Who I’m “Cuffing” With This NFL Season

With the NFL season kicking off a week from today, I’m doubling up on fantasy football because honestly it’s what everyone is thinking about these days. While you’re “working” you’re obviously checking out rankings or scouring the waiver wire. Driving your kids around to soccer practice, yeah I’m sure you didn’t hear anything they said in the backseat because you’re thinking about that trade offer your buddy sent you. Hell, you’re probably not even 100% focused while having sex with your wife…a part of you is wondering if you should have handcuffed CJ Anderson with Ronnie Hillman instead of taking that flyer in the last round. Okay, maybe that’s just me (just kidding babe – I LOVE YOU), but I digress.  As a side note, if this ISN’T enough fantasy football for you – also check out my 10 Commandments for Fantasy Football)

This past November my wife and I had a friend come to visit us from NYC. In the process of catching up, my wife had to ask him of course about his love life. Things were going well, but he mentioned not having a woman in his life right now despite it almost being “cuffing season”. I thought to myself…what the f**k is ‘cuffing season’? No I don’t live under a rock, but I had just gotten married and was with my wife for 8 years before we got hitched…so I’m totally oblivious to the problems facing single folks of our generation.

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Anyway, if you’re a fan of Matthew Berry TMR or just frequent the Fantasy Football page on ESPN, you’ve probably seen at some point his annual column where he talks about the guys he’s all in on. He calls it his “Flag Planting”, so this is my take on that. The guys going into this upcoming NFL season that I’m “cuffing” with from September until January, that will hopefully lead me (and you all reading this of course) to the fantasy football glory land…a championship. I’m going to try to spread it across the rounds (i.e. I’m not just going to “cuff” with the top 10 players on the draft board, that’d be pointless) to show you who I love throughout the course of the draft. So let’s get to it…

Early Rounds:

Adrian Peterson – seems like an obvious name, I know, but I’ve been shocked at the level of skepticism and concern surrounding AP going into this season. I get that he’s 30 years old, missed essentially all of last season and carries a very steep draft price (top 3 pick). I also get the moral dilemma some people face and I certainly don’t support how he chose to discipline his son…but listen, this is fantasy football and all I care about is his production on the field. For me he’s the clear-cut #1 overall player on the board. Call it a gut feeling, but I just think he’s coming out with a vengeance this season – determined to remind everyone across the league how transcendent a player he can be when healthy. Plus, he’s never had this much talent around him. He’s got a good young quarterback, downfield speed threats at WR on the outside in Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson, and a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph. I know everyone points to how AP will make things easier for those WRs on the outside because teams will bring an extra man into the box. That’s fair, but I think there will also be times where the reverse is true, because once teams start to get burned by 40-50 yard bombs downfield to Mike Wallace, I think they’ll be moving those safeties back a few yards…and that’s all AP needs to turn some 4-5 yard runs into huge plays. If I have the #1 pick, he’s my guy…I’m all in.

CJ Anderson – I understand the doubters who point out he’s unproven, but frankly I think you’re all missing out on what’s important. He’s the running back on a team with Peyton Manning at QB, and to boot it’s coming off a season in which Peyton clearly broke down at the end of the year. They’re obviously going to be more conservative on offense to manage his throws and keep him healthy for what matters – the playoffs. So that means heavy doses of CJ in the run game. Plus, he’s their best back in pass protection and he’s a good receiver out of the backfield. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s now running in a Gary Kubiak offense – one that is predicated on running the ball, particularly in the red zone. He made Justin Forsett into an all-Pro running back last season and the Broncos have much better weapons at every skill position. Anderson will face soft fronts all day long and take advantage.

Julio Jones – outside of a healthy Megatron, I don’t think there’s a more physically gifted receiver in the entire NFL. I think Julio has that kind of upside if he can stay healthy for a full season, which has tended to be his issue. He usually has some kind of nagging injury to slows him down for a few weeks, but when healthy last year he put up some monster games (both receptions and yardage-wise). I’m a believer that touchdowns are fluky, but with Roddy White on the back nine of his career, the running game in a state of flux and no reliable tight end on the roster, I think Julio’s red zone looks will go through the roof. So I’m predicting double-digit touchdowns for JJ this season, and with his upside I think he can be the #1 receiver in fantasy (even though he typically is drafted as the 3rd – 6th). I’m grabbing the dirty bird on every roster that I possibly can.

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DeAndre Hopkins – Don’t care that the quarterback situation isn’t great (for the record, Brian Hoyer is a serviceable option at QB). I’m buying up all of the shares I can of Nuk, because I think he’s taking the leap into stardom this season. No Arian Foster, possibly for the first 2-4 weeks (as a best case scenario), and who the hell else are they going to throw to? Seriously, who’s their next receiver in line for targets? Cecil Shorts? Oh, wait, he really might be their other starting receiver? HAHAHAHAHAHA…yeah give me DeAndre all day every day, and hopefully a couple times on Sundays. Seriously, this guy will be a target monster this year – especially in the red zone without Foster on the field.

Brandin Cooks – He’s a popular name, and I think it’s for good reason. Nobody doubts the guys talent, and it’s hard to argue against the opportunity in front of him this season…he’s still playing in a Sean Payton offense, with Drew Brees at QB and they traded away Jimmy Graham this offseason. Plenty of extra targets to split up, and I think Cooks gets the lion’s share of those. Yes, most of his targets will be close to the line of scrimmage. But this guy has the quicks to turn a 5-yard pass in the flat into a big gain. I think he’s PPR gold this season – if he stays healthy all season has the potential for 100+ receptions. He’s drafted as a WR2, but has low-end WR1 upside in my opinion. I’m firmly on the bandwagon…WHO DAT!

Middle Rounds:

Allen Robinson – I know he plays for the Jags, and I’m not a believer in Blake Bortles. But you know what I am a believer in? That junk time yardage and touchdowns still count the same in fantasy football. The Jaguars will be playing from behind….A LOT, and Robinson is by far their best receiver and most polished route runner. I think he has a great year, particularly in PPR formats. I don’t see any Jags offensive player having a high TD total but I could easily see him eclipsing 80 catches and 1,000 yards.

Davante Adams – I had to move him from the ‘Late Rounds’ section due to the Jordy Nelson injury, so now he’s an obvious choice. I’ve been high on Adams from the beginning because of how many 3-wide sets the Packers run, and because he caught my attention at the end of last season once he got comfortable with the playbook. He obviously jumps up into a starting role to replace Jordy and has the potential for a big year catching passes from Aaron Rodgers every week.

Ben Roethlisberger – It pains me to write nice things about him because I think he’s a complete slimeball of a man, but he’s a great option as a fantasy QB. He’s got amazing weapons around him: arguably the most polished route-runner in football…Antonio Brown, the best all-around back (once he’s available week 3) in Le’Veon Bell, and a freakish downfield threat (again once he’s available) in Martavis Bryant. Frankly, I think you can snag Big Ben for good value because some people are worried about the impact of no Bell for 2 weeks and no Bryant for 4. I’m not concerned, you know why? Because the Steelers’ defense is total garbage and Ben will be throwing all day. If they don’t put up big points, they’ve got no shot…and this is about fantasy football, not real football.

Greg Olsen – He’s routinely getting drafted as the 4th (sometimes 5th) tight end and I think that’s just ludicrous. I get that Travis Kelce is a flashier name – when you draft Olsen nobody else in the room will go “ooooh and ahhhhh” or “damn I really wanted him”. But you know what he is? He’s a steady, dependable, and extremely productive player who has a legit chance to improve upon his career year from last season. I don’t think it was a fluke that Cam Newton targeted Olsen 9 times in the 1st half of their last preseason game against the Patriots. I think that’s because he has no other options that he has faith in – Kelvin Benjamin…out for the season. Devon Funchess, the kid everyone assumes will replace him…hasn’t practiced. Olsen is the clear #3 tight end in fantasy, but he’s going behind Jason Witten in some drafts. That is just insane…take advantage and enjoy the results all season.

Later Rounds:

Tom Brady – Everyone has been skittish about drafting Brady, and understandably so. He’s in line for a 4-game suspension and the Patriots have a week 4 bye so he had potential to miss the first 5 weeks of fantasy; fair concerns. But at this point the odds are pretty high that Brady doesn’t miss 4 games this season – hell he might not miss any if the judge approves an injunction allowing him to play while the appeal process runs its course (or even crazier, if he rules in his favor). Worst case scenario you have Brady from week 6 on, in which case you know he’d come back ready to set the league on fire. Best case, he’s available all season and you’re getting a top 5 or 6 QB option at great value. Swing for the fences and grab Brady if you can while his price is still cheap, and just protect yourself with an adequate backup like Sam Bradford or Ryan Tannehill.  Editor’s Note:  Obviously the ruling this morning will send Brady’s draft stock sky-rocketing.  I’m still cuffed to him in the middle round because he will be a beast this season (just slightly motivated you know)

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images - USA Today)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images – USA Today)

John Brown – He’s started to dart up everyone’s draft board, so you might not get him as cheap as people did earlier in the preseason. But he’s worth it, even if you have to reach a little to grab him. Bruce Arians has consistently referred to him as a clone of T.Y. Hilton. That’s pretty high praise from your head coach, and since Arians was a huge part of Hilton’s development in Indy, I feel pretty confident that he’ll maximize this kid’s talents. Plus, when Carson Palmer was healthy last season this kid always seemed to show up on film with big plays downfield. With Larry Fitz on the back nine of his career and Michael Floyd recovering from three fractured fingers, Brown will get his opportunity to run away with the job. See what Brown can do for you…

Eddie Royal – The hype train has starter to gain a lot of steam for Royal thanks to all the injuries in training camp to the rest of the receiving core (Kevin White out potentially all year and Alshon Jeffrey battling a calf injury). He can still be had for a good value on draft day and was a favorite of Jay Cutler back in their Bronco days. I expect him to be Cutler’s security blanket out of the slot, and think he’s got a shot to finish with a sneaky 85-90 receptions this year…making him a great WR3/Flex play in PPR formats and a good bench stash in standard leagues.

Matt Jones – Some guys just pass the eye test, you know what I mean? I know that Alfred Morris is the starter, and their offensive line has looked pretty miserable all preseason. I also don’t feel great about Kirk Cousins as the starting QB, but this kid just looks like a dynamic playmaker. Not many running backs at his size (6’ 2”) can move like he can. The Redskins are going to be bad – no way around that – and I think he’ll get involved in their offense sooner rather than later. If I’m throwing darts at the end of the draft, he’s my guy.

Disagree with me? Want to state your claim on another guy for this season? Or just want to tell me how much you LOVED the article (which is obviously what I live for), leave it in the comment section.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance – NFC North

Continuing my series of divisional previews; if you missed the first two you can check out the NFC East and NFC West. Next up…the NFC North:

Chicago Bears

Why they should be optimistic: They’ve still got Matt Forte, who is arguably the most versatile running back in the entire NFL. You look at his rushing stats from last year and it’s nothing that makes you giddy…just over 1,000 yards at 3.9 YPC and 6 TDs. Good, but nothing special – until you factor in what he did as a receiver out of the backfield: 102 receptions for over 800 yards and 4 TDs. Sum it up and you’ve got over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs, which is why he’s still one of the best in the league.

The only other reasons for optimism are that you’ve got some other weapons on offense too. Alshon Jeffrey has proven to be a playmaker in his first three seasons and should step right in to the WR1 role vacated by Brandon Marshall (although he’s already dealing with a nagging calf injury). You’ve also got Martellus Bennett still lurking at tight end, and you added one of Jay Cutler’s favorite security blankets from back in the day…Eddie Royal…to man the slot. If Cutler can get his head out of his own ass, the offense should be just fine.

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Why they should be concerned: Da Bears should be concerned because they’re still stuck with Jay Cutler as their quarterback, and the dude is total muff-garbage. That’s why they couldn’t find any takers this offseason when they were reportedly “shopping him”…he’s not a good quarterback AND he’s had issues with prior coaches and teammates. As long as he’s your QB, the ceiling on this team will be pretty limited. Frankly, the only thing Cutler has in his ‘Win’ column is his wife.

Kristin Cavallari  Photo By Gilbert Flores Fontainebleau Miami Beach Grand Opening at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach November 14, 2008 - Miami Beach, Florida CelebrityPhoto.com P.O. Box 1560 Beverly Hills, CA 90213-1560 TEL 310 786-7700  FAX 310 777-5455
Not sure how you pulled it off Jay, but kudos

The Bears also traded away Brandon Marshall this offseason. I know he’s got a screw loose, but the dude has boatloads of talent. And the kid they drafted in the 1st round to replace him – Kevin White – is already out with a shin injury. He’ll go on the PUP list and best case miss the first 6 weeks; still a chance he misses the entire season…so that’s a good start after 1 week of the preseason.

What are their chances:  As long as Cutler is their QB, their chances are about as good as the odds of me watching the next Fast and the Furious movie (what are they up to, #7 now? – who still watches that shit?). They have some talent around him on offense, but the offensive line is shaky and the defense looks poised for another down year. I think John Fox will be able to right the ship, but not this quickly. They’ll take their licks in 2015 in a difficult division, and with a tough out of division schedule. My official prediction = they finish last in the division at 6-10.

so then they said let's sign cutler for 7 more years
Yeah, I thought that shit was hilarious too

Minnesota Vikings

Why they should be optimistic: Adrian Peterson is back!! That’s all you really need to keep in mind if you’re a Vikings fan. The Purple Jesus is back and Viking fans everywhere will get to see the big 2-8 steam-rolling over poor defensive backs on his way to endzone, and all will be right with the world again. You can put me down as being in the camp that AP is going to come back with a vengeance and punish the league this year.  Struggling to remember just what this dude is capable of, enjoy…

You’ve also got a young, promising QB leading your team in Teddy Bridgewater. He made strides at the end of 2014 and definitely has more weapons around him in 2015 (the aforementioned AP is just a minor upgrade over Matt Asiata) and the Vikings traded for Mike Wallace this offseason to pair him with the emerging Charles Johnson on the outside and tight end Kyle Rudolph. If that group can stay healthy and if Teddy can keep progressing, the offense should be rock solid. His growth should definitely be eased by the return of AP, as teams will stack the box to slow him down – leaving 1 on 1 matchups on the outside.

Why they should be concerned: Personally, I’m a believer in Teddy Bridge, but he’s young and doesn’t even have a full season under his belt yet. So there’s the very real possibility that he has more growing pains and this season doesn’t go real well for the Vikes as he still develops.

There’s also the issue of their defense, which showed signs of improvement last year but didn’t make enough big plays to be a difference-maker. They had 41 sacks as a team last season, but didn’t generate enough turnovers (only 13 INTs and 6 fumble recoveries; 19 turnovers in 16 games just won’t cut it) to help create opportunities for their offense.

Lastly, the offensive line was a huge problem last year as Vikings QBs were sacked 51 times. That’s over 3 times per game. We’ll assume that improves with AP back in the fold, but reports are that the Vikings already lost starting right tackle Phil Loadholt to a season-ending Achilles injury in their first preseason game…that won’t help the cause.

What are their chances:  I think the Vikings are the dark horses in this division. They were better than people realized last season, and I think the return of AP is going to have a massive impact on their offense – I honestly can’t overstate how important I think he is to this team. Their defense isn’t great, but I think they’ll be good enough. They don’t have enough to overtake the Packers this season…but they’re building in the right direction. My official prediction = 10-6, fighting for a wildcard spot.

purple-jesus-painting

Detroit Lions

Why they should be optimistic: They still have the man known best as Megatron. He’s struggled with some injuries the last two seasons, but when healthy he’s still the most unstoppable receiver in the NFL.  They finally found a Robin for Megatron last season, as Golden Tate had a tremendous season and stepped up huge when Calvin went down with his injury. Plus, there have been rave reviews coming out of camp so far about the young back they drafted…Ameer Abdullah. And for once the hype might actually be worthwhile because there is at least one Jets defensive player in the trainer’s room with broken ankles after their preseason game. Kid can cut on a dime – now the early comparisons to Barry Sanders are just insane…but he did immediately remind me of Shady McCoy, which ain’t too shabby.  In case you missed it…

Why they should be concerned: For starters, they haven’t gotten consistent play from Matthew Stafford. He’s got all the physical tools, but has regressed the past few years and his mechanics are just terrible. He reminds me of Nomar Garciaparra with his side-armed throws…and they’re both equally inaccurate. He’s got to be better for the team to have any real success, and he hasn’t shown any signs of taking that step into the upper echelon of QBs.

The larger concern is that it took the Lions over a decade to build any semblance of a defense. They finally had some success, culminating with last seasons’ top-5 defensive unit and right on cue…say goodbye to Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh.  They brought in veteran Haloti Ngata to fill the gap, but it’s not enough, and the trickle-down effect should hamper their secondary in a big way.

What are their chances:  They’ll be competitive, so they’ve got a chance to keep things interesting heading into December. But that’s all I expect from them – and it’ll be a definite step backwards from last season’s playoff appearance. I don’t expect Dan Orlovsky bad from them again…but with their lousy defense it’ll be more like the days of old with Stafford chucking all day. Keep your arm loose homie. My official prediction = 8-8 record.

Green Bay Packers

Why they should be optimistic: For starters, they have the best quarterback on the planet (right now) leading their team. Aaron Rodgers is in his prime, and the Pack can ride his golden arm as they chase another Super Bowl title. They’re also stocked with one of the best receiving corps in all of football – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams; and they’ve got the human bowling ball at running back in “I’m not fat, I’m big-boned” Eddie Lacy. Simply put, assuming health, offense will not be an issue for the cheeseheads this season. They’ll continue to be one of the top offenses in the league and put up points at a high clip.

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Why they should be concerned: Their pass rush couldn’t generate any consistent pressure on the quarterback last season outside of Clay Matthews and occasionally Julius Peppers. They need more consistent play up front and are hoping a healthy B.J. Raji can be part of the solution.

They should also be terrified if a game comes down to recovering an onside kick again, because that botched play has to be terrorizing the minds of every Packers player, coach and fan. My guess is that they’re spending some time with the “hands team” this training camp.

What are their chances:  As far as I’m concerned, you can lock up this division now for the Pack. As long as Aaron Rodger’s arm doesn’t fall off, they’re winning the NFC North going away. I did give the Vikings some love, and they could stay within arm’s reach of Green Bay, but at the end of the day it’s their division to lose. My official prediction = they steam-roll through the regular season schedule and finish 13-3, get a top seed and first round bye in the playoffs. They end up facing Seattle in a rematch of last season’s devastating loss in the NFC title game.

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