More Than A Fan Opinions So Good They Should Be Called Facts Sat, 30 Aug 2014 21:46:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Penske Powerhouse… and a Power Outage Sat, 30 Aug 2014 02:00:03 +0000 Sweltering heat, shaky hands, nerves of steel and courage on pit lane to get the perfect… tweet. Ah, the life I am blessed enough to call my own is a good one. Great, I might venture to say… and I am appreciative for every solitary second. It’s hard for me to believe that a year ago I was in Baltimore for the Grand Prix, gathering information for my first article on IndyCar. I’d been a fan all my life, but that was the first race where I was More Than a Fan. Hard to believe in just a year I’ve gone from my very first published motorsports article, to the Editor of the site that recruited me. It’s been an amazing year and I love all the places this “second job” has taken me – literally and figuratively. Currently, it’s taken me here to the West Coast, a place I’ve been infatuated with for the past decade.

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How the Cavaliers ‘Big Three’ should fit together Fri, 29 Aug 2014 20:05:12 +0000 0 Expect Tempers To Heat Up As NASCAR Heads To Atlanta Fri, 29 Aug 2014 19:15:57 +0000 There will be fireworks Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. They just might not be in the sky.

With just two races left until the field is set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a number of drivers know that the only way they will have a chance to compete for a championship will be to somehow find their way to victory lane at either Atlanta or Richmond.  It is safe to say that in Atlanta (and the following week in Richmond), there will be desperation in the air. And with desperation comes short tempers.

Drivers such as Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray are all sitting outside the Chase with little hope of now making it in on points (Larson trails by 26 points with two races left). You also have Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle who would be in on points now but would love to have a win to guarantee their spot. Add in other drivers like Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr., Danica Patrick and others who are trying to make up for disappointing seasons and you could have the making of a story that would lead SportsCenter. Or become an episode of Law and Order.

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IndyCar Championship Heats Up Southern California Fri, 29 Aug 2014 17:00:30 +0000 Greetings from sunny California!

It’s been hot as well with temps hitting 100 on the daily. The Verizon IndyCar Series however, is hitting 200+ at Auto Club Speedway! The open test on Wednesday night went relatively smoothly, with cars pack racing in groups of 3 or 4, and sometimes even grouping up to 5 in close proximity – a great preview of the kind of action we could be in for tomorrow evening in Fontana, during the MAV TV 500. Scott Dixon ran the fastest overall, in the #9 for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. The most-recent race winner had a quick lap average of 219.462.

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In the Battle Against PEDs, Hypocrisy Reigns Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:00:18 +0000 Two separate incidents this week with relation to PEDs drove me to pen the following words.  The first one occurred while I was watching the Milwaukee Brewers in action.  This is not something I do all that frequently for two reasons.  One- because in my head the Brewers and Commissioner-For-Life (though maybe not) Selig are inextricably linked.  The second, and at least for today, the more important reason is that their ‘star’ attraction is none other than Cheater Braun.

I was *surprised* to see that Braun had managed to total only 17 home runs this year.  No, really, I was.  I mean the guy had an extended off-season, time that he could have put towards making sure he was in peak physical condition heading in to the 2014 season.  He also had plenty of time to take extra batting practice once he was healthy, because he had nothing else going on, anyway.  Well, nothing on a baseball diamond, at least.

Despite that, Braun is on pace to set full season career lows in nearly every single offensive category.  Home runs, what Braun was perhaps best known for through the 2012 season, have come at a far reduced clip.  Through 109 games, Braun is averaging 1 home run per every 27.9 ABs, which is a far cry from his career average of one every 17.5 ABs.  Assuming he plays in each of the 29 games the Brew Crew has left in 2014, and averages 4 ABs per game, he might get to 22 HRs at his current pace.  He’d also need to average nearly an RBI a game to get to his familiar 100+ territory.

His current batting average of .277 is 35 points below what his career average was heading in t the 2014 campaign, part of which might be attributed to the fact that he is making contact far less frequently than he has historically.  Over his career, Braun has averaged 2Ks per every walk he’s earned.  This year, that ratio is much closer to 4:1.

I went back and looked at his last 2 full years prior to his *injury*-filled 2013, and discovered that he averaged 37 HRs, 111 RBIs, a .326 BA, a .596 slugging, and a .990+ OPS.  Then I stopped to think about what might be different between those two seasons, and the 2014 regular season.  I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my…That’s a lie.  Of course I can.

While it’s perfectly conceivable that Braun is still Cheating this year, it’s quite clear that if he is, it is a much less successful regimen than what he was on previously.  It’s also perfectly clear that most press, and certainly game announcers are completely willing to overlook the Cheating Braun has done in the past, which is utterly ridiculous to me.  It should be mentioned every time that Braun takes the field, regardless of what city he is in.  The fact that it is not should be an embarrassment to *outgoing* Commissioner Selig, but I imagine he’s too busy cutting up the profits to have much time to pay attention to what’s going on the field of play.

The second bit of PEDs hypocrisy that I ran in to this week came whilst I was listening to one of my heroes of A.M. Radio, Joe Castiglione on the Boston Red Sox radio network.  It was Wednesday evening, and the Red Sox were in Toronto to take on the fading Blue Jays.  On the mound for the Jays was Marcus Stroman, who was suspended during the 2012 season for taking an over the counter supplement that contained Methylhexaneamine, which is a substance banned by MLB.

Castiglione waited all the way until the top of the 3rd inning before he reminded his listeners of Stroman’s transgression.  I’m completely fine with it having been mentioned, because it is something that happened, and it’s an interesting tidbit for those who didn’t know, or may have forgotten.  However, hypocrisy reared its ugly head in the bottom of the 3rd.

After Jose Reyes was called out on a 98 mph fastball from Joe Kelly, Melky Cabrera strode to the batter’s box.  I waited for Castiglione to remind listeners that Cabrera, too, was suspended during the 2012 season, except his was a more typical PED suspension.  The mention, not unsurprisingly, never came.  It is part of what I can only imagine to be a coordinated effort by all of MLB to not mention certain players and their connections to PEDs, and it’s disappointing at the least.  If one player is going to be branded a Cheat, then all players who are playing under similar circumstance should also be branded that same way.  Especially when they make appearances within 10 minutes of each other.

I made absolutely no inroads with current Commissioner Selig, but as his time is set to expire come January 2015, perhaps now is the moment I have been waiting for.  It is said that Rob Manfred’s ascension to baseball’s highest office is going to continue Selig’s legacy.  In some ways, that’s alright.  When it comes to PEDs, however, it’s a wholly unacceptable proposition.  The hypocrisy has gone on long enough.

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Sam’s Take: MTAF Wheels IndyCar Q & A – August 29, 2014 Fri, 29 Aug 2014 11:15:02 +0000 After seventeen races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, it all comes down to 500 miles at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for the MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship. This is the last of the three 500 mile races of the 2014 season.

Three drivers are in the hunt for the Astor Cup and they are Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud. All three drivers are seeking their first IndyCar title. Will Power can clinch the title with a sixth place finish or better (seventh if Power can win the pole and lead the most laps), Helio Castroneves can clinch the title with a win and if Power finishes seventh or worse (eighth if Power wins the pole and leads the most laps), and Simon Pagenaud needs a win and some help if he wants to win the IndyCar title. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year title is also up for grabs. Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz can clinch it with a P16 finish or better.

The month of September will be upon us soon and it will mark one year since the launch of MTAF Wheels. Hard to believe a year has flown by since our site has started up. I would like to give a shout out to MTAF Wheels founder Damien Bowman who was kind enough to let me be a part of this great site and let me share my passion and thoughts of IndyCar racing with all of you. I would also like to give a shout out to MTAF Wheels Editor in Chief Shay Hazen for letting me continue to be a part of the site and with her leadership, she has helped shape MTAF Wheels in to what it is today along with the rest of the MTAF Wheels writers: Ryan IsleyMichael CulifordNick Timko, Erin Charlton, and Christian Harlos.

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Akron Zips Shine In Season-Opening Win Over Howard Fri, 29 Aug 2014 03:05:06 +0000 by Ryan Isley

The motto for the 2014 Akron Zips football team is “Time to Shine.” Thursday night, they did just that in a 41-0 win over Howard at Infocision Stadium, starting the season 1-0 for the first time since 2007 – two seasons before moving into the stadium.

“A great day for us,” Akron head coach Terry Bowden said.

The domination started early as the Zips defense held the Bison to four yards on their first possession, leading to a three-and-out and a punt. Akron’s offense didn’t take long to put up their first points of the season once they had the ball. Quarterback Kyle Pohl found LT Smith wide open for a 57-yard touchdown on their second play from scrimmage of the game. The drive lasted all of 38 seconds and covered 62 yards.

Akron’s defense then set the offense up in prime position when Justin March hit Howard running back William Parker and caused him to fumble at the Bison 28-yard-line. CJ Mizell scooped it up and returned it to the Howard 9-yard-line. The offense took advantage quickly, as Pohl hit Imani Davis on the second play of the drive for a touchdown.

After yet another three-and-out, Davis backed up his touchdown catch with a 32-yard punt return giving the Zips the ball on the Howard 43-yard-line. It wasn’t there long, as Pohl connected with Mykel Traylor-Bennett on the first play of the drive. Traylor-Bennett made the catch, made a man miss and was off to the endzone for Akron’s third touchdown in their first five offensive plays.

After 5:26 of play, Akron led 21-0.

“That’s a feeling we have never had before, it is new for us to play up that big,” Pohl said. “We came out and it showed in those first six minutes.”

The Zips offense continued to move the ball after that, but couldn’t put more points on the board before halftime. Howard never really got anything going offensively until their last possession of the first half, when they went 69 yards on 14 plays in 3:01. It ended without points, however, as a pass from Greg McGhee to Tavius Brown fell incomplete as the half ended.

“If they score there, it’s a different ballgame as far as they’re concerned,” Bowden said. “They are about to get run out and they are feeling like if we can just get a drive here, or we can open the second half with a drive, it’s a different mentality.”

In the first half, Akron outgained Howard 276-135, with 69 of those yards for Howard coming on the final drive. On Howard’s seven possessions, five were three-and-out, with four of those resulting in a punt and one in a fumble.

The second half started off with more of the same from the Akron defense, as they held Howard to eight yards in three plays on their first possession after the offense sputtered in their opening drive. The offense got a jumpstart however on their second drive, scoring another touchdown as Jawon Chisolm got on the board for the first time this season. His six-yard touchdown run was set up by a great pitch and catch between Pohl and Keith Sconiers that covered 26 yards to the Howard one-yard-line two plays prior.

“I honestly didn’t see the catch, I was laying down,” Pohl, who was knocked down on the throw, said. “I have heard he made a great catch.”

The Zips defense then went into “bend, but don’t break” mode, allowing the Bison to drive to the 36-yard line before pushing them back and stopping them on a fourth down to give the offense the ball back around midfield. Akron’s offense again did work, marching 51 yards in five plays, ending the drive with Pohl’s career-best fourth touchdown pass of the game – a 28-yard-toss to Traylor-Bennett.

Pohl finished the game with 304 yards on 22-for-35 passing and played just a little over three quarters, being lifted with 11:27 left in the game. Tommy Woodson took over and led the Zips to a touchdown of his own, connecting with Austin Wolf for a 40-yard scoring pass with 9:42 remaining to give Akron the final margin of 41-0. It was the first career touchdown pass for Woodson and the first career touchdown reception for Wolf, both redshirt freshmen.

“I think it is important that we win well,” Bowden said. “We needed to have a good solid win. I think that’s just part of building the morale and confidence of your football team. And I think we got that.”

It will be important for the Zips to continue to build on this win, as they travel to Penn State, host Marshall and then travel to Pitt to round out their non-conference schedule.

But for now, standing at 1-0 for the first time in seven years, the Zips football program is shining bright.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Photo Courtesy: University of Akron Athletics; University of Akron Football @ZipsFB

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On Josh Gordon and NFL Suspensions Thu, 28 Aug 2014 20:06:35 +0000 0 Cleveland Indians Playing Well in August Wed, 27 Aug 2014 20:05:25 +0000 0 Another Strong Mid Season Wed, 27 Aug 2014 18:16:29 +0000 0 Cleveland Browns Josh Gordon Suspended Wed, 27 Aug 2014 17:40:29 +0000 0 Kevin Love is a Cleveland Cavalier Tue, 26 Aug 2014 20:05:05 +0000 0 Tim Leiweke – How long is “Not Forever” Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:58:16 +0000 On June 30 2013 Tim Leiweke was introduced as the new President and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (“MLSE”). The announcement was somewhat of a formality as it had been rumoured for several weeks that Leiweke, the former President and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group would be taking the MLSE role.

Leiweke was seen as a great catch by those in the industry. He had experience, swagger and a high profile through his previous roles. He was seen as just what the doctor ordered for MLSE. MLSE owns the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, Toronto FC of MLS, the Air Canada Centre (home of the Leafs and Raptors), BMO Field (home of Toronto FC) and the Toronto Marlies of the AHL (the Maple Leafs top farm team) as well as residential condominiums adjacent to the Air Canada Centre. All in all, an empire.

Leiweke was hired to develop all aspects of the MLSE Empire, but it was the on-field/on-court/on-ice products that he was primarily brought on board to improve. All of the sports teams had become stale over the years, albeit that the Maple Leafs and the Raptors were still successful on the balance sheet even if they weren’t on the ice/court. Toronto FC was a different story, it was neither successful on the field nor in the ledger. Leiweke promised to change all of that. He made it clear that his number one goal was improving the product.

That was fairly easy with the Raptors, a relatively new NBA franchise and one with little/no success over its history. Basketball being an easier fix than hockey due to the size of the rosters and the impact that one good new player can have on a team; he quickly set out to put that ship in order. Results were mixed. The Raptors made the NBA playoffs at the conclusion of the 2013-14 NBA season, winning the weak Atlantic Division (at one point they led the division despite a 12-15 record), but suffered a first round exit at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets after leading the series after five games. Toronto FC was improved through new signings. A playoff spot appears likely for them, but there is still time to play in the season, so a final assessment on that franchise’s season can’t be made right now.

The biggest and most opportunistic challenge was to improve the Leafs on-ice product. With the exception of New York and Chicago, most North American cities are one sport towns. By that, I mean that each city has one professional team that will do well at the gate and get lots of media attention regardless of how well/how badly they play. In Dallas it is the Cowboys. In St. Louis it is the Cardinals. In Los Angeles it is the Lakers. In Washington it is the Redskins. Other teams in those towns will draw fans providing the product on the field/court/ice is good. In Toronto there is no doubt that it is the Maple Leafs that is the primary sports team. Toronto is a hockey town. Always was and always will be. A Maple Leafs press conference in July is as big an event as a New York Yankee press conference is in December. The Leafs are now into their fifth decade without a Stanley Cup win, but tickets remain as hard to get today as they were in the 1960′s when the team won the Stanley Cup regularly. The Leafs, despite their losing ways, still drive the MLSE balance sheet upwards. The Toronto Blue Jays drew four million fans in their heyday of back to back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993 (the stadium held 50,000 in those days). Now a good crowd is 25,000, maybe 40,000 for Opening Day, games against the Yankees/Red Sox and other selected dates. The Raptors are still a bit of a novelty and in some respects “the place to be seen”, but that won’t last unless they start winning on a regular basis. Toronto FC is still in the growing stage, trying to establish a fan base and some kind of tradition. Toronto is a very cosmopolitan city with lots of soccer fans through their heritage. However, most still support their favourite team in their home country, much akin to all the Detroiters and Chicagoans that have moved to Arizona. They love hockey, but they don’t support the Coyotes, they still love their Red Wings and their Blackhawks.

Once hired, Leiweke quickly identified the route for a Stanley Cup parade and made a few enemies by suggesting that the photos of former Leaf greats that graced the walls of the Air Canada Centre be taken down as the team was relying too much on its past history. That was not well received. The Leafs had made the NHL playoffs at the end of the 2013 season, their first playoff appearance in many years. They had extended the eventual Stanley Cup Finalist Boston Bruins to a seventh game in their first round series, a game and series decided by overtime, after the Leafs had blown a three goal lead in the third period of game seven. Things were looking up for the Leafs on the ice, so Leiweke was seen as a good addition. All we have to do is look at the standings to see that the 2013-14 edition of the Leafs was not a success, as the team again failed to make the playoffs. In other words, business as usual.

In one short year, Leiweke had made his mark on the MLSE scene. He had hired new Presidents for each of the three major franchises and kept talking about changing the culture of the organizations. It appeared that he had started something and intended to finish what he had started, along with the people he had hired to do the day to day heavy lifting.

At his introductory press conference in June 2013, Leiweke said he didn’t expect to be in Toronto forever. No one is in that type of role, or any sports related role forever, so nothing was questioned when he made the statement. Fans thought it was an indication that he expected to get the various ships righted in short order.

Last week, rumours started that Leiweke was considering leaving MLSE to pursue other un-named opportunities. As recently as Wednesday August 23 he vehemently denied that he was leaving. Then a day or two later, he willingly indicated that he would leave the organization on June 30, 2015, or perhaps sooner if MLSE secured a successor prior to next June. There are rumours he is destined to go back to Los Angeles and run the Clippers in the post-Sterling era. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him gone before June 30 next year even if a permanent successor isn’t readily available. To avoid any lame duck decisions and situations, it might be prudent for MLSE to put someone in on an interim basis. I wonder if former CEO Richard Peddie is looking for a short term gig?

This all means that “not forever” is defined as two years, maybe less. It’s hard to figure out what really happened here. The reasons may be personal and therefore ones we will never be fully aware of. Perhaps Leiweke decided the role wasn’t for him. Perhaps MLSE’s board and owners (Bell Media, Rogers Communications and Larry Tannenbaum) felt that things weren’t working out as planned or that perhaps the board wanted a bigger say in how things moved forward. Nothing was said formally when the official announcement of the resignation was announced.

Leiweke may or may not be hard to replace. There will be someone who has the ego and the thick skin to take the job on. There are many who would be qualified but may not want the daily stress of the role in a hockey mad city. Whoever comes in, will likely be faced with having to accept Leiweke’s choices to run the three franchises. That may not be easy for MLSE ownership to sell a prospective CEO on. How the people he has hired to run the franchises will react with a “lame duck” boss is hard to fathom. Cle\rly, none have been on the job long enough to make their own mark, so to some extent they are tied to Leiweke.

We all know that nothing is forever, except death and taxes. But I doubt anyone thought that Leiweke’s comment last June meant that two years or less down the road someone else would be taking over. Life is rarely dull at 40 Bay Street, Toronto.

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MTAF Podcast #119: Fantasy Football with Alex Squires Mon, 25 Aug 2014 20:53:27 +0000
More Than a Fan Fantasy Football dude (I hate calling people “experts” or “gurus”) Alex Squires makes his maiden voyage on the podcast to talk about how drafts are going and what kind of player is really screwing up his strategy.

We talk some trash about the More Than a Fan Fantasy Football League, I realize that I’m an old man when it comes to fantasy football, and I drank a whole Great Lakes Brewing Company Oktoberfest. (It’s TOO DAMN EARLY for Oktoberfests. It was 90 degrees today!)



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Is the Preseason Over Yet and Other Browns Thoughts Mon, 25 Aug 2014 20:00:51 +0000 0 Notre Dame and the Conference Dilemma Mon, 25 Aug 2014 10:44:45 +0000 0 Did Nico Intentionally Hit Lewis? Sun, 24 Aug 2014 16:15:25 +0000 I’ve just finished watching the Belgian Grand Prix. It was eventful. It contained some great racing, especially the tussle between Magnussen, Button, Vettel and finally, Alonso. But for me, the race was marred by an incident between Hamilton and Rosberg which resulted in Hamilton’s retirement.

I’m a Lewis Hamilton fan so I’m not too happy with Nico Rosberg who gave Lewis a puncture which then delaminated and damaged his floor, losing 40 points of downforce which rendered him uncompetitive even to the cars in 15th and 16th… and eventually led to his retirement from the race. Now Rosberg leads the championship by 29 points which is unlikely to be caught if Rosberg has his usual reliability compared to Lewis.

I’ll be trying to fathom if Nico deliberately clipped Lewis’ tyre with his front wing, or whether he genuinely made an error which accidentally cost the team a possible 1-2 finish.

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Can Top 5 Starters Yield Another Verizon IndyCar Series Winner at Sonoma? Sun, 24 Aug 2014 11:15:30 +0000 This is it. The last week of the IndyCar season is upon us. These last seven days will answer the question of who will be your 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Champion. These last seven days will also give us two amazing races that are sure to fire up cars and tempers. They are sure to produce edge-of-your-seat racing entertainment and nail-biting maneuvers. Some of those maneuvers will be demonstrated later today as the field of 22 leaves it all out on the track from green to checkered. More than likely, the focus will remain on the Top 5 starters. It is from within this very finely distinct grouping of drivers (different combination every year of course), that we have found the winner to all past 9 IndyCar races here at Sonoma Raceway. In this, it’s 10th year, I think it’s only fair to respect that tradition by taking a look at the Top 5 starters for today’s Go Pro Grand Prix and check out their odds of winning.

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Fantasy Football and the AFC North Sat, 23 Aug 2014 12:03:35 +0000 AFC North

The AFC North is one of the more interesting divisions in the NFL, considering all four teams should remain relatively competitive. All four teams bring above average defenses to the table, and given the weather that the Midwest sees in winter – especially Northeast Ohio – it should make for some ugly football games. It will not all be ugly though, so let’s go ahead and comb through this division and see what each of these teams offers from a fantasy perspective.

Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco – Even though Joe Flacco is praised for being a Super Bowl Champion quarterback, he has never really put up much in the way of numbers. When the Ravens are winning they are playing sound all-world caliber defense, running the football, and using that to set up their passing game. Flacco is coming off of a season in which he posted a 73.1 QB rating and threw three more interceptions than TDs. He reportedly has made some fundamental changes in his mechanics in an effort to become more efficient. Now Flacco has never missed a game coming into his seventh year in the NFL and although the Ravens have helped him out a bit with the addition of Steve Smith it is hard for me to get too excited about a guy who has never throw for over 4000 yards in six seasons, and has seen sub-60% completion percentages the past three years, even if he does have a Super Bowl ring.

Ray Rice/Bernard Pierce – This backfield could prove to be very ugly in 2014. With Rice being suspended for the first two games, Bernard Pierce figures to start those games with Justin Forsett mixing in as a COP back, and it is up to Pierce to prove he is capable of being the Raven’s featured back the rest of the season. That seems pretty ambitious considering Pierce averaged 2.9 yards per carry last year on 152 totes. Now the implementation of new OC Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone-blocking running attack could prove to work in Pierces favor as that style of offense seems to suit him better as he is indeed a one cut downhill runner. The system doesn’t however seem to be Ray Rice’s cup of tea as he operates better in space and is a jump-cut machine which can convolute a zone-blocking scheme. For my money I will take Bernard Pierce’s 2.9 2013 YPC over Ray Rice’s 3.1 as he has the fresher legs and is a much better fit for the new system making him a borderline RB2/3 if he can use the first two games to take control of the Raven’s feature back job.

Torrey SmithTorrey Smith seemed primed for a breakout year last year and he didn’t completely disappoint, although a lot of us who drafted him as a WR1 couldn’t have been too thrilled with his 65-1128-4 2013 line. The fact is that Smith ran a whole lot of low-percentage routes last year and being the only real weapon Baltimore’s WR corps had to offer, making the Steve Smith acquisition a plus for him so defenses aren’t so honed in on stopping Torrey. He eclipsed the 100 yard mark for a game only twice last year, but with Gary Kubiak’s X receiver-friendly offense coming to town, Torrey Smith will play a more versatile role within the offense and should see a whole lot of targets. With Smith’s ADP still in the 6th round, he could prove to be one of the top value picks of 2014.

Steve Smith – In 2013, as top dog in Carolina, Smith was only able to muster up 64 catches and 4 TDs while he averaged a career-low 11.6 yards per reception. At 35 years old Smith has managed to stay relatively healthy as he hasn’t played in less than 14 games in a season since he missed all of 2004, but the fact remains Smith’s game is definitely declining sharply. Though Smith’s competitiveness and toughness should rub off on his teammates thus making the Raven’s a better football team, I do not foresee him having the same impact on fantasy teams, making Smith a WR5/6 for me.

Dennis Pitta – I am a big Dennis Pitta fan. He played in only 4 games last year as he spent most of 2013 on the I.R. with a hip issue, but he says he feels 100%. Just like with Torrey Smith and his X receiver position, Kubiak’s offense is very TE-friendly also, as we saw Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels both be monster parts of what the Texan’s tried to do offensively under Kubiak. Pitta, also like Smith, will be used in a number of ways including in the slot and out of the backfield at times. He is a great talent and the volume should be there this year for Pitta. He should spend 2014 competing with Torrey Smith for the Raven’s team lead in targets, receptions and receiving TDs making him a steal at his current ADP and a high-upside TE1.

Cincinnati Bengals

Andy Dalton – Ugh. I have always struggled within myself to fight the feelings I have for NFL football players as people, and not let it affect my fantasy drafts. Andy Dalton is just one of the guys I cannot stand to even look at for too long before he just inexplicably pisses me off. Dalton just inked a shiny new 6 year $96M contract and is coming off of his best year as he completed 62% of his passes for 4296 yards and 33 TDs. I firmly believe that if Dalton and his stupid red hair didn’t have A.J. Green to throw the football to – his ENTIRE pro career – he would be in the Blaine Gabbert conversation by now. But the fact remains he DOES have Green which keeps him as a high-end QB2, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Giovani Bernard – Gio’s fantasy stock has been up and down this summer as he was anointed the Bengal’s starting running back and seemed to be a lock for 300 touches in Hue Jackson’s extremely run-heavy offense until people got a look at rookie Jeremy Hill’s skills and predictions surfaced of him siphoning 10-15 carries per game from Gio, including goal-line work. Although not terribly efficient in 2013 at 4.06 YPC, Gio has taken every first-team snap throughout Cincinnati’s preseason – in all scenarios – and with plenty of totes to go around, Gio is still a candidate for 300 touches in my mind making him a second or third round RB2 with RB1 potential.

Jeremy Hill/Benjarvus Green-Ellis – Amazingly “The Law firm” is still in the conversation with talented rookie Jeremy Hill to play second-fiddle to Giovani Bernard as the “big back” in Cincinnati’s offense. Green-Ellis, 29 years old and now dealing with a hip, averaged a paltry 3.4 YPC as he trudged his way to 756 yards on 220 carries in 2013 and offers zilch in the passing game. Before the injury Green-Ellis was running with the twos in preseason and Hill with the threes. That will change come the regular season as Hill should have a bit of stand-alone value as he could see those 10-15 carries per game and vulture some TDs, but for me his real value is him being Gio’s unequivocal handcuff.

A.J. Green – Green has been a model of consistency since entering the NFL in 2011 as he has posted three straight 1000 yard seasons and reeled in 7, 11 and 11 TDs in years 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. At 6’ 4” 207 pounds and in possession of some of the greatest ball-skills I have ever seen, Green is a master of taking lemons and making lemonade as he has been bailing out Andy Dalton, grabbing up his off-time, off-target wobblers his whole career. Though he remains an elite top-5 fantasy WR in all formats, I believe if Green had a half-way competent QB throwing him the football we are jockeying him and Calvin Johnson for the rights to best WR in the NFL. He is that talented.

Tyler Eifert/Jermaine Gresham – I was once very high on Jermaine Gresham as he has always had the physical tools to be an elite move tight end in the NFL, he just never panned out and I am not sure he ever got a real chance to prove it and definitely won’t now with the Bengals spending a 2013 first-round pick on Tyler Eifert. Eifert averaged 11.4 yard per reception last year in limited duty and remains the only Cincinnati TE even close to my fantasy radar. With Marvin Jones out until at least week 5, Eifert figures to occupy the slot in his absence thus running more routes and hanging on to a bit of TE2 relevance.

Cleveland Browns

Brian Hoyer / Johnny Manziel – This QB competition has been the epicenter of the sports world most of the summer and it concluded after the Brown’s second preseason game with Brian Hoyer being named the starter. Hoyer wasn’t exactly lighting it up in up in the preseason and completed an ugly 59.4%of his passes in 2 and ¼ games for the Browns last season though he did produce a 5:3 TD to interception ratio. With Josh Gordon’s seemingly imminent season-long suspension on the horizon, a glaring lack of talent at the position behind Gordon, limited experience in 5 year-long NFL career and a run-heavy base offensive philosophy, Hoyer will be a bottom-of-the-barrel QB2. Now if Brian Hoyer loses his started job, whether it be from injury or ineffectiveness, Manziel’s fantasy outlook is far more promising, mainly because of the legs. Running QBs are like gold in fantasy football and even though ideally Cleveland would like to see Johnny play more from the pocket, he is a rookie and his instincts to run are going to take over at times until the Browns can break him of that. For now Hoyer is the guy in Cleveland but if JFF is thrust into the gig he could potentially provide some serious 2012 RGIII like production, making him worth taking a late round flier on and stashing him.

Ben Tate / Terrance West – Although the Browns plan to run the ball a whole lot, giving ample opportunity for both of the lead backs in Cleveland, Ben Tate is still the clear-cut fantasy choice in this backfield. Tate is likely to see 20+ carries per game as they are committed to running the rock and has averaged 4.75 YPC through two preseason games. The issue with Tate is his injury history as he had a lot of trouble staying healthy as a backup in Houston, making rookie Terrance West an interesting guy considering he should see around 10 carries per game weekly and if Tate were to miss any time, would become an absolute bell cow and flirt with RB1 status.
Josh Gordon – Unfortunately with a lot of unknowns regarding the situation, there really isn’t a whole lot to say about the 2013 NFL receiving leader. If Gordon were not facing a potentially year-long suspension he would be one of the first 5 WRs of the board but since he is, he is merely a guy you should just avoid altogether or roll the dice and take a mid to late round flier on the tremendously talented young wideout. Though he could turn out to be a wasted pick, I’m growing more and more fond of the idea of taking the risk and hoping to be able to insert the elite WR in your lineup half way through the season. That could prove to be huge for your fantasy team down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Andrew Hawkins – Hawkins played in only 8 games with Cincinnati last year and showed pretty well – considering his QB – as he averaged 16.6 yards per reception and scored twice. Now healthy, and figuring to be the top dog of the Josh Gordon-less WR corps, the shifty jitterbug could prove to have some nice value as a 12th or 13th round flier as he figures to see a bunch of targets as Brian Hoyer looks to get rid of the ball quick and Hawkins will a lot of the time serve as Hoyer’s hot read. Though he is much more valuable in PPR leagues as 75-80 receptions seems to be a real possibility if he can stay healthy, Hawkins definitely offers some sleeper appeal in standard leagues.

Jordan Cameron – Another former basketball player playing NFL football, Jordan Cameron broke out last season with an 80-917-7 line in 2013. Cameron stated the 2013 season off red hot as he reeled in 30 receptions for 360 yards and 4 TDs through the first four games of the season and although still productive week to week, tailed off a bit as the season wore on. Cameron should prove to be a great value in the 5th round as he promises to be a target-monster in the Browns offense remains devoid of a whole lot of talent from a pass-catching standpoint.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger – Even though as a Browns fan I am supposed to hate this guy, I just cannot help but admire him as I believe he is one of the toughest players in the NFL considering all the injuries he has played though in his career, and the fact that he has played well through them. Roethlisberger attempted a career high 584 passes last year, a product of both Todd Haley’s pass-heavy attack with new no-huddle and up-tempo notes, and that the Steelers defense wasn’t so Steelers-like as they ranked in the middle of the road in a lot of defensive statistics in 2013. I think Big Ben could be in store for his best statistical season in his career with the Steelers young O-line promising to be more cohesive, a strong running-game, and a healthy security blanket of a TE Heath Miller, allowing me to finally put Roethlisberger in the low-end QB1 conversation confidently.

Antonio Brown – After finishing 2nd in the NFL last year in both receptions and receiving yards, there really isn’t a whole lot not to like about this crafty 5’10” 186 pound 26 year old. Brown averaged 93.7 yards per games in 2013 and caught 8 TDs. Now locked in as the clear-cut number one option and focal point in this offense that promises to air it out a lot of the time, Brown is a top 10 WR and offers tremendous value in the 3rd round. He is a WR1.

Le’Veon Bell /LeGarrette Blount – These two stoners are going to make up what I believe is going to prove to be an impressive rushing attack for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014. Although Bell has a whole bunch of miles on his legs after eating week in and week out at MSU and averaged only 3.5 YPC on 244 totes in 2013, I think Bell is guy a lot of people are foolishly starting to write off given is recent legal issues and loss of work to LeGarrette Blount. Bell offers a lot value in the passing game to Blount’s zero in an up-tempo pass-happy offense, though rookie Dri Archer figures to dip into that a bit, if Bells slips to you in the 3rd round I think you would be a fool not to take advantage of it. Don’t sleep on LeGarrette Blount either as he seems to be finding his way in the NFL a bit, and people forget that Blount projected as a first-round draft pick until he punched that dude from Boise State’s lights out. Blount figures to play 1B to Bell’s 1A and get some goal-line work as well, making him Bell’s handcuff and a week to week RB3 whereas Bell remains a borderline RB1/2 in my eyes as we are unlikely to see their recent legal transgressions affect their 2014 fantasy outlook considering we probably won’t hear a ruling from the league as far as punishment until 2015.

Markus Wheaton – Although at times this preseason he as appeared out of sync with QB Ben Roethlisberger, Wheaton has whole lot of talent and will open up the Steelers season as a starter opposite Antonio Brown, he is still just very raw. Starting in an offense that allowed Emmanuel Sanders to put up a line of 67-740-6 in 2013, I see no reason why the more talented Wheaton cannot eclipse those numbers as he remains one of the top boom-or-bust fantasy sleepers in the NFL this year.
Heath Miller – Coming off of a season in which he posted career lows in both yards per reception (10.2) and TDs (1), Heath Miller is healthy again and I think ready to return to 2012 form where he posted career highs in both receiving yards (816) and TDs (8). Miller is a guy that Big Ben looks for in all kinds of different scenarios as he knows Miller is a pretty good bet to bail him out of any dicey situation. Although not explosive at all and now 31 years old, Miller has a clear chemistry with Roethlisberger and should see the volume of targets to put him back on the low-end TE1 radar.

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Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Making a Name For Himself in NASCAR Truck Series Fri, 22 Aug 2014 23:45:15 +0000 It is funny how quickly things can develop. At this time last season, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. was just trying to find his way. Now, the 20-year-old driver is fast becoming one of the best drivers in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

When Wallace found his way into victory lane last October in the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway, he became the first African-American driver to win a race in one of NASCAR’s top divisions since Wendell Scott in 1963. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Wallace eventually won a race in his first season in the series, as he had 10 top-10 finishes and four top-5 finishes in the 18 races prior to the triumph at Martinsville. In the five races leading up to Martinsville, he had finished in the top-5 three times, including what to that point was his season-best fourth-place finish.

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Why Can’t a Pitcher Win the MVP? Fri, 22 Aug 2014 22:01:44 +0000 Thursday night I stayed up to watch Tyson Ross and Clayton Kershaw duel as the Padres finished a three-game series with the Dodgers. Getting to see such a good game was reward enough for me but as I turned off the television and rolled over to go to sleep, I couldn’t help but think I had seen more than that.

Before I begin, the point needs to be made that the greatest part about the game was that it took just two hours and twenty-three minutes to complete eight and a half innings (bottom of the ninth unnecessary because the home team won) of baseball. The ‘pace of the game’ is apparently something MLB and newly-elected Commissioner Rob Manfred will try to address in the near future. Although I whole-heartedly agree that games are taking far too long on average, I think micromanagement such as monitoring each hitter’s time spent outside the batters’ box is not the way to go about speeding up. This however, is the subject for another column and so I’ll get back to my point.

Dayn Perry wrote an interesting piece on pitching dominance a little over a week ago and though I was already aware how tremendous Kershaw is, the chart toward the bottom of the page made my jaw drop. On Thursday, Kershaw went eight innings, giving up just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out ten. That means he registered another ‘Dominant Start’ and brought his DS% just above 38 (8 of his 21 starts being ‘dominant’ as Perry describes). As good as he was Ross was even better through seven innings. He also went eight, refusing to surrender any runs until a Carl Crawford leadoff single and a Justin Turner homer gave the Dodgers the 2-1 lead in his last inning of work.

Watching the game unfold, I found myself wondering how some people can be naïve enough to discount the impact a phenomenal pitcher can have on a team. Sure, Kershaw won’t take the mound again until next Wednesday because the Dodgers have Monday off but his eight innings last night were huge.

Not only did Kershaw’s performance notch the Dodgers a home-series sweep against an opponent within the division, it also prevented the bullpen from overuse. Manager Don Mattingly had seen his starting pitchers go just five innings each of the past two days, meaning he had to rely on his bullpen to register twelve of the required twenty seven outs on consecutive days. This is the sort of thing you want to avoid making a habit of, no matter how well your relievers are pitching.

Mattingly might have let Kershaw go out for the ninth had closer Kenley Jansen been used at all the past weekend. Being swept by the Brewers before welcoming the Padres to town meant that prior to Tuesday, Jansen had not pitched since last Thursday in Atlanta.

Had the Dodgers not grabbed the lead on the Turner homer, Kershaw likely would have gone out to pitch the ninth too. His pitch count (if you put stock in such numbers) sat at 103, giving Mattingly more than enough wiggle room to justify sending his ace out to finish what he started. Instead the skipper, with a one-run lead, chose to use Andre Ethier as a pinch-hitter when the pitcher’s spot came up, in a vain attempt to add some insurance.

This is not to say I think Mattingly made a poor choice. I agree with his call to go with his closer, after all that’s what they’re there for. But in going eight and setting himself up to even go nine, Kershaw gave Mattingly a tough choice that any manager on any team would love to have to make.

The way in which the Dodgers won the game will certainly give them a boost going forward too. How good it must feel for the Dodgers to know that every five days, with Kershaw on the mound, they only need to get a couple runs and play sound defense. In a long roller-coaster type season, Kershaw’s track record must give his teammates a welcomed sense of clam at least once a week.

So now I’m asking: why is it that pitchers aren’t supposed to win the Most Valuable Player award?

If your defense is that pitchers already have the Cy Young Award and therefore a hitter should always win MVP, then you need to familiarize yourself with the Silver Slugger Award, given to the best hitter at each position in both leagues. This means that each season there are a combined seventeen Silver Sluggers which are given exclusively to hitters (yes, they do give an undeserving National League pitcher one every year as well). Meanwhile pitchers have only four honors to pursue, and that’s if you include the Rolaids Relief Man Awards for each league.

Maybe you don’t think a guy who plays every fifth day has much of an effect on those other four days. First of all, the impact a starter has on the day he pitches is absolute. If he pitches poorly, it’s going to be tough to get a win that day. If he’s on his game, it’ll be much easier. Secondly, a starting pitching performance often does have a lasting effect until the next time that pitcher takes the mound. For example, the Dodgers’ bullpen is now fully rested as the Mets come to town for the weekend. Lastly, any pitcher we’re even remotely considering for MVP would be dominating opposing lineups much like Kershaw has been this season, not going the minimum five innings to scratch out wins.

Maybe you just don’t like pitchers. Maybe you’re the type who would rather see a 10-8 slugfest than the pitchers’ duel that Ross and Kershaw engaged in on Thursday night. Well, when runs are continually scored, there’s a mound visit every inning and the outfield grass wears thin from trotting relievers, the games take much longer. If MLB wants to speed up the game they should start saying, “chicks dig the strikeout,” because good pitching beats good hitting more times than not, and nobody wants to spend a quarter of their daily time awake watching bad baseball.

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Taking a look at the Cavaliers roster post Kevin Love trade Fri, 22 Aug 2014 20:05:36 +0000 0 CFB Roundtable #28: Mark Asher Kicks Off a Fresh College Football Season Fri, 22 Aug 2014 20:00:18 +0000 0 Formula 1 Grand Prix-view: Belgium Fri, 22 Aug 2014 19:15:36 +0000 Here we are folks; F1’s summer break has passed, and it’s now time to contest the 2014 Formula 1 Shell Belgian Grand Prix! And what a setting it is that we’ll be treated to this weekend. Housing some of the greatest corners in all of motorsport, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is known globally for its fast, flowing nature. Although the immediate area surrounding the venue is popular for the supposed healing properties of its water, hence the recognizable term “spa,” drivers do not have a second to relax on this extremely demanding course. Boasting a mix of 19 challenging corners in total and elevation changes that rival that of an elevator car in a skyscraper, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps’ modern Formula 1 layout has hosted the most-recent 27 Belgian Grand’s Prix. On this weekend within the Ardennes forests, some of the world’s best drivers are surely ready to contest yet another at this famed venue. It’s time to go racing!

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Pedro Martinez Should Have Won the 1999 A.L. MVP Fri, 22 Aug 2014 13:00:59 +0000 This is an argument I hadn’t thought of in quite some time, and if it had not been for Pedro Martinez being inducted in to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame, I might not have thought about it for a little while longer.  Some quick stats for Pedro from his epic 1999 campaign:

  • 23 wins against only 4 losses (.852 winning percentage.)
  • 313 strikeouts
  • 2.07 ERA
  • 0.923 WHIP
  • 13.2 Ks/9 IP
  • 243 ERA+ (which adjusts for ballpark factors)
  • He won the pitcher’s Triple Crown.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, this was the very height of the PED era, coming off of the historic1 1998 home run chase.  Even the bat boys and ball girls were juicing in ’99.  It’s true, you can look back at the photos.  It’s also the season that Barry Bonds head start to grow at a rapid rate.

Despite that, Pedro’s 1999 numbers make Bob Gibson‘s 1968 numbers look rather pedestrian, all things considered, and Gibson’s ’68 season was one of the reasons that MLB mounds were lowered to 10 inches in 1969.  Pedro also did not have the benefit of facing the pitcher each time through the lineup, but was facing 9 juiced men looking to crush the ball as far as humanly possible.

As part of the celebration of Pedro’s Red Sox HOF  induction, he joined fellow Red Sox HOFer Joe Castiglione in the radio booth to discuss the day, and Pedro’s many achievements.  Castiglione’s sometimes booth mate Dave O’Brien posited the following question to Pedro:

Given all your personal success on the field, the Cy Young Awards, winning a World Series Championship, is there anything you wanted to accomplish but didn’t?

Pedro thought about the question, and let it hang in the air for a long moment.  While he was doing that, I tried to think of how he might answer the question.  Staying with the Red Sox and picking up a 2nd World Series ring in 2007 was the only thing that came to mind, however.

He had a different answer, however.  He said that he wished he had won the 1999 A.L. MVP, not because he necessarily needed any additional personal glory, but because it would have been the right thing.  He noted that two ‘journalists’ left his name off of their MVP ballot entirely2, which led to Ivan Rodriguez (who had one less first place vote than Pedro did) stealing the award.

There’s no offense made here towards Rodriguez, who was an excellent hitter who happened to play a sub-par catcher.3  Of course, Rodriguez also had Juan Gonzalez and Mr. Finger Wagger (Rafael Palmeiro) to help carry the offensive load.  Heck, even Todd Zeile was still productive in ’99 (24 HRs, 98 RBIs, and a .293 BA.)

Do you recall who Pedro had to help him in ’99?  That’s right, Pedro Martinez.  The only other pitcher on the Red Sox staff to post a double digit win total in 1999 was Bret Saberhagen, and he had exactly 10 wins.  Pedro’s 23 wins represented 24.5% of the Red Sox win total that year.  His WAR (a stat I admittedly despite) was a 9.7.  Rodriguez’s was a 6.4.  Consider that for a moment:  Pedro’s WAR was more than 50% better than Rodriguez’s in 1999, yet two jamokes thought it would be cute to leave him off of their ballots.

La Velle Neal had this to say in his own ‘defense’:

I feel a pitcher should just not be an MVP.  To win that award, it should be someone who’s out there every day battling for his team. It’s nothing personal against Pedro.

I feel that Neal should never again have been allowed to write another word professionally after that ridiculous statement, and he certainly should not have been allowed to ever cast another vote for any type of award or honor.

It’s not as if pitchers had not won the MVP Award previously, and I don’t just mean Jim Konstanty4 or Walter Johnson.

Since the inception of the Cy Young Award in 19565 7 pitchers captured the regular season MVP Award:

  1. Don Newcombe- 1956
  2. Sandy Koufax- 1963
  3. Bob Gibson- 1968
  4. Denny McClain- 19686
  5. Vida Blue- 1971
  6. Roger Clemens- 1986
  7. Dennis Eckersley- 1992

Eckersley still jokes about his ’92 win every now and again, saying he didn’t think he deserved it, but he’s not giving it back.  I watched Clemens’ ’86 season, it was amazing, but in no way can the two Red Sox teams be compared.  The ’86 team would have destroyed the ’99 team everywhere except at #1 pitcher.  There, Pedro gets the nod, and I say that knowing that Clemens set the record for most strikeouts in a game in 1986.  It doesn’t matter.  Pedro ’99 was the best pitching in at least the last 30 years, and considering the rampant PEDs, the last half century.

Reviewing the 1999 A.L. MVP Award Voting, I’m not sure that Rodriguez was even a top-10 guy.  I’d have taken Gonzalez or Palmeiro ahead of him from the Rangers, although neither one of them would have been my second place vote.  I’d have to say Manny Ramirez and his 44/165/.333/1.105 line would have got my 2nd place vote.  His OPS was nearly 200 points higher than Rodriguez’s was, he had 9 more home runs, 52 more RBIs, and 4 times as many walks (96-24.)  Good grief, what a travesty this 1999 A.L. MVP Award voting was.

Somehow, Pedro will make due without the MVP he earned in 1999. One can hope that voters will do the right thing and make Pedro a unanimous choice for Cooperstown in 2015.

Of course, there’ll be at least a handful of BBWAA members who’ll think it’s cute to leave him off of their ballot, because no one but no one should be elected on their first attempt.  As I’ve noted before, those members should be fired.



  1. It’s all tainted now, but in the moment, it was something to behold.
  2. George King of the New York Post and La Velle Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
  3. It’s a lot easier to throw guys out when the only finger you hold down with a man on base is for the fastball.  There’s a reason why nearly every top-tier pitcher avoided throwing to him if they could.
  4. The first pitcher who was exclusively a RP to win the award.  He led the league in saves with 22 in 1950, to go along with a 16-7 record.  He also pitched 152.0 innings.  As a reliever.  Nowadays, some starters can’t get to 152 IP.
  5. Only one award was handed out for the best pitcher in all of MLB through the 1966 season.  It wasn’t until 1967 that separate awards were given in each league.
  6. That’s right, 1968 wasn’t known as The Year of the Pitcher for nothing.  Gibson and McClain swept the post-season awards.  If that happened today, the Internet would break.
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Sam’s Take: MTAF Wheels IndyCar Q & A – August 22, 2014 Fri, 22 Aug 2014 11:15:21 +0000 It is now down to the final two races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season and it will all take place in the state of California. This weekend the IndyCars will race in California’s wine country which of course is Sonoma. The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma is the final road course race of the 2014 season. Looking at the points standings, five drivers still have a legitimate chance at the IndyCar Series championship and they are Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Juan Montoya. Also don’t ever count out defending series champion Scott Dixon who is sitting sixth in the points standings and is still mathematically “in it” – especially with the season finale at Fontana paying double points towards the championship.


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The Midweek Recap/Preview: Preseason Weeks 2 and 3…eseason-week-3/…eseason-week-3/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 20:06:05 +0000…eseason-week-3/feed/ 0 Fantasy Football and the AFC South Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:03:47 +0000 AFC South

Houston Texans

Ryan Fitzpatrick – It may not come as a surprise here for me to tell you what you already know, that there is minimal fantasy upside with this guy. He will more than likely open as the Texan’s starter with Case Keenum and rookie Tom Savage just waiting for him to mess up bad enough to get a seemingly imminent QB controversy brewing. This offense is going to look to run the ball, shorten games, and ultimately look for their defense to win them a few, making Fitzpatrick a cellar dwelling QB2.

Arian Foster – In three seasons from 2010 through 2012 Arian Foster compiled a staggering 1115 touches via carries and receptions, racking up 5689 yards from scrimmage. He played with/through a host of injuries during that span and missed 3 games during the 2011 season. All that work really caught up with him last season where Foster played in only 8 games and scored only two touchdowns. With Houston almost certain to receive sub-par QB play and Gary Kubiak’s like-a-glove fitting, downhill zone-blocking scheme out of town, I look to see more of the 2013 Foster than the 2010-2012 Foster in 2014. I am not even thinking about him before the 3rd round.

Jonathan Grimes/Alfred Blue/Ronnie Brown/William Powell – One of these guys is going to have to take on a bigger role if and when Arian Foster goes down. Grimes is currently sitting behind Foster on the depth chart, but rookie Alfred Blue has been impressive at camp. Veterans Powell and Brown could potentially fill in if either of the youngsters are having trouble with concepts or game speed, though Brown is more of a passing-down specialist at this point in his career. If I had Foster and wanted to handcuff him, I’d probably then wish I didn’t have Foster and flip a coin.

Andre Johnson – At age 33 Andre Johnson has shown very little sign of slowing down racking up 1598 and 1407 receiving yards in 2012 and 2013 respectively. It is hard to believe that during Johnson’s dazzling career he has yet to catch double digit TDs in a season. Now he has dealt with a hamstring or two since being on the other side of thirty, but be that as it may he remains an ultra-talented and maybe even more importantly ultra-savvy target-monster who is being underdrafted in the 5th round.

DeAndre Hopkins – Although the reports out of Texan’s camp have been absolutely shining when it comes to Hopkins, I’m afraid I just really do not trust Ryan Fitzpatrick enough to fox with Hopkins this year. He would be a fine WR5/6 for depth purposes and is certainly a guy to go after in dynasty leagues assuming Houston straightens out its QB situation sooner rather than later.

Garrett Graham – With the Texan’s letting Owen Daniels walk and penning Graham to a new 3 year $11.25 million dollar contract, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how new head coach Bill O’Brien and his staff plan to use Graham. O’Brien himself suggested that they could use him in an H-back role similar to the one he used with A Hern when he was in New England. Now Graham isn’t Aaron Hernandez and I wouldn’t look to draft Graham, but I will certainly be keeping an eye on the situation and see how the role seems to fit Graham. There could be some sneaky high-upside TE2 appeal here.

Indianapolis Colts


Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck – Going into his 3rd NFL season, I have seen anything from Luck that doesn’t make me think that he is absolutely the future of this league. Now he is hard to market being a big dorky hard-working white guy that doesn’t get caught in the public eye and probably spends most of his time… I don’t know… reading books? But the song remains the same that Luck can flat out play at an elite level. With T.Y. Hilton entering his third year, a Healthy Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen and the acquisition of Hakeem Nicks (whatever that means), the sky is truly the limit for Luck this year. The Colts should see some shootouts this year as I am not so sure just how improved that defense is, the only thing keeping Luck from entering the top-5 fantasy QB conversation – a conversation that I am not so sure he isn’t already in – is OC Pep Hamilton. If Pep would scrap the whole let’s see how many times Trent Richardson can slam himself into the backs of our linemen – after he thinks about it for a second – shtick, and puts the ball in the hands of his best player and lets him sling it all over the yard, Luck will soar.

Trent Richardson/Ahmad Bradshaw – With Vick Ballard being lost for the season with an achilles injury, that’s going to leave these two heartbreakers to carry the load for Pep Hamilton and the Indianapolis Colts. Trent Richardson figures to see the most starts and ultimately the most work with Bradshaw being sprinkled in to try and keep them both as fresh as possible. Bradshaw is still only 28 but has proven that he simply just cannot stay healthy over the course of a season; at this point he is probably best used as a COP back. Trent Richardson has looked horrible this preseason averaging 2.43 YPC, looking just like the guy he was last year that averaged 3.0 YPC and scored only 3 touchdowns. Richardson is shaping up to be another on a long list of Alabama running backs that were severely overdrafted due to their playing against college-level defenses behind NFL-level offensive lines on Saturdays. This backfield is one you can take a flier on considering the volume will probably be there, but I would try to avoid it if you can.

Reggie Wayne – In a day and age where we are seeing advancement in medical technology allow players to recover from major injuries faster than ever before, Reggie Wayne is no exception. It kind of sounds like a broken record but Wayne reportedly looks great in camp and is progressing from his ACL tear just swimmingly. He will turn 36 in November and though he is not very explosive, if he can get right he should plug back in as Andrew Luck’s go-to-guy and should lead the Colts in targets and catches. His ADP is in the seventh round and that sounds about right to me.

T.Y. Hilton – T.Y. Hilton busted out last season with Reggie Wayne on the shelf on his way to an 82-1083-5 2013 line. Not eye-popping statistically in the NFL anymore, but still a nice season for the second year speedster. He has big play written all over him and can be streaky from a production standpoint as all 5 of his touchdowns last year can in two games. Coming into his 3rd year, Hilton will open the regular season opposite Reggie Wayne as Indy’s Z receiver but he like Wayne can be used at X or in the slot. Outside of Andrew Luck he remains the Indianapolis Colt that I am most excited about this year.

Hakeem Nicks – Nicks is a guy that has burned me in the past more than once, and I find it really hard to get too jacked up about him anymore. Although the Giant’s offense as a whole last year was pretty inept, Nicks individually was just dreadful. He played in 15 games last season – tying a career high- and could not muster up even ONE touchdown catch. When it comes to dropped touchdown passes, thy name is Hakeem Nicks. Maybe the change of scenery will be good for Nicks because the talent is certainly there, I don’t think there is any doubt about that, but when it comes down to it for me it just doesn’t look like Nicks really tries all that hard when he is out there and that won’t change no matter what city he is in.

Dwayne Allen/Coby Fleener – The Colts should see a good amount of two tight end sets in 2014 as that was the plan last year until they lost Dwayne Allen. Coby Fleener was uninspiring operating as the first team TE as he averaged 38 yards per game and caught only 4 touchdowns. Although both TEs will be on the field a bunch as they will continue to try and shorten games and run the ball, the best bet for fantasy production is going to be Allen as he is far more athletic and promises to play more of the move tight end role and run more routes than Fleener.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gus Bradley – If we drafted coaches in fantasy football Gus Bradley would be right at the top if the board for me. I love how this guy was able to take control of a really rough season and motivate grown men to go out there down the stretch and win 3 out of 4 games on the road. He is inspiring a culture of effort and relentlessness and though Jacksonville probably doesn’t have the talent at this point to be serious contenders in the AFC this year, I definitely see good things on the horizon for this team. Now if only they’d get rid of those “Jag Rags.” Ugh.

Chad Henne/Blake Bortles – The Jacksonville offense was really hard to watch at times last year and Chad Henne was a big reason why. With a wildly inaccurate arm, the fattest face in the NFL, and seemingly zero pocket awareness, this stupid Wolverine played in 15 games for the Jags last year averaging 216 yards per game and 6.4 yards per attempt while throwing 13 TDs and 14 picks. Now a shaky and oft-injured WR corps and subpar offensive line play definitely could have played a big part in Jacksonville’s lack of success last year, but I find it easier and downright just more fun to blame Chad Henne for everything. Blake Bortles has little to no idea as to what he is doing out there at this point and is still outshining Henne in the preseason with relative ease, and as the Jags swear up and down that Bortles won’t see the field this year, it is going to be really hard to keep him off of it; luckily for the organization there aren’t any fans there to clamor up a controversy.

Toby Gerhart – Toby Gerhart has moved on from out of All Day’s shadow and on to a starting role with Jacksonville. Not just any role, Gerhart should serve as one of the few and getting fewer true three-down backs in the NFL. Gerhart has shown well for himself spelling AP his first four seasons as he averaged 7.9 YPC last year on 36 carries, he is also built like a true feature back at 6’ and 230 pounds. Now 300 carries is a real possibility for Gerhart but the only concern is to whether or not the Jags will be competitive enough to allow themselves the ability to stick with the run game week to week. If you can simply get over the issue of having to look at the name “Toby Gerhart” in your RB2 slot Sunday mornings – something I am struggling with to be honest – he can offer you some low-risk high upside value at that position.

Cecil Shorts – Shorts regressed a bit from 2012 to 2013, mainly because of injury. In 2012, his second year in the league and his first as a full time WR, Shorts averaged 17.8 yards per reception and caught seven touchdowns and in 2013 he saw those numbers drop to 11.8 and three while he reeled in 11 more receptions. Shorts has plenty of upside and if healthy should operate as Jacksonville’s number one receiver, it is only the presumed shaky QB play and lower body injury history making him a risky WR3. Shorts has already been dealing with a hamstring issue this preseason.

Marqise Lee/Allen Robinson – These two guys are the product of the Jags doing their best to beef up their WR corps via the draft this past spring. They both have tremendous physical ability but they are still rookies and are more than likely going to struggle to find any kind of week to week consistency from a production standpoint. Lee is definitely the better bet of the two as he has been operating as the number one WR in Cecil Shorts’ absence and figures to line up across from him when he is healthy – with the Jags wanting to move him around and make it a point to get the ball in his hands. I wouldn’t want to find myself rostering Lee as a WR3 but could make for an interesting WR4/5 whereas Robinson remains a cumbersome WR5/6.

Tennessee Titans

Jake Locker – Whereas it is easy for one to say that any NFL player is one play away from a season ending injury, taking injury history into account when drafting a fantasy football team is an absolute must. In three seasons as an NFL quarterback Jake Locker has played in only 23 games as each year he has been plagued by injuries. Locker just turned 26 in June and seems to have all the tools to be a quality NFL starting quarterback – even though in his 23 games played he’s thrown for over 300 yards only three times – he simply just cannot ever stay on the field long enough to prove it. Locker has some weapons this year with some of his young receivers seeming to find their NFL legs a bit but given his history it would be really hard to roster Locker as anything but a super risky QB2.

Bishop Sankey/Shonn Greene/Dexter McCluster – These three guys promise to make up a very underwhelming three headed monster of a RBBC in Tennessee. Although Sankey is running with the threes and fours in camp and in preseason games I still expect him to emerge as the bread winner of the trio and offer the most fantasy relevance. Dexter McCluster should operate as the Titan’s 3rd down and situational passing-down back giving him a bit of a boost in PPR leagues whereas Shonn Greene should see most of his action is short-yardage and goal-line packages, giving him a bit more value in touchdown heavy leagues. Even with his ADP in the 5th round, Sankey remains the only Tennessee running back I have any interest in drafting as a RB3 – the slow 29 year old Greene is destined to deal with injuries throughout the season and Kansas City did its best to implement a role for McCluster in an offense devoid of any talent outside of JC and Bowe, he was simply ineffective in that role and also has struggled with injury.

Kendall Wright – Wright is an interesting guy in fantasy considering the number he put of last year. His 2013 line of 94-1079-2 is weird because you would expect a guy who caught 96 balls to have had more than two of them go for touchdowns. This is a product of former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s tendency to get rid of the ball quick and the offensive staff’s allowing of Wright to implement a fair amount of improvisation to his route-running. I believe this speaks to Wright’s lack of explosiveness, although he caught almost 100 footballs, he didn’t show much in the YAC department considering the lack of touchdowns. It will be interesting to see how Wright transitions to Tennessee’s new downfield passing attack, I would expect his receptions to go down but his touchdowns to go up potentially, it all depends on if Wright can fit into a more structured route-running role.

Nate Washington – Although Nate Washington approached a 1000 yard receiving year in 2013 (919) and is currently listed as the Titan’s number two receiver, there is not much excitement over the 30 year old Tiffin product. Some thought he would be hard-pressed to make the Titan’s roster as they have some young talented guys and Washington is owed almost $5M in 2014. He will without a doubt to take a backseat as Tennessee number two WR to breakout-candidate Justin Hunter at some point but considering the WR corps behind Washington leaves a lot to be desired and he is going to get paid that 4.8M, he will remain in the mix as Jake Lockers 3rd or 4th read and is a low-ceiling WR5.

Justin Hunter – I thought I would go ahead and leave the best for last. I absolutely love this kid. Hunter is coming into his second NFL season, coming off of a rookie campaign in which he saw very limited playing time. At 6’ 4” 203 pounds, Hunter has amazing speed and ability; in 2013 he averaged 19.7 yards per reception and four of his 18 total receptions went for touchdowns. His talent simply jumps right off the page at you when you see him play and Tennessee’s aforementioned new downfield passing system fits Hunter very well as he will be given more opportunities to showcase his skillset. If and when Hunter supersedes Nate Washington as an every down WR in this offense, I believe the sky will become the limit for this 23 year old making him in my opinion the WR4/5 with the most upside 2014 has to offer.

That’s it, that’s the AFC South and its impact on Fantasy Football. To see the all of the conference Fantasy Football Forecasts, check out my author profile!

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Cleveland Browns Name Brian Hoyer Starting Quarterback Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:05:47 +0000 0 Instant Browns Reaction: Mega Freak Out Edition Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:00:44 +0000 0