12 touchdowns, while Randall Cobb tops 100 catches…Rodgers wins the MVP award, while Eddie Lacy finishes with more fantasy points than Adrian Peterson. Seriously, draft Lacy this year (and grab James Starks late)…If Jay Cutler can stay healthy and withstand a brutal early season schedule (Chicago plays five of their final seven games at home, with one of the road tilts Week 17 in Minnesota), the Bears can make the playoffs in 2014, despite fielding a defense that allowed a whopping 5.3 YPC last season…Pro Football Focus gave Brandon Marshall a grade of 18.1 when it came to blocking last year. The next best WR received a 6.5 mark…For what it’s worth, Alshon Jeffery saw 0.7 fewer targets last year when Cutler was QB opposed to Josh McCown...Cutler tosses 30 touchdowns for the first time in his career, while both Marshall and Jeffery finish as top-10 fantasy wide receivers.

The Lions lost their last four games of the season last year and finished third in the NFC North despite being the only team to post a positive point differential in the division. It’s hard to argue against bringing in a new coaching regime, but Jim Caldwell, really? Good luck with that…PFF graded Joique Bell as the No. 4 receiving RB last year, ahead of Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy despite seeing just 562 snaps (the aforementioned three all had at least 300 more)…Over his last 43 games, Reggie Bush has 13 fumbles. He’s never had 230 carries during a season in his career…Bell finishes 2014 as the more valuable fantasy back than Bush…Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson 10.3 YPA. To anyone else 6.2. Stafford is 2-27 during his career when facing a team with a winning record. He finishes outside the top-10 among fantasy quarterbacks in 2014…Over the past three seasons, Golden Tate leads the NFL among all wide receivers with 50 broken tackles…The Vikings’ shaky QB situation and tough schedule results in them winning fewer than six games, although Kyle Rudolph scores 10 touchdowns while Cordarrelle Patterson not only lives up to but exceeds the hype, finishing as a top-12 fantasy WR.

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NFC South

1. New Orleans Saints 11-5

2. Atlanta Falcons 8-8

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8-8

4. Carolina Panthers 8-8

Comments/Fantasy predictions: Not only do the Saints return one of the league’s best offenses led by Drew Brees, New Orleans could field a top-10 defense in 2014. Remember, if not for a couple of unlucky fumbles, this team very well may have beat the Seahawks in Seattle during last year’s Divisional playoff game. While there are two teams that project to be “elite” in the AFC, the Saints are one of a conceivable four or five in the NFC. They top the South, continuing the trend of this division never having a repeat winner…Jimmy Graham’s touchdowns regress, but because he’s such a difference maker at his position, he’s one of the 10 most valuable fantasy players, while New Orleans’ three-headed monster in the backfield results in more frustration from owners, as the team doesn’t produce a top-30 fantasy RB despite being among the league leaders in points scored…Brandin Cooks disappoints relative to his skyrocketing ADP, as Kenny Stills, who led the league in fantasy points per target last season, is nearly his equal at a much lower cost.

The Falcons went from one play away from being in the Super Bowl in 2012 to going 4-12 last season, getting outscored by 90 points and winning just one road game. They have a stars and scrubs roster, so Atlanta is overly reliant upon a handful of specific players staying healthy. Tony Gonzalez has retired, but his play had slipped during the latter part of his career, especially as a blocker…Steven Jackson isn’t a top-30 fantasy RB, but Roddy White and Julio Jones are both top-15 fantasy WRs, with the latter finishing ahead of A.J. GreenJosh McCown had the only positive DVOA (8.0%) under pressure last season among all qualifying quarterbacks in the last four years. Of course, it remains a huge question mark how he performs without Marc Trestman and now in Tampa Bay. Odds are that it’s much, much worse, although no one is expecting the 35-year-old career backup to match anything close to last year’s numbers (8.2 YPA, 13:1 TD:INT ratio)…Doug Martin received the third lowest grade by Pro Football Focus among 55 running backs last season, and 45 of them saw more snaps. In other words, PFF essentially graded him as the worst running back in the NFL before he went down with a season ending injury. However, he was in their top-10 during his rookie campaign, and with all the injuries in Tampa Bay’s backfield, he once again looks like the team’s workhorse. I’ve accordingly bumped him up into my top-10 RBs…To call Gerald McCoy the best run defender in the NFL would be an understatement. He very well might win Defensive Player of the Year this season…Rookie Mike Evans scores more touchdowns than Vincent Jackson.

I was criticized heavily when I picked the Panthers to win this division during last year’s preview, and while we’re here, I also somehow correctly predicted the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year (and arguably the fantasy MVP and LVP as well), but rest assured, I also got plenty wrong, including picking a Steelers team that failed to make the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl...Back to Carolina, who’s coming off the worst offseason of any team in football, its defense should remain among the better units in the league, but the retirement of LT Jordan Gross is devastating, and the Panthers’ offense is a huge question mark. In a competitive division playing a first place schedule, expecting a first to worst finish isn’t crazy at all…Jonathan Stewart outscores DeAngelo Williams but as usual, no Panthers RB finishes as a top-30 option…Cam Newton, who’s never not been a top-5 fantasy QB during his career despite completing just 43.5% of his passes in the red zone, finishes outside the top-10 this season.

Here’s a framed for kidnapping prank

Here’s a fish eating a four-foot shark in one bite, and here’s a killer whale throwing a sea lion 20 feet into the air.

What’s going on here? 

Longread of the Week: “Chaneya Kelly On Falsely Accusing Her Father Of Rape.” 

NFC West

1. San Francisco 49ers 11-5

2. Seattle Seahawks 11-5 (Wild Card)

3. Arizona Cardinals 8-8

4. St. Louis Rams 6-10

Comments/Fantasy predictions: The 49ers were one play away from reaching the Super Bowl last year and have reached the NFC Championship game during all three seasons since Jim Harbaugh took over as coach. San Francisco enters with star linebacker NaVarro Bowman out for the first half of the season and Aldon Smith expected to be suspended for a while as well. Glenn Dorsey tore his biceps, Justin Smith will soon turn 35 years old and the secondary has almost entirely been revamped. While all signs point to the defense being worse in 2014, the offense added Steve Johnson, Brandon Lloyd and Bruce Ellington to a WR corps that will feature a healthy Michael Crabtree for the first time since 2012. Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin also return, so San Francisco’s offense projects to throw more (and maybe a lot more) this season. Fullback Bruce Miller was the third most targeted player on this team last year! SF enters 2014 as just the second team ever with five players who had previously gained at least 965 receiving yards in a season. Yes, go get Colin Kaepernick, who quietly played through a serious injury last season…Boldin, who hauled in some pretty incredible catches last year, was the only wide receiver to see at least 95 targets (he got 123) to have zero interceptions on passes thrown his way…Frank Gore remained by far the best blocking back in the NFL last season, but Carlos Hyde finishes with more fantasy value in 2014 and is a consensus top-15 pick in 2015...Michael Crabtree is a top-12 fantasy wide receiver.

The 49ers present an interesting case about how much one should value the preseason, as they entered August as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl but have looked ABYSMAL since then, including during the “dress rehearsal” in Week 3, when the starters got overwhelmed by San Diego’s pass rush. Moreover, San Francisco’s eight road opponents this season had a combined 45-19 record at home in 2013 (despite finishing lower in the division, they are tasked to play in New Orleans, whereas the Seahawks get to face a Panthers team that has inarguably gotten worse this offseason). Studies have also shown teams with new stadiums suffer with home field advantage over the first half of their inaugural season, let alone one that still can’t figure out how to sod two weeks before the season starts. I’m personally ignoring the preseason noise and going with the opinion I had of this team entering August, which is that they will be the best in football in 2014, but I’d fault no one for accusing me of being a homer.

Seattle, unlike SF, has looked beyond dominant in the preseason, and there’s no question they once again enter the year as one of the three most likely teams to win the Super Bowl...The Seahawks had by far the most penalties in the NFL last year (152, which was 29 more than the next most), and that was before the league essentially changed its defensive holding policy to hurt them in 2014 (although ironically, they entered Week 3 of the preseason as the only team in football yet to be flagged for it this year)…Marshawn Lynch led all RBs with 75 broken tackles last season, 16 more than the next best (Adrian Peterson). Still, Lynch is a candidate to breakdown, and while Christine Michael is supremely talented, all signs point to Robert Turbin being the superior handcuff, so act accordingly…Russell Wilson finishes as a top-10 fantasy quarterback, ahead of Cam Newton, Robert Griffin and Matthew Stafford.

The Cardinals won 10 games last year but enter this season with some losses on defense, and the ability of Carson Palmer to stay healthy while facing the Seahawks, Rams and 49ers six times remains quite important (and difficult)…Andre Ellington is a top-10 fantasy running back, while Michael Floyd is a more valuable fantasy WR than Larry Fitzgerald…You have to feel bad for Sam Bradford, who’s out for the year once again with a torn ACL. That said, it’s unclear if Shaun Hill will be a major downgrade. The Rams recorded a whopping 53 sacks last season, the third most in the NFL, and yet still allowed the worst YPA (8.1) in all of football, which is tough to do. Still, adding Aaron Donald to that group means this team has the most terrifying defensive line in the league…The Rams have the least salary cap space in the NFL, just lost their starting QB for the year and have one of the toughest schedules according to Las Vegas, which is the main reason behind me taking their underJared Cook “led” all tight ends with eight drops last season despite 21 others getting more snaps…Zac Stacy scores 12 touchdowns and is a top-10 fantasy back…Tavon Austin busts again, but Kenny Britt is a top-30 WR during the games in which he plays, and if he stays healthy, he may even become the first Rams wide receiver to gain 700 yards in a season since Torry Holt in 2008

Look out for my AFC Season Preview later this week.

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