2016-2017 NBA Season Preview: Part 2

Welcome back for Part Two of We Love Sportz’s NBA season preview! Yesterday I gave you my predictions for how the teams will finish in the standings, and today, I have seven bold predictions for the upcoming season, as well as who I expect to win the 2017 NBA Championship!

Bold Predictions

1 – Russell Westbrook wins the MVP Award

I know I’m not really going out on a limb with this one, but I think it’s pretty bold considering that most experts are picking either LeBron or Steph to take this award home. James Harden has been another popular pick, but I’m going with Westbrook. Like I said in yesterday’s post, the loss of Durant will take the shackles off of Westbrook, and for better or for worse, he’ll be forced most nights to take matters into his own hands. I expect him to average around 27 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds a game this season, and in leading the Thunder to a Top-4 seed in the West, his efforts will be recognized with his first career MVP award.

2 – Damian Lillard finishes 2nd in MVP Voting

I think this is more bold than Westbrook taking the MVP home, but I love Damian Lillard. I think he will cement himself as one of the Top-3 point guards in the league this year as he almost single-handedly takes the Blazers into the playoffs. It’s not a great team on paper outside of Lillard. C.J. McCollum had a huge year last season, and he is an above average shooting guard with the potential to become even better. They have some nice role players as well like Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu, but this is Lillard’s team, and he is definitely good enough to carry them to the playoffs, and be an MVP contender

3 – Anthony Davis leads the NBA in scoring heading into the All-Star Break

I’m not ready to say that Davis will lead the league in scoring for the season, because his health is always a question mark, but I believe that he will stay healthy enough to prove to everyone why he should be in consideration for the best player in the NBA. Without a doubt I believe he is Top-3 in the NBA, and if you put a gun to my head and asked me which player I would want to start an NBA team with, I’d choose Davis. He is the total package, and he’s just 23 years old. This guy has quite a career ahead of him, and I felt that he could be among the league’s leading scorers even before he put up 50 on opening night. If they Pelicans are going to have any success this year, they’ll need Davis to have the ball in his hands at all times. He can score in so many different ways, and I don’t think there’s a player in the league that can guard him. I see Davis averaging over 30 points a game to lead the league in the first half of the season.

4 – DeMarcus Cousins finally gets traded

I really feel bad for Cousins. He does have a bit of an attitude problem, I realize that, but there isn’t a worse situation for any player in the NBA right now. Playing in Sacramento is a nightmare right now, and I truly feel that the only reason he hasn’t been traded yet is because they are opening a new arena this season. After the Kings struggle through the first few months of the season, and Cousins continues to be disgruntled, I think the time will finally come when they trade him, and the team best suited to be a trade partner for the Kings is the Boston Celtics. The Celtics have long been enamored with Cousins, and they have the firepower to make a deal. I see the Celtics offering a package of Avery Bradley, Amir Johnson, the right to swap 1st Round picks with the Nets in 2017, the Nets 2018 1st Round pick and another future 1st Round pick, and the Kings will see that as a great way to jump start their rebuilding process, while the Celtics will jump at the opportunity to add a true superstar.

5 – Joel Embiid makes the All-Star Team

Trust the Process! 76ers fans have been waiting a long time for some excitement, and it looks like they’ll finally get some in the form of 2014 #3 overall pick Joel Embiid. After two seasons on the shelf, Embiid is finally healthy, and has looked like a star in the making. It’s a very small sample size, but Embiid is showing off skills that we just haven’t seen from a player of his size. In the opener last night, Embiid scored 20 points in just 22 minutes of action. Coach Brown is going to ease Embiid into it, as he should, but I think as the year goes on, Embiid will continue to prove how smart the Sixers were to wait it out, and he will join Blake Griffin and Yao Ming as the only rookies since 2000 to make an All-Star team.

6 – Patty Mills wins 6th Man of the Year

I am not a huge fan of this award because I think a lot of times, it goes to a player who is definitely good enough to be starting, and plays starter’s minutes, but just because he comes off the bench he gets an award. I understand the award, I just don’t like it. It’s those reasons that a certain player gets this award that have led me to pick the Spurs’ Patty Mills as my prediction for 6th Man of the Year. Tony Parker is not getting any younger, and Mills has proven to be a very good backup over the last few years. I think Parker’s minutes will continue to decline as Pop tries to keep him healthy for the playoffs, and Mills will be the beneficiary of that.

7 – We will not see another Warriors/Cavs Finals

It’s just way too easy to predict another Finals between Golden State and Cleveland. I mean, yeah, that’s probably the likely result, but I truly believe that it won’t happen. The odds of seeing the same matchup for the third straight year are slim, and both teams have issues that they’ll need to deal with. The Warriors have a lot of new parts, and in the recent past, these so-called “Superteams” have needed at least a year to figure everything out. The ‘08 Celtics were the only “Superteam” to win it all in their first year together. Golden State also has legitimate contenders that they have to fend off like San Antonio and the Clippers. On the other hand, while the Cavs are clearly the best team in the East, they are either one injury or one big Celtics trade (that I am predicting) away from having some trouble.

Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference Finals: Celtics over Cavaliers

Western Conference Finals: Warriors over Spurs

NBA Finals: Warriors over Celtics

If the Celtics are able to trade for a superstar at the trade deadline (like DeMarcus Cousins or Jimmy Butler), they will get themselves right there alongside the Cavs in the East, and I think they could knock them off in the East Finals. In the West, I think the Warriors just have way too much talent for them not to figure it out eventually. I could see them struggling a little during the regular season, even finishing 2nd or 3rd, but they will have it all clicking by the time the postseason rolls around.

A Warriors/Celtics matchup in the NBA Finals would be extremely intriguing. The Celtics have played the Warriors tougher than any team in the league over the last couple seasons. In the 2014-2015 season, the Celtics lost both games against the Warriors, but it was by just a combined eight points. Last season, the Celtics fell to the undefeated Warriors at home by three points in double overtime, and then in April, they handed Golden State their first home loss of the season, 109-106. I would expect this to be a long, exciting series, but I’d have the Warriors finding a way to get it done this year, erasing the hurt from losing a 3-1 advantage to the Cavs.

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2016-2017 NBA Preview: Part 1

So we should just skip to the Warriors and Cavaliers meeting in the NBA Finals for the third straight season, right? Well, most people believe that’s where we’ll wind up, but we have an 82-game regular season and three rounds of playoffs before we get there.

Today is Part One of We Love Sportz’s NBA season preview, as I give you what I believe will be the standings at the end of the season, with a short little preview of what each team is looking at for this season. Tomorrow will be Part Two, where I will give my playoff predictions along with some bold predictions for the season.

I know the season technically started last night, but note that these previews were written, for the most part, prior to any games being played. Let’s get to it, here is Part One of my NBA season preview!

Eastern Conference

15 – Brooklyn Nets

It’s going to get worse before it gets better for the Nets, isn’t it? I really feel bad for Brook Lopez, because I think he is a very good player, and could be a star on another team or in a different situation. Unfortunately for him, he’s stuck wasting away his prime years in an organization that clearly has no idea how to put together a winning basketball team. They will need Linsanity II if they have any chance of winning more than 30 games. I think this is clearly the worst team in the NBA, and are on the fast track to earning the #1 overall pick in the 2017 Draft… for the Celtics, who have the right to swap 1st Round picks with the Nets next year. Yikes.

14 – Philadelphia 76ers

Stay patient 76ers fans. You’ve made it this far, no reason to hop off the wagon now. I mean, sure, it’s hard to have faith when things continually turn against your team. Finally, for the first time during “The Process,” you get the #1 overall pick, and you make a slam dunk selection in LSU PG/PF Ben Simmons (yes, I put point guard/power forward, because that’s literally somehow what he is), and then he goes and fractures a bone in his foot during Training Camp, because of course he does. They say he’ll be out until January, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he takes the advice of his agent and sits out this season. It’ll be better for his long-term future. Not all is bleak though! Joel Embiid finally appears to be 100 percent, and he has looked every part of what the Sixers expected to get when they took him 3rd overall two years ago. In addition, Dario Saric has decided to finally make the trip overseas to join the team that selected him in the lottery along with Embiid a couple years ago. So even though Simmons is out, it’s still like the Sixers got two lottery picks this season. The future is bright guys, you just have to “Trust The Process.”

13 – Miami Heat

My how the mighty have fallen, and how fast it has happened. It feels like just yesterday that LeBron, Dwyane and Chris were celebrating their second consecutive NBA Championship for the Miami Heat. Now, just three years later, LeBron is coming off of bringing a title to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, a disgruntled Dwyane decided to head home and play for the Chicago Bulls, and even though Chris really wants to play for the Heat, Pat Riley has all but rendered his Miami career over. It happened really quick, but the Heat are a shell of the team they were just three years ago. Hassan Whiteside is the new star of the team, but it remains to be seen if he can shoulder that type of load. He should have a little help from point guard Goran Dragic, but do you really think a Whiteside-Dragic led team can go to the NBA Playoffs? Me either.

12 – Orlando Magic

This team looks a whole lot different than it did last year, and while some would argue that they’ve taken a step backwards, I believe that they have turned this team into one that can possibly sneak into the playoffs way ahead of schedule. They traded their best player, former top-5 pick Victor Oladipo, to the Thunder in exchange for Serge Ibaka. I don’t love the move, but I don’t hate it either. They also added Jeff Green and Bismack Biyombo in free agency. Those moves I actually do like a lot. Green is a veteran wing who has been where the Magic want to go. He’ll be a great asset for this very young team. Biyombo had a coming out party in the playoffs last year for Toronto, and was handsomely rewarded with a nice contract from the Magic. He is a great rim protector, and will fit perfectly alongside Nik Vucevic. Frank Vogel also has playoff experience, and I think he could definitely turn this team into a contender sooner rather than later. A lot will hinge on the development of Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, and maybe they’re still a few years away, but I could see these Magic giving some of the top teams in the East a run for their money.

11 – New York Knicks

They’re trying to get better. Maybe? I’m not sure, but what puzzles me is Phil Jackson’s insistence on the team running the Triangle offense. It worked when he coached in Chicago, but that’s because he had Michael Jordan. It worked when he coached in Los Angeles because he had Kobe Bryant and either Shaq or Pau Gasol. I’m sorry, but Carmelo Anthony is no Michael Jordan and he’s no Kobe Bryant. And Kristaps Porzingis is no Shaq, and he’s not Pau Gasol, at least yet. Jackson brought Derek Fisher in to coach this team and teach them the Triangle, and it just did not work. Now he’s brought in Jeff Hornacek, who will also have to teach the Triangle offense to this team, that I just don’t think is capable of making it work. Depth will be an issue for this team, as will health, as they added Derrick Rose via trade and Joakim Noah in free agency, two former Bulls who have had numerous injury issues over the last few seasons. It could be another long season in New York City.

10 – Washington Wizards

The Wizards had been preparing for the 2016 Kevin Durant Sweepstakes for a couple years, waiting for the day that they’d be able to bring Durant home to the D.C. area. They tried to increase their chances after last season concluded by hiring Durant’s former coach Scott Brooks as their new head coach, thinking that he, along with the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal could be enough to convince Durant to take his talents to the Wizards. I’m sure it was a shock to them when Durant declared that going home was not high on his priority list, and eliminated them from contention rather early in the process. Their backup plan ended up being Ian Mahinmi. He’s not exactly the consolation prize they were probably hoping for had they not landed Durant. Wall is one of the top PG’s in the league, but he and Beal have yet to develop great chemistry (possibly a product of Beal’s inability to even stay on the court), and I think they will regress this year, and are likely to miss the playoffs.

9 – Chicago Bulls

I wish I could explain what the Bulls tried to do this offseason. They finally moved on from Derrick Rose, shipping him to the Knicks in exchange for Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant. They also decided not to resign Joakim Noah, letting him sign with the Knicks to rejoin Rose. I am a fan of both of those moves, but it’s everything else they did that doesn’t make sense to me. Their star player, Jimmy Butler, is a slashing wing who’s biggest weakness is his perimeter shooting. That’s fine, but you’d think they would look to put some shooters around him. So they signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to two-year deals worth $47 million and $28 million respectively. There is one thing both of those players have in common, and it’s that they both struggle to shoot from the outside. To top it all off, just last week they traded Tony Snell, a 3-and-D type wing, to the Milwaukee Bucks for Michael Carter-Williams, who, you guessed it, is a terrible outside shooter. The construction of this team just doesn’t make sense, and I’m worried that when it starts to fail, Coach Hoiberg will wrongly be the one to take the fall. I do not view this team as a playoff team, and could easily see them trading Butler and/or Wade at the trade deadline.

8 – Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are a tough team to figure out. I think Stan Van Gundy is probably one of the more underrated head coaches in the NBA, and he did way more with them last year than most people expected. They were ousted rather quickly by the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs, but to just make the playoffs was a big positive. Andre Drummond has continued his development into a star player, and the team got huge contributions from Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. For the Pistons to return to the playoffs this season, they’ll need wing Stanley Johnson to take a big step up in his sophomore season, and they’ll need production from rookie 1st Round pick Henry Ellenson. Ellenson’s game should compliment Drummond nicely.

7 – Milwaukee Bucks

By scouring NBA previews on a variety of sites from the likes of ESPN, Sports Illustrated, NBA.com, Yahoo and many others, I’ve discovered that I am much higher on the Bucks than most others. The majority of predictions have the Bucks finishing anywhere from just outside the playoffs to bottom three in the conference. The loss of Khris Middleton will hurt, but I think this is a team with enough talent to get to the playoffs in the East. The “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo is a budding superstar, and HC Jason Kidd should continue what he started after the All Star break last season by allowing him to be the primary ball-handler. The Bucks had one of the top offenses in the league in the second half of last season, and that came with the 6-11 Giannis playing point guard. It’s a scary proposition for a defense, but a winning proposition for the Bucks. Former #2 overall pick Jabari Parker showed flashes of greatness last season, and they’ll need more of those flashes this year. They added Matthew Dellavedova in free agency, and I’m not sold on him as a starting point guard in this league, but as a bench piece, he is a great addition. If they can get solid production from the frontcourt of Greg Monroe, John Henson and Miles Plumlee, this is a team that can reach the playoffs.

6 – Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks made a few curious decisions this offseason, and it will be interesting to see how they perform. Star center Al Horford left Atlanta to sign with the Boston Celtics, and to replace him, the Hawks signed Dwight Howard away from the Rockets. I still think Howard has something left in the tank, but he is a vastly different player from Horford, and I’m not sure how that will change the way the Hawks operate. They also traded away PG Jeff Teague, sending him to the Pacers, leaving their team in the hands of Dennis Schroder. Schroder was great last season as a backup to Teague, but it’s his show now. Of all the teams in the East, this was the toughest one for me to place in these predictions. Ultimately, I think they are still a playoff team. Paul Millsap is one of the most underrated players in the league, and they have experience on their side. If this team misses the playoffs though, it will be due to a lack of depth in the backcourt. Schroder is the only true point guard on the 15-man roster, and if he struggles, the Teague trade could come back to haunt them.

5 – Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets had a very good season last year, and will look to take that momentum into this campaign. Kemba Walker has the potential to be a scoring machine, and he could single-handedly win them some games. Al Jefferson is gone and Roy Hibbert has taken his place. Maybe a slight talent downgrade, but Hibbert plays a similar game to Jefferson, so he should integrate into the offense smoothly. The return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be a huge addition to this club, especially on the defensive end. Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the top wing defenders in the league. The Hornets will be looking for a big leap from Frank Kaminsky in his second season, as I’m not sure they can trust Hibbert to stay healthy, and the other options at center are Cody Zeller, who has been inconsistent in his short career, and Spencer Hawes, who isn’t a great interior force, but more a perimeter big man. As long as Kemba Walker is healthy though, the Hornets should make the playoffs.

4 – Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are the best team of the 3rd tier of teams in the Eastern Conference, but if I was a betting man, they would be my longshot pick to represent the East in the NBA Finals. They added two new starters in PG Jeff Teague and C Al Jefferson, two guys who have been there and done that. They are both very talented, and the experience is just a bonus. Paul George is a legitimate MVP candidate now that he appears to be fully recovered, physically and mentally, from the broken leg he suffered in 2014. I envision George having one of the best seasons of his career. The biggest X-factor for the Pacers this year could be Myles Turner. He was taken 11th overall in last season’s draft, and draft experts said that he could be a future all-star, but his development would be slow. He ended up starting 30 games for the Pacers, and finished the season averaging 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just over 22 minutes per game, not too shabby for a rookie. He averaged 12 and 6 during the preseason, and many are predicting a huge jump for him this season. If that happens, the Pacers could be very, very dangerous.

3 – Toronto Raptors

It was a really good season North of the border last year for the Raptors. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan turned into full-fledged superstars, leading Toronto to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fell in six games to the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The framework of this team remains the same as they look to get back to the ECF this season. DeRozan decided against returning home to Los Angeles and instead re-signed with the Raptors. They lost Bismack Biyombo in free agency, but will look to replace him with Jakob Poeltl, who they selected in the First Round of the draft this year. They were also hoping that free agent signing Jared Sullinger could help bolster the frontcourt, but Sullinger just underwent foot surgery and will miss the beginning of the season. Despite that, led by Lowry, DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll, this is easily one of the top-3 teams in the East, and a definite threat to the Cavaliers.

2 – Boston Celtics

Brad Stevens for President 2016. The job Stevens has done with this Celtics team since he took over is downright remarkable. He has done more with less better than any coach in the NBA. Last season, the Celtics were the 4-seed in the East led by 1st time All-Star, 5-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas. The production that Stevens has gotten from the likes of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner is incredible. Evan Turner is a perfect example of what Brad Stevens can do for a player. In 2013, Turner was traded from Philadelphia to Indiana, and wasted away on the Pacers’ bench. The Celtics took a shot on him the following year, and after two very successful seasons in Boston, Turner signed a 4-year, $70 million contract with Portland this offseason. In just two years under Stevens, Turner went from a benchwarmer to a 17-plus million dollar per year man. That is amazing. I feel totally comfortable saying the the Celtics are the biggest threat to the Cavs in the East, and I would not be shocked if they somehow finished the regular season with the best record in the East. They might still be a true superstar away from being a title contender, but the addition of Al Horford makes this a very dangerous team. The Cavaliers should not take the Celtics lightly.

1 – Cleveland Cavaliers

Even though I think they have teams chasing their tail a little more closely than most, the defending NBA Champions are clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference yet again this year. LeBron James just doesn’t age like a normal human being, and he doesn’t play basketball like one either. I heard an expert say the other day that they think LeBron might not have reached his ceiling yet. That is a scary thought. Another player that is still climbing towards his ceiling is Kyrie Irving, but the major difference is that Kyrie is just 24 years old. He’s already a star, and one of the top point guards in the league, but he can still get better, and that is crazy. Then you have Kevin Love, who just a few years ago was considered one of the best power forwards in the NBA. He still is, he just gets a little lost in the shuffle playing alongside James and Irving. Now, Love and Irving have both had injury issues over the last couple years, and that is probably the only thing that can hold this team back. They are not the deepest team in the league either, but they have a good mix of veteran experience with young talent. It’s going to be quite a task for another team in the East to keep the Cavs from going back to the NBA Finals.

Western Conference

15 – Phoenix Suns

The bottom of the Western Conference is tough to decipher. I have a hard time figuring out just which of these teams in the lower tier are going to actually be bad this year. They all have some good things going for them, but they’re definitely going to have some struggles. After a lot of thought, I’ve landed on the Suns as the team I think is the weakest in the conference. They should have a healthy Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe (at least for the start of the season), two guys that have been very good in the past, but have underwhelmed during their Phoenix tenures. The real star of this team though is second year sniper Devin Booker out of Kentucky. Booker shocked everybody with his quick development last year, and there are some predicting that he could be an All-Star as early as this season. I think that’s a little lofty, but the potential is there. If the Suns are going to avoid being the worst team in the West this year, it will be Booker’s doing. New coach Earl Watson has a tall task ahead of him (and no, that’s not a short joke) if he’s going to keep this team out of the basement.

14 – Los Angeles Lakers

Luke Walton’s head coaching tryout at the beginning of last season in Golden State definitely paid off, as he now takes over the team he has collected a couple NBA Championship rings for. Not only that, but the team he now leads might have the more young talent than any team in the league. Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell and this year’s #2 overall pick Brandon Ingram will make this team one of the more fun ones to watch in the league this year. Lakers’ brass wanted to compete for a playoff berth this year, but they swung and missed on all of the big ticket free agents, settling for the additions of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. The inexperience of this team is what will keep them out of the mix this year, but with another loaded free agent pool next season, and another year of experience under the belt of these budding young stars, the future is once again bright for the Lakers.

13 – New Orleans Pelicans

I truly believe that when healthy, Anthony Davis is one of the Top-3 players in this league. He can do it all. He shoots it well from the perimeter, he is great in the pick-and-roll, he can explode at the rim, he collects rebounds at a massive clip, and he’s probably the most talented rim protector in the NBA. It was never a matter of if he would figure it out, it was a matter of when, and when has already happened. The problem is that even the best players in the league need some help. MJ had Pippen. Kobe had Shaq or Pau. LeBron had Dwyane and Chris, and then he had Kyrie and Kevin. Anthony has… Buddy Hield? A constantly banged-up Tyreke Evans? Until the Pelicans get Davis some help, they’ll continually end up towards the bottom of the Western Conference. Davis is good, in fact he’s great, but he’s not great enough to carry this dumpster fire of a roster into the playoffs. I’d love to see it happen, but I just don’t think it’s in the cards this year.

12 – Sacramento Kings

Speaking of dumpster fires, the Sacramento Kings ladies and gentlemen! What a disaster this organization is. I cannot be the only person that thinks Vlade Divac has proven himself completely unfit to run this basketball team. It just came out last week that when George Karl became the new head coach a couple years ago, Rudy Gay (who is still on the team right now), told him “Welcome to basketball hell.” What a ringing endorsement! I think DeMarcus Cousins is one of, if not the, best centers in the NBA, and Rudy Gay is a former star who I believe still has a lot left in the tank. They also brought in some quality players like Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo, so they’re going to win some ballgames. But until the organization figures out what the F*&^ they’re doing, the Kings will continue to miss the playoffs, and will continue to be the laughing stock of the league.

11 – Memphis Grizzlies

I’ve felt for the last few years that the Grizzlies were major overachievers, and that eventually a day would come where their time as a Western Conference contender would end. I think this is finally the year. Where do I begin? Let’s start with the fact that this offseason, they signed Mike Conley to the biggest contract in the history of the National Basketball Association. Yes, you read that correctly. Conley signed a five year, $153 million contract. Don’t get me wrong, I think Mike Conley is a fine player, and could be the starting point guard on a championship team. But for him to be the highest paid player alongside guys like LeBron, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, etc, is just absolutely mind-boggling. Not off to a good start with me Memphis. Then you have Marc Gasol and his seemingly never-ending injury issues. When healthy, Gasol is one of the top centers in the league, but that whole “when healthy” thing seems to always be an issue. Their big free agent signing this year was Chandler Parsons, who they signed away from the Mavericks for a max contract. Two things here… one, I don’t think Parsons is a max player in this league, and two, the Mavs seemed perfectly happy to let Parsons walk, which raises quite the red flag. Oh, and he’s already hurt this season, and will miss the opener. If the core of Conley, Tony Allen, Parsons, Zach Randolph and Gasol can stay healthy all year, then I guess I could see this team making the playoffs. I just don’t think either of those things happen this year, and with the Conley and Parsons contracts virtually untradeable, the Grizzlies could be in for a rough next few seasons.

10 – Denver Nuggets

Out of all 30 teams in the NBA this season, the Nuggets were the team that I had the toughest time forming an opinion of. I don’t think there is anything that they do egregiously bad, but they also don’t have a true strength. They have solid veteran players like Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari, and they have some nice young pieces as well, like Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. I think they will be a fun team to watch this year, and could be capable of beating any team on any given night. At the same time, I fully expect them to continue their rebuild by shipping Faried and Gallinari to the highest bidders at the trade deadline, leaving this team without the veteran presence that their lineup would need to vault this team into the playoffs. I do think they’ll be better than most expect (Jokic is really good, and a lot of people don’t have a clue who he is), but at the end of the day, they’re still rebuilding and are a few years away from any real success.

9 – Dallas Mavericks

I have a lot of respect for Dirk Nowitzki. He became a free agent this offseason, and considered taking a paycut and heading elsewhere to try and win another championship. At the end of the day, he decided the money and his legacy in Dallas were more important, and he signed on for two more years. He could have gone to Golden State or San Antonio and joined a “Superteam,” but he decided to, likely, finish out his career right where it started in Dallas. It just seems right for him to spend his entire career with the Mavs, a la Tim Duncan in San Antonio or Kobe Bryant in LA. Unfortunately for Dirk, for this year at least, I see the Mavericks being on the outside looking in. They let Chandler Parsons walk, instead signing Harrison Barnes away from Golden State for a max deal. So far so bad for Barnes, as he has struggled mightily during the preseason. There’s still time for him to turn it around, but the Mavs are counting on him to be one of the leading scorers on this team, and I just don’t see it happening. Barnes was perfect as a complementary piece in Golden State, but I just don’t think he’s capable of being a primary scoring threat on a playoff team in the Western Conference.

8 – Minnesota Timberwolves

Is it too late to jump on the T’Wolves bandwagon? I mean, my Celtics are going to be great this year, but can I be a T’Wolves fan too? Holy smokes is this team going to be exciting! Karl-Anthony Towns, in just one season in the league, has vaulted himself into the Top-10 players in the league. Seriously, there are some that think that highly of him, as do I. He is an absolute stud, and should easily be an All-Star this year. Towns, along with Andrew Wiggins, Kris Dunn, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng, make up without a doubt the most exciting young roster in the NBA. Last season this team was thrilling on the offensive end, but struggled on the defensive side of the ball. To combat that, they brought in Tom Thibodeau, one of the most revered defensive coaches in recent history. Thibodeau is a hard-nosed, no nonsense type of coach, but I think he’s capable of letting these young guys be who they want to be while still getting the best effort out of them night in and night out. A lack of experience is going to be the biggest thing that could hold them back, but I think the recipe is there for the Timberwolves to finally make their return to the playoffs (Sidenote: I am salivating at the thought of a Warriors-Timberwolves First Round playoff series! God, I need that to happen!)

7 – Houston Rockets

The Rockets are experimenting with playing James Harden at point guard. It’s interesting, and it’s not something I would have thought to do, but so far, they are happy with what they’re getting. The one positive is that the ball is always in his hands. He’s their best player, and you can argue that he’s the most talented offensive player in the league, so anything that gets the ball in his hands more has to be viewed as a positive. Dwight Howard is gone, so they’ll be featuring second year big man Clint Capela, which based on recent reports is what the front office wanted as early as last season. They also added some scoring help for Harden in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, who were both with the Pelicans last season. If Gordon can stay healthy, he’ll be a great second scoring option for Houston. James Harden is in line for a huge season, and I believe that he has enough around him to get the Rockets back to the playoffs.

6 – Utah Jazz

The Jazz have been in rebuild mode for the last few seasons, and they are finally in a position to get back into the playoff picture this season. Gordon Hayward is still the star player for this team, but he is expected to miss the beginning of the season, so they’ll need other players to step up. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are two big bodies in the frontcourt, and they complement each other perfectly. Gobert was among the league leaders in blocks last season, while Favors has developed a great inside-out game for a big man. They added George Hill via trade to take over point guard duties, and they signed Joe Johnson to give the team a great veteran presence in the locker room. If they can get a breakout season from Rodney Hood, which is something many people are expecting, this team will finally make it back to the postseason, and could be a major threat to the big dogs.

5 – Portland Trail Blazers

Heading into last season, the Blazers were replacing four starters, and the general consensus was that would be too much for them to handle, and they would suffer a significant fall down the standings. Instead, Damian Lillard had a huge season, CJ McCollum emerged as a future star, and not only did they return to the playoffs, but they knocked off the Clippers in the First Round before losing to the Warriors. They’ll look to do even more this year, led by Lillard, who has become a legitimate MVP candidate. Many predict a massive season for Lillard, as do I. I could easily see him leading the league in scoring this season. The Blazers added Evan Turner in free agency, and his versatility will be a welcome addition to this lineup. They also signed Festus Ezeli away from the Warriors to bolster the frontcourt. He’s injured to start the year, but once he’s back healthy, I expect he’ll have a big impact on the Blazers’ success.

4 – Oklahoma City Thunder

So Kevin Durant is gone, it happened and it’s time for Thunder fans to just forget about it and move on to this year. I may sound crazy here, but honestly, I think the loss of Durant might be a positive. Okay, I definitely sound crazy, but I think no Durant means the shackles will come off of Russell Westbrook, and he will show everybody what he is truly capable of. I mean, it’s never great when you lose a player of Durant’s caliber for nothing. But they were able to add Victor Oladipo, who is a great two-way player, and Steven Adams and Enes Kanter should take on larger roles in the offensive gameplan. Westbrook has the potential to be the best player in the league. Yes, I truly believe that. I think he’s going to show that this year, and even though he won’t say it, I think he’s out to show everyone that he doesn’t need Durant.

3 – Los Angeles Clippers

This is probably the last chance for the Clippers to get to the NBA Finals with this core of players. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will both be free agents after this season, and both will get monster deals. If they don’t win the title this year, I think both players will look elsewhere in search of the championship that has eluded both of them to this point in their careers. This season is first though, and this is a team built to make a run at a title. DeAndre Jordan has become one of the top centers in the league (if only he could make free throws), Jamal Crawford is the best sixth man in the NBA, and provides a great spark off the bench night in and night out, and J.J. Redick is a flat out sharpshooter. This team has it all, it’s just a matter of them staying healthy and putting the whole package together. If they can do that, they can represent the West in the Finals.

2 – San Antonio Spurs

Let’s be honest here. As long as Gregg Popovich is on the sidelines, the Spurs will always be contenders. The one thing that this team will battle this year is health. Pop is one of the best in the league at managing his players throughout the regular season, but he’s got his hands full this year. The Big Fundamental retired, and his leadership will be missed, but they added Pau Gasol to replace him, and should get an increase in production at that position. Kawhi Leonard is quickly becoming one of the top players in the league, and he is capable of leading this team to great things. Leonard, Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and company easily make up one of the most talented rosters in the league. The Spurs will be a tougher test for the Warriors than many think they will be, as evidenced by the result of last night’s opening game.

1 – Golden State Warriors

I now present to you the 2017 NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors! Nah, it’s not going to be that easy for them. Last season, I truly believe the Warriors put breaking the Bulls’ 72-10 regular season record above winning a second consecutive championship, and while most are giving them hell for that, I don’t blame them at all. They got the title two years ago, they got the record last year. Now there’s nothing else but another championship for them to play for. Kevin Durant became the ultimate NBA villain by joining the Warriors, bringing up the saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” I have absolutely no issue with Durant going to the Warriors. He has plenty of money, now it’s about cementing his legacy with a championship. He decided the best chance for him to do that came in Golden State. I don’t believe this team will win more than 65 games, for one because I think Steve Kerr will be smarter about resting his guys and making sure they’re ready for the postseason, and also because it will take some time for them to mesh and figure out how to play with each other. There will be growing pains, but at the end of the day, this is the best team in the NBA, and they should wind up your 2017 NBA Champions.

NFL Week 7

Six weeks in and we are starting to distinguish the contenders and pretenders. The Vikings and Patriots are the clear favorites in their respective conferences, while the Browns and 49ers might as well be mathematically eliminated already.

This week I’ll give you my power rankings for all 32 teams and I will give you my answer to some pressing questions in the league right now, including the Josh Brown situation and the Romo/Prescott debate. Then we’ll finish it off with who you should start and sit in fantasy this week. Let’s not waste anymore time, here’s this week’s Power Rankings.

Power Rankings

  1. Minnesota Vikings
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Seattle Seahawks
  4. Atlanta Falcons
  5. Dallas Cowboys
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers
  7. Buffalo Bills
  8. Denver Broncos
  9. Kansas City Chiefs
  10. Green Bay Packers
  11. Arizona Cardinals
  12. Oakland Raiders
  13. Washington Redskins
  14. Philadelphia Eagles
  15. Houston Texans
  16. San Diego Chargers
  17. New York Giants
  18. Cincinnati Bengals
  19. Los Angeles Rams
  20. Baltimore Ravens
  21. Detroit Lions
  22. New Orleans Saints
  23. Indianapolis Colts
  24. Carolina Panthers
  25. Tennessee Titans
  26. Miami Dolphins
  27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  28. Jacksonville Jaguars
  29. Chicago Bears
  30. New York Jets
  31. San Francisco 49ers
  32. Cleveland Browns

 

Question & Answer

Q: What is wrong with the New York Giants/NFL?

A: Boy do I wish I knew the real answer to this question. For a short recap, Giants kicker Josh Brown was arrested in 2015 after an incident with his wife, Molly. As part of the investigation, she told police that he had been physically violent with her more than 20 times over the last several years. As of September 2016, no charges had been filed. Due to the domestic violence arrest, the NFL suspended Brown for ONE game. ONE! It was an absurd suspension compared to what other crimes/arrests/rule breaks have been punished with. For example, Le’Veon Bell served a three-game suspension for a marijuana arrest. Yes, the possession of marijuana was a crime, but compared to domestic violence, I’d say it’s pretty harmless.

It was revealed yesterday that Brown admitted to being abusive towards his wife in letters, emails and journals. The NFL and the Giants claim to have no prior knowledge of these documents. That begs the question “How?” How did the Giants and/or Roger Goodell not know about these confessions? The league claimed that it was working closely with investigators, which makes this inexcusable.

On top of this, in a press conference this morning, Giants’ HC Ben McAdoo claimed that the team will not turn it’s back on Brown. WHY? He does realize what is wrong with that statement, right? I guess not. This is just a massive failure on all terms. I am embarrassed by the Giants, I am embarrassed by the NFL, and I feel absolutely zero remorse for Josh Brown. I hope he never plays another snap in the NFL.

Q: When he’s healthy, should Tony Romo take over for Dak Prescott?

A: Now on to something a little more light-hearted. This is a difficult question to answer, and if I would have been asked last week, I would have had a different answer. I totally understand why the Cowboys will want to start Romo. Yes, he’s not the same player he once was, and his body is breaking down on him quickly. That being said, when healthy, Romo is still a top quarterback in this league, and the Cowboys are still his team. Jerry Jones said that it’s Romo’s team, Jason Garrett said that it’s Romo’s team, even Dak Prescott has said that it’s Romo’s team.

Despite that, after last week’s performance, the answer to this question is clear. Dak Prescott must remain the starting quarterback for the Cowboys. Last week I would have said that they should start Romo, but give him a really short leash. Then last week, despite committing his first two turnovers of the season, Prescott led his team to a decisive victory over the Packers in Green Bay. The Packers aren’t the same dominant team they once were, but they are still extremely tough to beat at home, and the Cowboys made it look easy. Prescott is second in the league in Total QBR, behind just Matt Ryan, who many believe is the MVP of the league thus far. He’s doing everything he needs to do to make the Cowboys successful, and they are 5-1 and at the top of the NFC East. As long as they continue on this path, they cannot make the switch to Romo. Prescott has to stay the starter.

Q: Are the Vikings a legitimate Super Bowl contender?

A: Simply put, yes, they are. Here’s why. Their defense is dominant. They are second in the league in yards allowed per game, behind just Seattle. They lead the league in points allowed per game, giving up just under 12 points a game. They have yet to give up more than 16 points in a game this year. That is incredible. They are tied for third in sacks, and the two teams ahead of them have played six games, compared to just five so far for the Vikings. The Broncos went to the Super Bowl last season led by their defense, but between Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning, their offense did enough to allow the defense to do the dirty work. The Vikings have been successful this year in a similar fashion.

Nobody is calling Sam Bradford one of the top quarterbacks in the league, but he is controlling the game masterfully so far this season. He isn’t turning the ball over, and that is the biggest thing. The Vikings’ offense has coughed the ball up just once this season, and that was a fumble. Bradford has yet to throw an interception. They are +11 in turnover differential, good for first in the league. Last season, the Panthers led the league in turnover differential, and they represented the NFC in the big game. In 2014, the Seahawks and Patriots were in the top-4 in the league in that category en route to the Super Bowl. We’re just six weeks into the season, but the Vikings are a clear Super Bowl contender, and they need to be taken seriously.

 

Fantasy Start/Sit

Quarterbacks

Start
Matthew Stafford
Stafford has been inconsistent this season. It’s been either high or low, with very little in between. Last week was a high against Los Angeles, and I think it’ll be another high this week against the Redskins. The Lions are very thin at running back due to injuries, and I expect them to throw early and often, taking advantage of a poor Washington secondary.

Marcus Mariota
I highlighted a few weeks ago how Mariota’s schedule is incredibly favorable in the middle of this season. He had a coming out party last week against Cleveland, and I predict more of the same this week against the porous Indianapolis defense. Mariota could be a Top-5 quarterback this week.

Sit
Drew Brees
Odds are you don’t have a better option, but don’t expect much from Brees this week. He historically tends to struggle on the road, and the Chiefs have one of the best secondaries in the league led by Marcus Peters and Eric Berry. It could be a long day for the Saints offensively.

Carson Palmer
He had a cushy matchup on Monday night against the Jets, and he performed accordingly. This week he has a brutal matchup against the Seahawks, and I expect him to again perform accordingly. There are lots of better options this week.

Running Backs

Start
Spencer Ware/Jamaal Charles
It will be impossible to predict how many snaps and touches these guys are going to get, as the Chiefs continue to ease Charles back into it, but against the Saints, I think they are both worth a start. Ware was the lead back last week against Oakland, but Charles was able to find the end zone. If they produce similarly this week, they should both be in lineups.

James White
When Tom Brady plays, the passing down running back produces. It was Dion Lewis at the start of last season, then James White at the end. This year it’s flip flopped. White may only have value until Lewis returns, but they face the Steelers this week, and their defense is among the worst in the league in giving up receptions to running backs. I believe White should absolutely be started in PPR, and this week he should be started in standard scoring leagues as well.

Sit
Jay Ajayi
After a 200-plus yard performance last week, I know Ajayi owners will be tempted to start him this week. I’m telling you that you should definitely rethink that. The Bills defense has been stellar as of late, and they held Carlos Hyde to just over 50 yards on the ground last week. This is not a good matchup for Ajayi.

Frank Gore
Gore has been solid once again this season, continuing a streak of being undervalued during the preseason. The Titans have been terrific against the run this year though, and if the Colts want to win this game, they’ll do it with Andrew Luck’s arm. I don’t envision a big game from Gore.

Wide Receivers

Start
Golden Tate
Finally! Finally Golden Tate produced how everyone expected him to before the season! I’d like to see him do it again before I truly trust him again, but I think he’s set up for a big game. The Washington secondary can be suspect, and with the Lions’ run game struggling, Stafford is going to throw the ball a lot. Tate and Marvin Jones are both good plays this week.

Allen Hurns
The Jaguars are playing the Raiders. That’s probably all you need to know. They are dead last in the league in passing yards allowed, and we know the Jags want to throw. Slot receivers have had a lot of success this year against Oakland (Willie Snead and Tyrell Williams come to mind), and I think that will continue this week with Hurns.

Sit
DeAndre Hopkins
There is something wrong with the Texans’ offense, and a road matchup with the Broncos probably won’t do them any favors. The Broncos’ secondary is one of the best in the league, and they should keep Hopkins under wraps all night long. I don’t expect much from Hopkins this week.

Doug Baldwin
*Insert wide receiver facing Patrick Peterson here* Baldwin should be shadowed by Peterson, and that does not bode well for him. Peterson is one of the best press man-to-man corners in the league, and I don’t think Russell Wilson will want to challenge him much. I’d start somebody other than Baldwin this week.

Tight Ends

Start
Vernon Davis
Jordan Reed is out for a second straight week. I was curious last week how Davis would do filling in for him, and he found the end zone against a good Philly defense. The Lions have a bad defense, and I think Davis could have more success this week as Reed’s replacement.

Jack Doyle
Dwayne Allen is out with a sprained ankle, and Andrew Luck loves his tight ends. Doyle has put up good numbers in the action he gets. He’ll see a lot of snaps this week with Allen out, and I expect Luck to look for him early and often.

Sit
Coby Fleener
See: Brees, Drew. It’s going to be a rough day for the Saints’ offense (in my opinion), and I think that will lead to a poor game for Fleener.

Antonio Gates
Surprisingly, Hunter Henry has taken full advantage of the opportunity he’s been given and has become one of Philip Rivers’s favorite targets. The odd man out in this situation is Gates, especially given that he’s still not 100% healthy. Henry is the Chargers’ tight end that you want.

NFL Week 6

Five weeks into the 2016-2017 NFL season, and we have just one remaining undefeated team. The craziest thing about it is that it’s a team who lost their starting quarterback during the preseason, traded their 1st Round pick in next year’s draft for a new starter, and then lost their best player, a future Hall of Famer, in Week 2. Despite all of that going against them, the Minnesota Vikings head into their Week 6 bye at 5-0, and the clear favorite to win the NFC at this point in the season. This just goes to show that the NFL is near impossible to predict.

Didn’t have much time to devote this week, so it’s a shorter post than normal. I’ll give you my new Top-10 teams and a start/sit for fantasy. Can you believe it’s mid-October already? Pretty nuts.

 

Top-10 Teams

1 – Minnesota Vikings
I wanted to declare this team #1 last week, but I was still a little hesitant. Then they went out and straight dominated a good Texans team. That, combined with a Broncos home loss to Atlanta, has the Minnesota Vikings in the top spot. It’s pretty remarkable too how they’ve gotten to this point. The only remaining undefeated team, they lost their starting QB during the preseason, and then their future Hall of Fame running back gets hurt in Week 2. Yet here they are, 5-0 and showing no signs of slowing down. Except for that tricky bye week, which always seems to catch teams at the worst time.

2 – New England Patriots
Everybody in the Northeast can breathe a sigh of relief, Tom Terrific is back! And he hasn’t skipped a single beat. Brady showed no signs of rust last week, picking apart the Browns defense to the tune of 406 yards and three touchdowns. They play host to a struggling Cincinnati team on Sunday before a huge road game in Week 7 down in Pittsburgh. The winner of that game will become the favorite to win the AFC.

3 – Pittsburgh Steelers
Speaking of that Pittsburgh team, how happy do you think Ben Roethlisberger, Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin are to have Le’Veon Bell back in the fold? His versatility takes the Steelers’ offense to the next level, and they’ve showed that off with back-to-back dominating performances against two very good defenses (Chiefs, Jets). Now, Ben tends to play much better at Heinz Field, but luckily for him, the Dolphins are in a tailspin right now, and their weakness is their secondary. They just have to avoid looking ahead to New England next week.

4 – Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks move up a little bit in my rankings this week without even playing, but they deserve it. Their performances in the last two games are exactly what we expected from them this season. The defense looks just as great as the one that led them to consecutive Super Bowls just a couple years back. They have a big game this week as they welcome the blazing hot Atlanta Falcons into town. The 12th Man will really have to be rocking for this one.

5 – Atlanta Falcons
If you didn’t think this team was for real before last week, you definitely do now. They went into Denver and defeated the defending Super Bowl champs 23-16. They did only win by a touchdown, but the score was not indicative of how the game went. The Falcons dominated this game. It seemed like they could do just about whatever they wanted to do on offense against what most believe to be the best defense in the NFL. We thought a Carolina-Denver-Seattle stretch would spell doom for the Falcons, but they have taken the first two of those games, and look like a pretty sure bet to win the NFC South.

6 – Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers was not his best on Sunday night, completing just 23 of 45 passes, but the defense was stellar as the Packers pulled out a 23-16 win over the visiting New York Giants. If the Green Bay defense can continue to play well and lift up the team when the offense struggles, the Packers will be a force in the NFC. They sit at 3-1, and the 4-1 Dallas Cowboys will come into Lambeau on Sunday for America’s Game of the Week. Should be a fun battle between the veteran Rodgers and the rookie Dak Prescott.

7 – Oakland Raiders
They don’t win pretty, and they don’t do anything easy, but they win games, and in the NFL, that is all that matters. The scary thing is that they have yet to play a game up to the level that everyone knows they can play at, and they are still 4-1 with three of those wins coming on the road. Their lone loss on the season was a 35-28 loss to the Falcons, who are actually better than most expected them to be. A legitimate argument can be made for Derek Carr as the MVP of the league so far, as he has been the difference in these close victories. A big division battle with the Chiefs is on their plate this week. A 5-1 start would really put Raider Nation into a frenzy.

8 – Dallas Cowboys
How ‘bout them Cowboys? When Tony Romo went down again in the preseason, if you said Dak Prescott would have them 4-1 going into the Green Bay game, you would have been called crazy, and you would have been wrong, because everyone knows the biggest reason for the 4-1 start is Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line. Prescott has done a great job controlling the game and protecting the football, but Elliott has been as explosive as advertised, leading the league in rushing through five weeks. The debate rages on as to whether or not they should put Romo back in when he’s healthy. I believe that they should, but they should have him on a short leash. If the rest of the team continues to play well, it probably won’t matter who’s under center.

9 – Philadelphia Eagles
I figured the early bye week would be a bad thing for the previously unbeaten Eagles. I also expected them to come out sluggish in Detroit because of the bye week. I still expected them to take care of business and defeat a Lions’ team that simply isn’t very good. Despite giving up touchdowns on each of the Lions’ first three drives, the Eagles had a 23-21 lead late in the game. Then it crumbled. Ryan Mathews fumbled on a 3rd down as they were just looking to run clock. The Lions went ahead with a field goal, then Carson Wentz threw his first career interception, and Philadelphia fell to 3-1 on the year. I think they can still compete for the division crown, but they’ll need to play much better than they did last week. The real season starts this week with a trip to Washington, which is followed by a matchup with the Vikings. This week might be must-win.

10 – Denver Broncos
My, how the mighty have fallen, and how quickly it has happened. The Falcons are obviously a good team, but the Broncos turned in a very poor performance against them at home, highlighted (actually, lowlighted) by backup quarterback Paxton Lynch. Lynch played great in relief of starter Trevor Siemian in the game the previous week in Tampa Bay, but he looked mediocre at best against the Falcons. I said going into the draft that Lynch was the most overrated quarterback prospect, and his performance against Atlanta showed why I felt that way. I figured with a short week, the Broncos wouldn’t be able to think about the loss too much and would come back with a vengeance against San Diego last night. Quite the opposite, actually. Denver turned in a pitiful performance against a 1-4 Chargers team, and only had a chance to tie the game at the end because it’s the Chargers, and they’ll always try to lose.

Next Five Up: Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams

 

Fantasy Start/Sit

Quarterbacks

Start
Cam Newton
Just don’t think about this one too much. I know he’s coming back from a concussion, and he has not been the same this year as he was last year. But Ron Rivera announced today that he plans to start Newton this week barring a setback. Well, barring a setback, you start Newton against the Saints. I don’t care who else you have.

Carson Palmer
Another player coming off of a concussion, but he too is expected to play this week, and he has a good matchup against the struggling Jets’ secondary. It’s been tough being a Palmer owner this year, but I think things will start to turn around this week. I’d like them to announce that he’s definitely playing before Sunday, but if you don’t have another Top-10 quarterback, it’s worth the risk to wait til Monday and go with Palmer.

Sit
Kirk Cousins
Matthew Stafford surprisingly put up good numbers against the Eagles last week, but just about all of his success came early, and then he was shut down. It’s Kirk Cousins’s turn to face the Eagles, and I don’t see him putting up the numbers necessary to start him in a 10 or 12 team league this week. Especially if Jordan Reed doesn’t pass the concussion protocol.

Eli Manning
The Giants’ offense has yet to find any consistency this season, and that is mostly due to Eli Manning’s struggles. He has just five touchdown passes this season, and three of those were in the first game against Dallas. Also, the Ravens’ defense has been surprisingly good against the pass, ranking 5th in the league in passing yards allowed per game.

Running Backs

Start
Lamar Miller
I know that you are probably starting Miller if you have him, mostly because he was likely your 1st Round pick. But I’m sure some of you have been frustrated by him to the point where you’re considering benching him. Give him this week yet to turn it around. The Colts are terrible against opposing running backs, and in the Sunday night spotlight, I expect Miller to go off.

Jordan Howard
Thank you Jordan Howard for making me look smart last week! He had a big game against Indianapolis (118 yards rushing, 45 yards receiving, touchdown catch), and I expect more of that this week against the Jaguars. Jacksonville is much better against the run than Indy, but the Bears will need to lean on Howard in order to get the win. John Fox knows that feeding Howard gives him the best chance to come out on top.

Sit
Eddie Lacy
Looks like it could be another frustrating year for Lacy owners. He has yet to score a touchdown this season, and he’s nursing a knee injury. He practiced in full on Thursday, so he’s likely to play Sunday against Dallas, but I’d have a hard time being confident starting him. I need him to have a breakout performance before I feel good about starting him. You should too.

Isaiah Crowell/Duke Johnson
The Titans’ defense is solid against the run, as they give up just under 100 rushing yards per game, and opponents have only scored two rushing touchdowns against them this season. Crowell is among the leading rushers in the league, and Duke Johnson has been targeted 28 times in the passing game this year, but I wouldn’t start either of them this week.

Wide Receivers

Start
Allen Robinson
Robinson has been solid this year, but he has yet to live up to the preseason hype. He was drafted as a WR1, but he’s performed like a WR2. I think that is all a fluke, and he’s still going to have a big year. It begins this week against an injury-riddled Chicago secondary. One of the biggest stats for a wide receiver is targets. As long as a receiver is being targeted, he has a chance to put up big numbers. Robinson is being targeted just over 10 times per game. That’s a good number, and it’s hopefully a sign of things to come.

Kelvin Benjamin
Ah, the best cure for a receiver’s struggles, a matchup with the Saints’ defense. The physically imposing Benjamin should have a field day against this secondary, and he’ll have Cam Newton back throwing to him. Start Benjamin and don’t think twice about it (Sidenote: I still like Benjamin this week even if Newton doesn’t play).

Sit
Doug Baldwin
I don’t really have numbers to back this one up, so call it a hunch. The Falcons’ defense has played much better recently, and even when they struggled, Desmond Trufant has been really good this year. Baldwin’s two big games this year came against awful defenses (Miami, San Francisco), and he was a non-factor in Seattle’s other two games. Combined with the re-emergence of Jimmy Graham, I think Baldwin is on track to have a rough game this week.

Alshon Jeffery
It hasn’t been a great start to the year for Jeffery. He has yet to record more than five catches in a single game, and before his 77 yards last week, his yardage numbers had decreased in each game this season. Bryan Hoyer has found reliable targets in tight end Zach Miller and Eddie Royal, and Cameron Meredith has emerged as another option for him on the outside. With Jalen Ramsey likely covering him, I don’t think Jeffery will have a great game this week.

Tight Ends

Start
Jimmy Graham
I came into this season looking at Jimmy Graham as undraftable at the tight end position. All signs pointed towards that. But now healthy, Russell Wilson is taking advantage of the mismatches that Graham creates with his size and athleticism. He has over 100 yards receiving in two straight games, and I think he makes it three straight this week against Atlanta.

Martellus Bennett
Who saw three Bennett touchdowns coming last week? Not me. It would appear as though Bennett is on his way to a career resurgence, and it now has him playing the role that Aaron Hernandez played in this Patriots’ offense before all of his criminal activities were revealed. The Bengals are struggling right now, so I can see Bennett having another big game.

Sit
Jordan Reed/Other Redskins’ TEs
As someone who owns Jordan Reed in three leagues, I was devastated to hear that he is in the concussion protocol. Concussions have had a huge impact on his career already, so another one can’t be good. If Reed is somehow able to play, you’re going to start him (so will I), but I wouldn’t expect a huge game from him. If he doesn’t play, look to another team before you pick up Vernon Davis or Niles Paul as a replacement. The Eagles have been really good against opposing tight ends this season.

Jacob Tamme
Tamme in Weeks 1-2: 11 receptions, 126 yards
Tamme in Weeks 3-5: 6 receptions, 32 yards
I miss the first two weeks. Unfortunately, I think the last three weeks are more what we should expect from Tamme. You can’t start him this week against the Seahawks given the trends.

NFL Week 5

It seems crazy, but 30 out of 32 teams are already to the quarter-point of their season. Some are starting to establish themselves as forces to be reckoned with (Broncos, Vikings) and others are off to surprisingly hot starts (Eagles, Falcons, Raiders, Rams), while a few teams are struggling to stay on top (Cardinals, Panthers, Jets) and a select few can probably start planning for next season (Browns, 49ers, Saints).

We have 13 more games left this week (Arizona defeated San Francisco on Thursday night), and they include some intriguing storylines. Tom Brady makes his return to the Patriots in Cleveland, the Vikings and Texans (4-0 and 3-1 respectively) look to continue their red hot pace against each other, and the 1-3 Panthers look to right the ship on Monday night against the Buccaneers, but they may be without Cam Newton, who is in the concussion protocol.

It’s a heavy fantasy article this week, as Jeff Greco will take a look at which free agents you should pick up in your leagues, and I will pinpoint which players you should buy low on and which you should sell high, and then as always I will also tell you which players to start or sit this week. First off, my new Top-10 teams.

Jay’s Top-10 

1 – Denver Broncos

They have the same dominant defense that led them to a Super Bowl last season, but they’ll face their toughest test this week against the Atlanta Falcons, who have the #1 offense in the league so far this season. And they could be without starting quarterback Trevor Siemian.

2 – Minnesota Vikings

Speaking of defenses that can lead a team to a Super Bowl, that’s exactly what the Minnesota Vikings have. They have shut down Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Eli Manning this season already. On top of that, their offense has done a great job controlling each game, and that’s all they need. This week they get Brock Osweiler and the Texans.

3 – New England Patriots

The loss to the Bills last week was a little embarrassing, yes, but no need to fret Pats fans, Tom Terrific is back! With Brady at the helm, this team will be fine, and they get the Browns this week, the perfect team for Brady to ease his way back against.

4 – Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers played like a team possessed Sunday night against the Chiefs. With Le’Veon Bell and his versatility back in the fold, Pittsburgh is definitely a team to be reckoned with. I believe their offense is tops in the league, and will lead them to a division crown.

5 – Seattle Seahawks

Remember when the Seahawks lost 9-3 to the Rams and everyone was starting to wonder if this team was finished? Here we are two weeks later, and the Seahawks are just fine. Russell Wilson is playing lights out, and the defense is like a brick wall. They get a bye this week, and that’s perfect for Wilson to rest his ailing ankle.

6 – Green Bay Packers

The Packers have the top run defense in the NFL, giving up under two yards per rush! That is a figure that can’t possibly remain that low, but it tells us that it’s hard to run against them. On the flipside, they are struggling to run the ball on offense, but Eddie Lacy is a talented player and the offense as a whole is starting to come around.

7 – Philadelphia Eagles

It’s Week 5, and the Eagles are one of three undefeated teams remaining, with rookie Carson Wentz at quarterback. If you predicted this, you’re a liar. Wentz has been spectacular, but it’s the defense that has this team sitting at 3-0. Road games against Detroit and Washington are up next, and if they can win both, they’ll be 5-0 heading into a home matchup with the red hot Vikings.

8 – Atlanta Falcons

A road win over the Raiders was impressive, and dominating the Saints in New Orleans was also. But their absolute demolition of the Panthers this past week was their best win of the season, and it has people wondering just how good this team could be this year. They’ll have their biggest test this week as the travel to Denver to take on the defending Super Bowl champs.

9 – Oakland Raiders

This team doesn’t win pretty, and they don’t make any games easy, but they win, and that’s what matters in the end. 3-1 with all three wins coming on the road, the Raiders are playing with supreme confidence, led by their star quarterback Derek Carr. He has led six game winning drives since the beginning of last year, most in the league in that timeframe. They return home this week for a battle with the banged up Chargers.

10 – Houston Texans

Losing J.J. Watt is a huge blow to this team, and Brock Osweiler is struggling to protect the football, but the Texans still have all the pieces to make a playoff run. They have their hands full this week though with the Vikings, but I think they can give Minnesota a good test.

Next 5 Up – Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills



Jeff’s Waiver Wire Targets

Bye weeks started in Week 4 with the Eagles and the Packers, and we’ll now have teams on byes each and every week up to Week 11 (no byes Week 12, Browns and Titans are off Week 13). One of the keys to winning a fantasy championship is dominating your waiver wire. These are the players that you should look to grab if they are available in your leagues.

*All players are owned in 50% or less of ESPN leagues as of 10/3*

Quarterbacks:

Brock Osweiler – HOU (19%)
Osweiler has been struggling thus far, but has a favorable schedule for the remainder of the season. Pick him up before his bye, Week 9, because he may not be available afterwards.

Ryan Fitzpatrick – NYJ (27.6%)
Fitzpatrick has struggled so far, throwing ten interceptions in four games. However, he doesn’t have to play the Chiefs or the Seahawks again this year. His next five games include four favorable matchups.

Running Backs:

Kenneth Dixon – BAL (20.8%)
Baltimore is going in a more youthful direction with their running game. I’d like to think that Dixon is their running back of the future, and worth a priority pickup for a weak running game.

Wendell Smallwood – PHI (9.9%)
Smallwood received 17 carries in Week 3, and could see the majority of touches in the future of the backfield. It remains to be seen if he will be saddled in a committee.

Bilal Powell – NYJ (36.2%)
Powell continues to get more looks in the passing game with the absence of Eric Decker. With bye weeks looming, Powell can be a PPR flex option for some teams in the coming weeks.

Sleeper: Dion Lewis – NE (17%)
Lewis is eligible to return in Week 7 and if he plays up to his potential, could be a RB1 in PPR leagues.

Wide Receivers:

Robert Woods – BUF (10.3%)
With Watkins on IR for the next eight weeks (at least) Robert Woods figures to see the most targets in the Bills offense and is worthy of a flex start on an almost weekly basis.

Cole Beasley – DAL (42.8%)
Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee, and may not play for a few weeks. Beasley is already a favorite target of Dak Prescott. Without Bryant on the field, he should certainly see plenty of targets.

Eddie Royal – CHI (9%)
With Alshon Jeffery dealing with multiple injuries Eddie Royal saw seven targets in Week 4. That sort of production should continue as long as Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery are ineffective.

Tight Ends:

Cameron Brate – TB (9%)
Brate is third on the team in receptions (16) and continues to emerge as a valuable weapon for Tampa Bay. He should continue his climb in the following weeks.

Jesse James – PIT (16.9%)
James continues to be the starting TE for the Steelers. With their potent offense, James could be an emergency starter in bye weeks.

 

Jay’s Buy Low/Sell High

This is the point in the fantasy season when players should look to identify which struggling players are going to turn it around and which players off to scorching starts are bound to slow down as the season wears on. I’m here to try and help you with that.

Quarterbacks

Buy Low – Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota was drafted in most leagues this year, and the early results have not been good. Through four games, Mariota has turned the ball over EIGHT times (5 interceptions, 3 fumbles). That is compared to just four touchdowns (all passing). That being said, his best game came against the lowly Lions’ defense, and the Titans upcoming schedule is very favorable. Here’s who they have coming up (pass yards allowed per game ranking in parenthesis): Miami (22nd), Cleveland (16th), Indianapolis (24th), Jacksonville (5th), San Diego (27th), Green Bay (29th). If you have an inconsistent starter at QB, or one with a tough upcoming schedule, try to grab Mariota to pair with him. I expect his turnaround to begin this week.

Sell High – Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
I know he just threw for over 500 yards against the Panthers and that at this point in the season, he’d be most people’s pick for league MVP, but you have to look the teams he’s faced. Carolina is a bit of an outlier, as his other three games were against Oakland (32nd in total defense), New Orleans (31st) and Tampa Bay (15th). For the most part, he has feasted on poor defenses, and the schedule definitely gets tougher from here. His next two games are against Denver and Seattle, two of the top secondaries in the league. He also faces the Eagles, Cardinals and Chiefs consecutively during the fantasy playoff push. His value will never be higher than it is right now, and you should definitely look to move him for a QB that will help you more down the stretch.

Running Backs

Buy Low – Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
I sympathize with Gurley owners. I have him in two leagues, one where he was my 1st round pick this year (6th overall). It’s frustrating, because it seems like he literally has nowhere to run when they give him the ball. He’s averaging just 2.6 yards per carry and just over 50 yards a game, but I am in the camp that believes that is going to get better. Jeff Fisher knows his team needs to establish the run to give Case Keenum a chance to have success, and they have some favorable matchups on the schedule. During the fantasy regular season, Gurley has games against the Lions, Giants, Dolphins, Saints and Falcons where he should definitely put up big numbers. He also had five catches last week against Arizona, and word out of LA is that they want to continue targeting Gurley in the passing game. If you can find a Gurley owner who is frustrated to the point of giving up on him, pounce. You can thank me later.

Sell High – Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
If you were one of those who took another chance on Gordon this year, or one who kept him in a keeper league because you took him so high last season, kudos to you! You are reaping the benefits, as he leads all running backs in touchdowns with six, one year removed from failing to score a rushing touchdown as a rookie. He’s probably helped you win a matchup or two already this season, but I am here to tell you that you should sell sell sell! He cannot possibly keep up that touchdown rate, and he has just one fumble so far after coughing it up seven times last year. More fumbles are coming, and with the injuries San Diego is suffering on defense, they’re going to be playing a lot of catch up, and that means Philip Rivers launching the ball down the field. You’re going to be chasing touchdowns with Gordon the rest of the season, and I think now is a good time to move on from him.

Wide Receivers

Buy Low – Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Amari Cooper was drafted as a Top-15 wide receiver this season coming off of a rookie year with 72 catches for 1,070 yards and six scores. He was Derek Carr’s #1 target, and with the continued development of the Oakland offense, fantasy players were excited for Coop’s potential this season. To this point, he has disappointed most, but I think that’s only because the bar was set so high. He has yet to find the end zone this season, but the scores will come. The Raiders have  a high-powered offense, and they love to air it out. Cooper is on pace for over 1,300 yards this season, and he is 6th among wideouts in yards after the catch, which means he is a great playmaker. All Carr has to do is get the ball in Amari’s hands, and he’ll make things happen. As Michael Crabtree continues to torch defenses, he’ll garner more attention, and that will only open up more space for Cooper to work.

Sell High – Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
There is a combination of factors that explain why I believe that you should sell Alshon Jeffery. He’s not a sell high candidate because of the numbers he’s put up this year, but more because he’s the “number one” option on a bad team with a pretty favorable fantasy schedule the rest of the way. Jeffery, like Cooper, has yet to find the end zone this year, and I don’t think that’s a fluke as with Cooper. John Fox wants to run the football, and even when down in games, establishing the run will be important for him, especially with Brian Hoyer under center. Jeffery had just 46 yards receiving against the Lions, and that’s probably the best matchup he’ll have the rest of the season. Eddie Royal and Zach Miller have shown a good connection with Hoyer, and Jordan Howard is going to seize a lot of touches in the backfield. As crazy as it sounds, the odd man out might be Jeffery, if he can even stay healthy. Alshon has a tendency to get hurt, and he is currently a little banged up. It’s hard to rely on him, and I’d try to move him for a similarly ranked wide receiver that you can trust more. Julian Edelman and Brandon Marshall are two guys that come to mind.

 

Fantasy Start/Sit

Quarterbacks

Start
Philip Rivers
Not only does the Raiders’ defense struggle to stop anyone, but they also should be leading this game, forcing Philip Rivers to throw the ball more. And we all know Rivers needs no excuse to air it out. The Chargers are banged up, but they can still put up points. This is a fantastic matchup for Rivers, and you should start him if you have him.

Carson Wentz
A dream matchup for the red hot Carson Wentz. The Lions just allowed Brian Hoyer to throw for 302 yards and two touchdowns. The only worry here would be the Eagles going up big early and then putting it into cruise control, but I think Wentz ends up the reason they go up big early.

Sit
Kirk Cousins
The Ravens did give up four touchdown passes last week, but Kirk Cousins isn’t Derek Carr. Plus, Carr only threw for 199 yards to go with those touchdowns. Coming off a home loss, the Ravens will be motivated to win this game, and this will be the best defense Cousins has faced this year.

Tyrod Taylor
Taylor has started to turn a corner, and the offense as a whole has looked much more in sync the last two weeks, but this week will be tough for the Bills. The Rams have a very good defense, and I think the lack of depth at WR for Buffalo will work against them for the first time this week. Traveling all the way to Los Angeles won’t help matters either.

Running Backs

Start
Jordan Howard
The Bears drafted a really talented running back, and all it took was injuries to Jeremy Langford and KaDeem Carey for him to show what he can do. Howard ran for 111 yards against Detroit last week, and this week he gets a terrible Colts’ defense who is returning from London. All systems go on Howard this week.

Devonta Freeman
Believe it or not, the Broncos are giving up over 110 rushing yards a game. Their strength is against the pass, so look for the Falcons to run the ball more than usual. On top of that, Tevin Coleman has a sickle cell trait that could affect him in the high altitude in Denver, so I expect Freeman to get the bulk of the work on Sunday.

Sit
Matt Forte
I bet Forte owners are missing the first two weeks. His torrid pace has almost completely evaporated over the last two weeks, and he is dealing with knee and rib injuries. Imagine that, Matt Forte is hurt. Bilal Powell has played well the last two weeks as well, and could continue to eat into Forte’s share of the touches.

DeAngelo Williams
Those of you who decided to start Williams last week despite Le’Veon Bell’s return got extremely lucky. A garbage time touchdown bailed you out. You can’t expect that every week. This isn’t a timeshare. Bell is the bell cow (pun intended) and Williams will see some touches, but not enough to make him worth starting in fantasy.

Wide Receivers

Start
Julian Edelman
Tom Brady is back. Do you need to hear anything else? You shouldn’t. The carousel at the QB position is now done in New England, and Edelman will benefit the most. The rapport he has had with Tom Brady the last few years is fantastic, and if anybody is happier than Brady owners now that he’s back, it’s Edelman owners.

Quincy Enunwa
Eric Decker is again unlikely to play with the rotator cuff injury, and I expect the Steelers to be up big in this game. Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to throw the ball, and they can’t all go to Brandon Marshall. Enunwa has had a great start to the season, and I think that will continue this week. Pick him up if he’s still available in your league.

Sit
DeAndre Hopkins
You saw how the Vikings shut down Odell Beckham Jr. last week, right? And you realize that Kelvin Benjamin had zero catches against them the previous week, right? I know it will be hard to sit DeAndre Hopkins, but trust me, I wouldn’t even have him in my lineup this week. The Vikings’ defense is that good.

Stefon Diggs
Staying in the same game, Diggs’s numbers have gone down each game, and he has a tough one-on-one matchup this week against Johnathan Joseph. Diggs will be okay for the long run, but this is a week to keep him on your bench. That will be a low scoring game.

Tight Ends

Start
Zach Ertz
The Eagles are expecting Ertz to return this week, and he gets a sweet matchup against the Lions. Wentz targeted Ertz seven times in week one, and he could see a similar number of targets, if not more, this week against Detroit. Ertz is a must-start if he plays.

Zach Miller
I’m going with a pair of Zach’s this week. Brian Hoyer has hit Miller 11 times over the last two weeks (12 targets), and three of those 11 were touchdowns. The Colts’ defense is not good at all, and I think Zach Miller could have a field day against them.

Sit
Gary Barnidge
Barnidge has been targeted 13 times over the last two weeks, but those games were against two mediocre defenses (Miami and Washington). The Patriots are a much better defense, and they have linebackers that can give Barnidge fits in coverage. There are better options out there this week.

Jacob Tamme
His targets have gone way down over the last couple weeks, and now he has to face the Broncos. It’s probably best to stay away this week and wait for a better matchup before you start Tamme again.