AFC/NFC Championship Predictions

Updated: July 16th 2017

Overall, a great weekend of games last week. As many analysts and writers have commented, the cream of the QB crop rose to the top last weekend with Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger all advancing.  The Dallas/Green Bay playoff game was as entertaining a playoff football game as you can imagine, and I have no doubt that this week’s game will be equally as thrilling. Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan were 1-2 in QB fantasy scoring this season, so it may come down to the defense that is able to cause a couple turnovers or for more red zone field goals this week. As for the Steelers and the Patriots, this is certainly not new territory for either team, as it will mark the Steelers 15th trip to this game since it started in 1970, the Patriots 12th trip overall and 11th in the Brady era (6 in a row), and it will be the third time that Big Ben and Brady have squared off with the Super Bowl on the line (Brady has won both previous meetings). As with the prior two weeks, the RSO Writers have dissected both games, and in case you are tracking at home, here are the results of each writer’s picks from last week and through the playoffs:

  1. Stephen Wendell: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 6-2 ML & 6-2 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: Last Week 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  3. Kyle English: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 6-2 ML & 4-4 ATS
  4. Robert Cowper: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 4-4 ATS
  5. Matt Goodwin: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-1 ML & 5-2-1
  6. Nick Andrews: Last Week 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  7. Dave Sanders: Last Week 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  8. Bernard Faller: Last Week 4-0 ML & 1-2-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-1 ML & 4-3-1 ATS
  9. Luke O’Connell: Last Week 4-0 ML & 2-2 ATS; Playoffs 7-1 ML & 5-3 ATS

And a quick summary of the picks for this week in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis:

  1. Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons (Line ATL -5.5): ML – 6 GB & 3 ATL // ATS – 7 GB & 2 ATL
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots (Line NE -5.5): ML – 2 PIT & 7 NE // ATS – 4 PIT & 3 NE & 2 PUSH

Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons [Line: Atlanta -5]

Stephen Wendell: I have been on Rodgers and the Packers since I witnessed their beatdown of the Eagles on MNF which started the streak. I said last week Packers-Patriots in the Super Bowl, so I will stick with that prediction this week. The Packers in a shootout. Projected Score: Packers 34 – Falcons 31.

Matt Papson: Aaron Rodgers. Projected Score: Packers 34 – Falcons 27.

Kyle English: Packers come in as probably the hottest team in the NFL and meet the Falcons who have rather quietly won 5 in a row.  The Packers are dealing with all sorts of injuries to their WR corps but with Rodgers at the helm they can still put up plenty of points.  The Packers though are vulnerable against the pass as Prescott showed last week posting over 300 yards (which he only did twice all season) and 3 TDs.  Matt Ryan and the Falcons excel through the air so I expect a lot of offense in this one.  Think the Falcons win a close one. Projected Score: Falcons 34 – Packers 31.

Robert Cowper: I’m having trouble getting into this game if I’m being honest.  It should prove to be a high scoring affair, which will be exciting, but the Falcons just don’t do it for me.  I picked against them last week because I don’t trust Matt Ryan and I will do so again this week.  It’s a shame for Aaron Rodgers that the MVP award voting is held before the playoffs begin because I bet if voting were held today that he would win in a landslide.  His streak without throwing an interception has now ended (after 8 games) but the numbers are still astounding.  In two playoff games against the Giants and Cowboys, Rodgers has 717 yards, 6 TDs and 1 INT.  I will continue to pick Rodgers and the Packers until they prove me otherwise. Projected Score: Packers 41 – Falcons 24. 

Matt Goodwin: By reading my articles, you know that I love hip-hop. This game is a lot like one of my favorites-“Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest. The first scenario is a red-hot Aaron Rodgers carrying his team in a shootout to the Super Bowl in spite of a lackluster Packers defense and receivers who aren’t 100%. This scenario includes at least one of Davante Adams or Jordy Nelson playing in the game and Ty Montgomery having success against the Falcons who give up lots of receptions to running backs. I do expect Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Taylor Gabriel to have big games and the big-play ability of Tevin Coleman could come into play in this game too. The Packers are a few years from Julio Jones torching them for over 200 yards, but Jones is clearly not 100%, so I’m not expecting a go-off game to that magnitude. The second scenario (let’s call it the remix) involves a game similar to last season’s loss at the Arizona Cardinals where Jeff Janis pulled a Hail Mary down to send the game to overtime, but Rodgers’ incredible effort fell just short because Matt Ryan is equally hot and at home. Projected Score: Packers 38 – Falcons 33 (if Adams and/or Nelson play) & Falcons 33 – Packers 24 (without Adams and Nelson).

Nick Andrews: Two weeks in a row I bet against Aaron Rodgers; two weeks in a row I have been wrong. But like any good gambler knows you should never chase the results. Where people saw brilliance by Rodgers I saw a glaring weakness from the Packers’ defense. At 21-3 and 28-13 they should have been able to salt the game away. Instead, their defense allowed scoring drive after scoring drive to bring Dallas back, twice! Atlanta put a clinic on Seattle right from the start and they did not take their foot off the gas. Forget third down conversions this game will likely come down to scoring drive conversions. In the end though I see Atlanta’s OC Kyle Shannahan being aggressive and sticking to their game plan which is where Scott Linehan failed. Projected Score: Falcons 44 – Packers 34.

Dave Sanders: Another week – another remarkable performance by Aaron Rodgers.  Though I don’t have a rooting interest in any of the four remaining teams, I hope that GB runs the table so that the “Jared Cook Catch” becomes a part of history.   Moments like that, and much of the fourth quarter for that matter, remind us of how great football is at its very best.  Atlanta also did not disappoint last week, beating Seattle 36-20 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score might indicate.  Matt Ryan continued his impressive play, even without Julio Jones for much of the game.  Julio’s expected to play this weekend and should have plenty of success if he’s anywhere near 100%.  There’s less certainty with Packers WR Jordy Nelson, who called his broken ribs the worst pain he’s ever felt.  Nelson is hopeful to play, but it will likely come down to a game-time decision.  Unaffected by wintry weather conditions in the dome, expect this game to be a shootout. Projected Score: Packers 37 – Falcons 34.  

Bernard Faller: Who needs defense? You will not see many scoreless drives in this game. The Packers have not scored less than 30 points in a game since the beginning of December. The biggest unit mis-match of the entire playoffs occurs in this contest with the vaunted Falcon passing attack, averaging an NFL-best 9.2 Yards Per Attempt, taking on a decimated Green Bay secondary giving up an NFL-worst 8.1 YPA. With most Packer receivers on the injury report, Green Bay is just too beat up to compete with Atlanta this week. Projected Score: Atlanta 38 – Green Bay 28.

Luke O’Connell: Why have the gods of the gridiron opened an absurdly large salt shaker into the wounds of Vikings fanatics?   Aaron Rodgers seemingly won’t be denied in this playoff run.   No father, no brother, no mercy, it is like the opening of cheese-laden post-apocalyptic Western.  Jordy is stepping into the breach with brittle ribs, and joins the Green Bay gang of Montgomery, Adams (who must feel the white-hot glare of the pressure of rising expectations), Cobb, Cook, and a man named Geronimo.  As much as it pains me to admit, the Packers just seem to get the gravitas of the moment, and have the hardened constitution of a Midwesterners who know how to endure.  Matty Ice and Devonta strike this analyst as players who have reached the heights that their talent and temperament can take them.    Julio Jones may be the final Falcon wild card, the game’s truly transcendent talent beyond Aaron Rodgers, but when gambling on QB vs. WR, the smart money follows the man with the ball.   RSO Angle:  Freeman might lay to rest the 1 vs 1a talk in the Falcon backfield, and all the receivers in the game not named Julio are prone to massive differences in valuation, making them key offseason pieces in trades. Projected Score: Packers 20 – Falcons 17. 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots [Line: New England -6]

Stephen Wendell: This is super tough for me. I have been on the Steelers since the start of the playoffs, but too much is working against them this week (shorter week, AB video, many players are stick, Foxborough, Belichick, Brady). I think they are able to keep it close, but the Patriots score a late TD to ice it and win by 10. Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Steelers 21.

Matt Papson: Tom Brady. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 24. 

Kyle English: The Steelers were able to pull out the road upset against the Chiefs last week while the Pats needed some 4th quarter scores to pull away from the Texans.  The Steelers kept their home regular season matchup against the Pats close despite not having Big Ben on the field.  The Pats showed that they have some holes in their win last week and I think the Steelers have the talent to pull off the upset.  Projected Score: Steelers 27 – Patriots 24.

Robert Cowper: I had a buddy in Vegas last weekend and about an hour before kickoff I asked him to place a parlay on the Pats against the spread with the over.  Both hit but sadly he didn’t stumble to the sportsbook in time.  I would not place the same bet this week.  There’s been a lot of talk this week about the Antonio Brown Facebook Live drama and not too much about the game itself which I think is a mistake because this could be an all-time great game.  We know the offenses are good but let’s look at the defenses.  Even though the Pats were #1 in scoring defense, I don’t buy that they have an elite defense; the Steelers were #10 in scoring.  By total yards they were #8 and #12 respectively.  The Pats rushing defense is #4 but I think that is more a factor of opponents playing from behind than a stout front seven, Bell should have success.  Keep an eye on Steelers LB Ryan Shazier, one of my favorite players, who has a string of four consecutive games with an INT.  He had 3.5 sacks and 87 tackles in just 13 games during the regular season.  With the Pats passing attack focused on dink-and-dunk to the RBs and Julian Edelman, I expect Shazier to be involved a lot and to be a difference maker.  Steelers win it with a late FG after a key defensive stop.  Projected Score: Steelers 23 – Patriots 21.

Matt Goodwin:While it wouldn’t surprise me to see a Steelers win, the Patriots have not allowed 90 yards rushing to an opposing running back for 24 straight games. With Le’Veon Bell likely neutralized on the ground to some degree and Ben Roethlisberger’s road splits being well documented, the Steelers will have to come up with a lock-down defensive performance to win at Gillette Stadium. I think the Patriots ground game with Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount will be heavy utilized here and that Tom Brady and Julian Edelman will connect several times. The Patriots way is to take away your biggest strength and I see that as the Steelers ground game. For those reasons in a game where field goal kicking may come in big with two phenomenal kickers and based on the Patriots track record in home AFC Championship games, give me the Patriots. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 20.

Nick Andrews: Sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good. The Patriots easily played their worst game of the season last week and still managed to win their divisional round game. A game that they won by 18 points felt like a lost to many of the players. Bill Belichick likely is none too pleased with how his players and staff performed so don’t expect a second egg to be laid this week. The Steelers showed that they can be contained in last week’s game scoring all 18 points on field goals and provided some easy bulletin board material for the Patriots from AB’s NSFW locker room video. Le’veon Bell says this is a statement game to avenge their early season loss but I think this is a bigger statement game for the Patriots to prove that last week was a fluke. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 23.

Dave Sanders: Had the Texans had better quarterback play, they may have had a real shot to beat the Patriots last weekend.  Brock Osweiler was dreadful again, throwing 3 interceptions and passing for less than 200 yards on 40 attempts.  The Patriots survived a game in which Brady threw as many INTs (2) as he did for the entire regular season.  Brady will need play better this weekend as the Steelers travel to Foxboro and I expect he will.  This feels like the right spot for the weekly reminder of Ben’s home/road splits.  There are too many stats to list here, but simply put: he’s elite at home and well below-average on the road.  Credit to JJ Zachariason @LateRoundQB on Twitter for the following stat: Bell has averaged 146.5 rushing yards per game in his last 8 games vs. 72 per game in his first 6 games of the season.  The Steelers will continue to ride Bell, but I don’t think it will be enough.  Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 21.

Bernard Faller: Pittsburgh owns all the tools to win with Roethlisberger, Brown, Bell, one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, and an improving defense.  None of that matters.  The only relevant point is the Steelers facing Brady and Belichick in Foxboro.  No need to over think this one.  Projected Score:  New England 30 – Pittsburgh 24.

Luke O’Connell: Fun fact apropros of…something.   Boston is not the sole city that can claim to a history-making anti-tax tantrum.   While Bostonians were up in arms about tea, Pittsburghers, or rather villagers and farmers over Fort Pitt threw down over some Federal overreach in possibly the best named fight short of Star Wars-the Whiskey rebellion.   This prediction need not be overly complicated.  When sifting through potential matchups, and tension between offensive predictors vs. the Steelers defensive base sets, it grew increasingly evident that the question in this contest has more to do with an age old adage about the size of dogs and fights.  Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell are formidable, but Belichick is going to take one of those two men away from the love triangle, leaving Big Ben and one buddy to fend off Brady and his island of misfit toys.  This one seems historic, and so we turn to history.  Bostonians eventually won their rebellion, at least Pittsburghers still have their whiskey. RSO angle: Who will get a bigger per-season contract next year: Dion Lewis or LeGarrette Blount? Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Steelers 17.

 

ENJOY THE GAMES EVERYONE!

5 Overlooked 2016 Performances

Updated: July 16th 2017

While 2016 produced more fantasy football content than ever, I believe these 5 players performances flew under the radar.  This piece will highlight the productive seasons of Pierre Garcon, Cole Beasley, and Carlos Hyde, while exploring Breshad Perriman and Dorial Green-Beckham‘s second seasons in the NFL.  Let’s dig in…

Carlos Hyde RB SF

2014  83 carries – 333 yards – 4.0 YPC – 4 TDs

2015  115 carries – 470 yards – 4.1 YPC – 3 TDs

2016  217 carries – 988 yards – 4.6 YPC – 6 TDs

Being a member of a dreadful 49ers team has not prevented Carlos Hyde from being a productive fantasy asset.  Though an arbitrary measurement, he’s one of eight running backs since 1970 to average over 4 yards per carry in each of his first three seasons (min. 80 carries per season).  Others include Herschel Walker, Thurman Thomas, Fred Taylor, DeAngelo Williams, and Jonathan Stewart.  For San Francisco, there’s nowhere to go but up.  If the 49ers become more competitive, Hyde could vault himself into a weekly RB1 lock.

Pierre Garcon WR WAS

2013  113 receptions – 181 targets – 1,346 yards – 11.9 yards per rec – 5 TDs

2014  68 receptions – 105 targets – 752 yards – 11.1 yards per rec – 3 TDs

2015  72 receptions – 111 targets – 777 yards – 10.8 yards per rec – 6 TDs

2016  79 receptions – 114 targets – 1,041 yards – 13.2 yards per rec – 3 TDs

2016 was Pierre Garcon‘s best season since his 181 target outlier season in 2013.  On 3 more targets than 2015, Garcon improved his Y/R by nearly 2 1/2 yards and increased his catch percentage by almost 5%.  Garcon enters free agency as one of the best available receivers.  Regardless of where he signs this off-season, Garcon has re-established himself as a fantasy relevant player and someone I’d offer a 1 or 2 year RSO contract.

Cole Beasley WR DAL

2014  37 receptions – 49 targets – 420 yards – 11.4 yards per rec – 4 TDs

2015  52 receptions – 75 targets – 536 yards – 10.3 yards per rec – 5 TDs

2016  75 receptions – 98 targets – 833 yards – 11.1 yards per rec – 5 TDs

Cole Beasley quietly finished the 2016 season as the #33 WR in PPR scoring, according to ESPN Scoring Leaders.  With a career-best and team-high 98 targets, Beasley‘s role expanded from valuable role player to the team’s #2 WR.   In my opinion, there’s no reason to expect his role to diminish as he enters his age-28 season because Dallas has many needs to address on the defensive side of the ball this off-season.

Breshad Perriman WR BAL

2015  n/a

2016 33 receptions – 66 targets – 499 yards – 15.1 yards per rec – 3 TDs

While Perriman‘s dynasty value is at an all-time low, his 2016 season encouraged his owners as he was able to suit up for all 16 games.  Playing third and sometimes fourth banana in Baltimore, Perriman finished 2016 with 499 yards.  The yardage may not seem impressive, but Perriman flashed his upside with several big plays.  Let’s not forget he ran a 4.24 at the 2015 NFL Combine.  His potential remains the same as when he was drafted.  Sure we have more awareness of his injury history, but I consider this to be a great time to buy Perriman.  He should enter next season as one of Baltimore’s best options in the passing game and can hopefully take that next step after participating fully in OTAs and training camp.

Dorial Green-Beckham WR PHI

2015 w/ Titans 32 receptions – 66 targets – 549 yards – 17.2 yards per rec – 4 TDs

2016 w/ Eagles 36 receptions – 74 targets – 392 yards – 10.9 yards per rec – 2 TDs

With plenty of opportunity on an Eagles team dearth of receivers, Green-Beckham failed to earn a prominent role in Doug Pederson’s offense.  This is best exemplified by his 13% target share in the 15 games he played last season.  Green-Beckham‘s yards per reception plummeted from 17.2 to 10.9 after failing to show much route versatility besides the slants he so frequently ran.

Among 2nd-year receivers with 70+ targets, Dorial Green-Beckham has the 9th lowest Yards/Target since 1970.  As the Eagles look to bolster Carson Wentz‘ supporting cast, DGB is no lock for a prominent role in 2017.

*All stats from www.pro-football-reference.com


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each.  Follow him on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO

Divisional Weekend Predictions

Updated: July 16th 2017

Well, last week went pretty much as the experts expected with all favorites/home teams prevailing, and only the Giants/Packers game was even close, which is really funny to type since it ended up being the largest margin of victory of any of the games with the Packers winning by 25. I have a feeling this week is going to be much different with significantly closer games save the Texans-Pats game, which is shaping up to be a pre-season warm-up game for New England ahead of the AFC Championship game next week. The RSO Writers have dissected each game again this week below, but in case you are tracking at home, here are the results of each writer’s picks from last week:

  1. Stephen Wendell: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  3. Kyle English: 3-1 ML & 1-3 ATS
  4. Robert Cowper: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS
  5. Matt Goodwin: 4-0 ML & 2-1-1 ATS
  6. Nick Andrews: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS
  7. Dave Sanders: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS
  8. Bernard Faller: 4-0 ML & 1-2-1 ATS
  9. Luke O’Connell: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS

A quick summary of the picks for this week in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but, just as last week, you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons (Line ATL -5): ML – 4 SEA & 5 ATL // ATS – 6 SEA & 3 ATL
  2. Houston Texans @ New England Patriots (Line NE -15): ML – 0 HOU & 9 NE // ATS – 1 HOU & 8 NE
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs (Line KC -1.5): ML – 4 PIT & 5 KC // ATS – 5 PIT & 4 NE
  4. Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys (Line DAL -4.5): ML – GB 7 & DAL 2 // ATS – 8 GB & 1 DAL

#3 Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) @ #2 Atlanta Falcons (11-5) [Line: Atlanta -5]

Stephen Wendell: Matty Ice has had another great year and when clicking, the Falcons’ offense is explosive. Seattle looked as solid as ever last week against the Lions, and one should never discount their winning experience this time of the year. This is a rematch of the 2012 Divisional Round game between these two teams that ended with a game winning FG by Matt Bryant…if you remember, the Falcons came out of the gates strong and lost the lead only to win on the last second kick by Bryant. I think Carroll will have his troops ready early and not let the game get away from them, and ultimately, I think Atlanta’s questionable defense lets them down and the Hawks prevail.  Projected Score: Seahawks 28 – Falcons 24.

Matt Papson: I can’t believe the Seahawks are +5 point underdogs. The NFC isn’t particularly strong this year, and this might be as good an opportunity as Matt Ryan gets in his career to win it all. But, even with the Seahawks traveling across the country, I see them showing up in a big way. I’m expecting Seattle to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years.  Projected Score: Seahawks 31 – Falcons 28.

Kyle English:  Seahawks got the job done at home against the Lions, but face a much tougher test against the Falcons in Atlanta.  The Falcons do a lot of damage through the air, and against the Seahawks banged up secondary they could have plenty of success.  The Seahawks won their regular season match-up back in week 6 at home 26-24, but I think the Falcons get their revenge.  Projected Score: Falcons 31 – Seahawks 24.

Robert Cowper: I know that the Falcons come into this game at 11-5 and with Matt Ryan as a viable MVP candidate but I’m just not buying it.  These two teams, and quarterbacks, matched up after the 2012 season in a similar situation: Seahawks coming off a double-digit Wildcard round win while the Falcons were sitting idle with a bye.  The Falcons got out to a 20-0 lead at halftime only to see the Seahawks storm back but ultimately come up short; the Falcons kicked a FG with 0:08 left to win 30-28.  Wilson was a rookie then and is now an experienced Super Bowl winning QB, he’s left Ryan in the dust and I expect the Seahawks to do the same to the Falcons. Projected Score: Seahawks 23 – Falcons 15.

Matt Goodwin: As I wrote in this article, the way to beat the Seahawks defense these days is to attack them deep. The Lions didn’t take any shots, but I’m sure Kyle Shanahan’s high-powered Falcons offense will be in attack mode from the opening play (assuming that his job interviews were not a distraction-I hate that playoff coaches have to take time away to interview and wish the NFL would regulate a process to fix this). Richard Sherman showed no ability to cover Julio Jones in the first matchup (seven catches for 139 yards and a touchdown on nine targets) and they now have big play receiver Taylor Gabriel to challenge the Seahawks safeties deep. I liked how the Seahawks fed Thomas Rawls against the Lions, all while not using a single read-option play with Russell Wilson. To keep the ball away from the Falcons, the ‘Hawks will have to rely again on the run game, but this time with Wilson as well. They have fared very poorly on the road this season (3-4-1) with their only quality win being over the New England Patriots. Atlanta has just too much on offense (including in the backfield) and enough opportunistic playmakers on defense to rattle the Seahawks offensive line. Projected Score: Falcons 31 – Seahawks 20.

Nick Andrews: One bird is getting kicked out of the nest and it might not be the one you expect. While Seattle looked tremendous in their Wildcard game Matt Ryan and Co. are not the cowardly Lions. If it wasn’t for a questionable no call pass interference in their week 6 game the Falcons could already have one victory over the Seahawks this season. Not having to worry about the 12th man and playing on the fast track should be the right combination for the Falcons to advance to the NFC Championship game as it was in 2012. Projected Score: Falcons 31 – Seahawks 27.

Dave Sanders: The Divisional Round kicks-off with a really intriguing match-up in the Georgia Dome.  Though Seattle’s defense held the Lions without a touchdown last week, I wouldn’t expect that to continue against the Falcons as Atlanta finished the season ranked No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ Offensive DVOA.  Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Atlanta.  Limiting Seattle, without Desmond Trufant, may be an issue. Trufant frequently lined up opposite of Baldwin during their regular season meeting, limiting Baldwin to 31 yards on 4 receptions.  Thomas Rawls regained 2015 form a week ago vs. the Lions, rushing for 161 yards on 27 carries.  If Seattle’s running game can continue to be productive in Atlanta, certainly no easy task, I’d expect the Seahawks to top the Falcons in what could be a thrilling final game in the Georgia Dome. Projected Score: Seahawks 34 – Falcons 31.  

Bernard Faller: Atlanta scored a ridiculous 540 points this season, almost 100 more than 2nd highest scorer New England, led by MVP favorite Matt Ryan. The Falcons run game provides nice balance to the passing game with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Seattle won the first matchup at home 26-24. I expect the Falcons to even the season series in Atlanta against a beat up Seattle team. Projected Score: Falcons 31 – Seahawks 24.

Luke O’Connell: What have we here? Two important facts heading into this game:  Pro Football Focus dropped a scathing last place finish on the Seahawks offensive line, and the performance of the Seahawks defense in the second half of the season showed a markedly better team against the run than the pass as the pass rushing numbers declined, the tackles for loss improved nearly 2 per game:

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 12.44.17 PM

This funhouse mirror into Seattle’s defensive prowess starts piling a mound of chips on Matt Ryan’s shoulders.  Carroll’s company should be able to diminish Freeman and Coleman.   The Falcon QB was one missed defensive pass interference call away from beating Seattle in the last contest.  It will be up to him to dig deeper than his last performance against the Seahawks where he threw for three touchdowns, but posted his lowest depth of target all year apart from the Cardinals tilt. RSO Angle:  With everything on the line watch carry/target distribution in the Falcon backfield and target distribution among Seahawk pass catchers.  Paul Richardson may make himself fantasy relevant, or be a highlight-reel hero that you can force another owner to burn salary on.  Projected Score: Falcons 17- Seahawks 13. 

#4 Houston Texans (9-7) @ #1 New England Patriots (14-2) [Line: New England -15]

Stephen Wendell: Really not much to say here. Yes, Houston has a great defense, but they will miss J.J. Watt in this game because it takes a phenomenal defense working at 100% of its potential to stop Mr. Brady and Mr. Belichick in January in Foxboro. Pats win big en route to an AFC Championship showdown with Big Ben and the Steelers for the third time. Projected Score: Patriots 28 – Texans 12.

Matt Papson: Even if the Texans defense is able to keep the Patriots offense in check, I can’t see the Texans moving the ball effectively against the Patriots. I’m rolling with the underdogs in the NFC…but you won’t see me out on a limb in this one, which is the largest spread in a playoff game since 1999 (According to Pro Football Reference). Projected Score: Patriots 28 – Texans 10. 

Kyle English: We all know what happens here.  The Pats blew them out in Week 3 27-0 and nothing has changed since then. Patriots win big! Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Texans 6.

Robert Cowper: This game will be the proverbial train wreck that you can’t look away from.  The spread is huge but may not be big enough.  Picking the Patriots to win is no “prediction” it’s more like a foregone conclusion.  Instead, I’ll make this prediction: Jimmy Garoppolo gets 6+ passing attempts.  I think it will be enough of a blowout to pull Brady and Belichick will want to remind teams like the Cleveland Browns why they should be making trade offers for him. Projected Score: Patriots 38 – Texans 19.

Matt Goodwin: Facing Tom Brady on the road instead of Connor Cook at home. The folks in Vegas may be generous with a 16 point spread in this game because the Texans couldn’t beat the Patriots when Jacoby Brissett was under center. To me, the only interesting sidebar in this game is whether the Patriots get their points in the passing game or the run game. I expect LeGarrette Blount to score at least once, and probably twice and am guessing that Brock Osweiler throws a pick-six in this game as well. Projected Score: Patriots 38 – Texans 16.

Nick Andrews: The first betting line I saw on twitter had this game at Patriots -17. Talk about disrespecting a team that won a playoff game and has been a consistent tenant of the tournament over the last half decade. Okay have I given them enough credit to not come off as snide? Good. Yes, the defense has been one of the best in recent weeks but they don’t have enough pieces to stop everything that Belichick-McDaniels-Brady can throw at them. There will be constant double teams and chips on Clowney and the Pats defense will hold them below average offense to minimal points. The Texans only chance is to be creative with their play calling and aggressive with every opportunity they get over midfield. Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Texans 14.

Dave Sanders: Did anyone enjoy last weekend more than Brock Osweiler?  It was an impressive performance that, frankly, I didn’t see coming.  With that said, one solid outing doesn’t erase a disappointing season that including a benching in favor of Tom Savage.  The Texans are more than two touchdown dogs heading to Foxborough in what should be the ugliest game of the weekend.  If you aren’t able to be locked into EVERY game this weekend, do what you can to make this the game you skip.  From the Patriots side, the only question is at what point will the Patriots rest Tom Brady. Bet on Jimmy Garoppolo handling most of the 4th quarter. Projected Score: Patriots 38 – Texans 17.

Bernard Faller: This might be the largest contrast in quarterback play ever to appear in a divisional playoff game with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and 2016’s worst QB Brock Osweiler. New England won easily in the first matchup with a 3rd string quarterback shutting out the Texans 27-0. Look for more of the same here. Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Texans 10.

Luke O’Connell: Bill O’Brien has exactly one shot in this game.  He has to rain down wrath upon Brady to an uncivil degree, blitzes and inside pressure, violence to a degree that is uncomfortable to watch.   It is hard conceive of a world in which Brady finishes the game and loses to Brock Osweiler.   Men like Jadaveon Clowney get paid to live in the minds of even great ones like Brady, but short of a nationwide-panic inducing Clowney sighting, this should play out comfortably for Patriot nation.  Projected Score: Patriots 30-Texans 17.

#3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) @ #2 Kansas City Chiefs  [Line: Kansas City -1.5]

Stephen Wendell: I love the three Bs playing together. They look incredible and are certainly built to play in all types of weather. I don’t think they will be as affected by the elements as others have been traveling to Arrowhead, and ultimately, despite the inspired play by the Chiefs this year and the exciting emergence of Tyreek Hill as a TD threat every time he touches the football, I think the Steelers find a way to win a really tough, hard-fought road playoff game. Projected Score: Steelers 24 – Chiefs 21. 

Matt Papson: The Chiefs just seem to find a way to win. The Chiefs home field advantage is one of the most underrated in sports. I expect this game to be very, very close, but I’m rooting for Big Red, so I give the Chiefs the edge. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Steelers blew out the Chiefs, either.  Projected Score: Chiefs 28 – Steelers 27.

Kyle English: The Chiefs were the first ones to face Bell this season in Pittsburgh back in week 4, and the Steelers promptly destroyed the Chiefs 43-14.  Now they will be playing in Arrowhead with that raucous crowd behind their Chiefs.  I think they make a difference…but not enough of one.  The three headed monster of Big Ben, Bell, and Brown are just playing too well right now. Steelers win a close one. Projected Score: Steelers 27 – Dolphins 23. 

Robert Cowper: I went against the Steelers last week and won’t make that mistake again.  I’m a Le’veon Bell owner in two leagues so I should not have been surprised by his output against the Dolphins but I was.  31 touches, 174 yards, 2 TDs.  The Chiefs are #21 in yards allowed per rush and #26 in total rushing yards, both worse than Miami.  It should be another heavy dose of Bell, especially if Roethlisberger is at all hobbled by his injury.  I am looking forward to see how the Chiefs deploy Tyreek Hill after having two weeks to game plan.  He’s a dynamic, multi-faceted player and a potential game breaker on any play (3 rushing TDs, 6 receiving TDs, 2 punt return TDs and 1 kickoff return TD). Projected Score: Steelers 17 – Chiefs 14.

Matt Goodwin: This is a rematch of an early season matchup where the Steelers obliterated the Chiefs at Heinz Field. We as fantasy owners all know the narrative of Ben Roethlisberger’s home vs. road splits and add in an ankle injury and this looks like some potential questionable weather may be sprinkled in. I feel this is a grind it out type game where Kansas City’s solid defense holds Le’Veon Bell in check enough to win this game closely. Projected Score: Chiefs 16 – Steelers 13.

Nick Andrews: Strength on strength in this matchup with a lot of focus being on the Killers B’s of Pittsburgh. But this game is in KC and the narrative of Roethlisberger’s home/road split is well documented. The Chiefs offense has also been more of a threat with the emergence of Tyreek Hill. Expect this one to be a classic AFC smash mouth game. It’ll be cold, it’ll be low(er) scoring and it will likely come down to the wire. Maybe a late turnover decides the game? Projected Score: Chiefs 24 – Steelers 21.

Dave Sanders: You’re fooling yourself if you believe that their Week 4 meeting offers any predictive value this week.  In early October, the Chiefs caught the Steelers at home, coming off an embarrassing 31 point loss to the Eagles led by rookie QB Carson Wentz.  The situation is quite different this time around as Pittsburgh has to travel to Kansas City to take on Andy Reid’s team refresh off a first-round bye.  As we all know by know, Ben Roethlisberger’s home/road splits are alarming to say the least.  While I believe Le’Veon Bell to be the best running back in the league, Pittsburgh will need an above average game from Roethlisberger to pull off the upset at Arrowhead.  Let’s not forget that Kansas City finished the season strong winning 10 of their last 12 games.  At home and led by their strong defense, I believe Kansas City will be able to score points to hold off Pittsburgh. Projected Score: Chiefs 21 – Steelers 17.

Bernard Faller: Pittsburgh absolutely demolished the Chiefs 43-14 in the first game between these two on the strength of five touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisburger. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, this game is in Kansas City. “Big Ben” has been awful on the road in recent years, basically transforming into Blake Bortles away from Heinz Field. Kansas City utilizes the electric Tyreek Hill in a number of ways on special teams and offense. Watch for a big play from him changing the game. Projected Score:  Chiefs 24 – Steelers 21.

Luke O’Connell: This game feels like the moment a fuse is lit on a marginally legal firecracker.   Something is going to explode, the risk is greater than the reward, and when the smoke clears we are going to be left shaking our heads at how it all plays out.   In a just world Big Ben and Tyreek Hill are human beings that deserve a fate far different than the praise and adulation and wealth heaped on NFL stars.  One of the two might be responsible for his team’s victory and the deeper they move in the playoffs the more we have to cringe and stare at the residue on all our hands.  It will probably be the best game of the week, but it needs to be said, if Ray Rice (correctly) is without a job, any man that lays hands on a woman, much less one who is 8 months pregnant, needs to be off our reality and fantasy teams.  RSO Angle:  Ware is a polarizing back, he is just the kind of moveable piece that should intrigue dynasty GMs.  Pitt’s stars are locked and loaded, but Ladarius Green offers worlds of intrigue if he can recover from the concussion. Projected Score: Steelers 28 – Chiefs 14.

#4 Green Bay Packers (10-6) @ #1 Dallas Cowboys  [Line: Dallas -4.5]

Stephen Wendell: Wow what a game this one should be. Dak and Zeke make their playoff debuts after a near flawless rookie season by both players. But Aaron Rodgers is as on point as he has ever been in his career. He seems poised for another Super Bowl run, and I simply don’t see him being denied this week. Dak and Zeke will play well, but their inexperience and the pressure of the moment will rear its ugly head at some point in the game, costing the Cowboys the game. Projected Score: Packers 28 – Cowboys 24.

Matt Papson: The Cowboys, top to bottom, are better than the Packers. Long before the 2016 season, I thought Dak Prescott would be a strong pro Quarterback. This is going to be the first of many playoff games for him. But, I feel obligated to go with the Packers because of one Aaron Charles Rodgers. Projected Score: Packers 35 – Cowboys 31.

Kyle English: The Packers roll into Dallas on a 7 game win streak, but got banged up quite a bit against the Giants last week, particularly Jordy.  Even if he’s able to go, you have to assume at this point he won’t be 100% which is awful news for Packers fans.  The Cowboys already went into Lambeau and won back in week 6 which is not an easy thing to do.  Unless Rodgers has a few more successful Hail Marys up his sleeve, I don’t think the Packers have what it takes to continue their season. Projected Score: Cowboys 31 – Packers 20. 

Robert Cowper: In this space last week, I said that as a Cowboys fan I feared the Packers the most.  After Green Bay’s trouncing of the Giants, I am even more worried.  It’s tough to find stats that back-up what my heart is rooting for.  The Green Bay defense is strongest against the run and weakest against the pass; the Cowboys defense is strongest against the run (gave up the fewest rushing yards in the league) but weaker against the pass.  Both are opposite what you were hoping for as a Cowboys fan.  The Cowboys only hope is if DE David Irving continues to create havoc and force Rodgers out of the pocket consistently.  Projected Score: Packers 29 – Cowboys 28.

Matt Goodwin: I’m very much looking forward to this game. Can Aaron Rodgers remain on fire? Can Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott continue to show they’ve moved beyond their rookie season on the field? There are so many storylines in this game, one I don’t believe Jordy Nelson will be available for. Look for Dallas to continue to pound the ball and run clock to attempt to keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands. My gut tells me that Dallas has the better team, but I can’t pick against Rodgers when he’s this hot. Projected Score: Packers 27 – Cowboys 23.

Nick Andrews: To paraphrase Mugatu from Zoolander, “That [Aaron Rodgers] is so hot right now”. I thought that the Giants’ defense would be able to control Rodgers. And they did… for 28 minutes of the first half. Then Rodgers put the team on his back and made play after play before pulling away by the 4th quarter. If the Cowboys are going to succeed where the Giants failed they need to control the clock, run the ball, and not let Aaron Rodgers on the field. Lucky for them they have one of the best running backs in the league and don’t make unnecessary mistakes. But if the game comes down to a final drive and each offense has one opportunity to go down the field and score who do you trust more, the Wonder Kid Dak Prescott or the Bad Bad Man Aaron Rodgers? Projected Score: Cowboys 38 – Packers 35.

Dave Sanders: Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the brilliance of Aaron Rodgers.  The most hardcore of NFL observers have been subjected to far too much mediocre quarterback play throughout the season.  In a league where only have of the teams have competent options, we’re privileged to watch one of the all-time greats each and every week.  Doubt entered the minds of some after a slow start to 2016, but Rodgers has put together a truly special final three months and it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.  Though final injury reports are not out yet, it appears the Packers will be without Jordy Nelson this week.  Expecting another huge performance from Randall Cobb is probably unreasonable, but Green Bay should feel more confident in his reliability as Aaron Rodgers’ defacto No. 2 target.  Expect Dallas to move the ball efficiently on offense against a below-average Packers defense.  Attempting to win the time of possession battle and keep Rodgers off the field, I’d expect Dallas to lean heavily on Zeke to the tune of 30 carries.  Many factors, including home-field, favor Dallas, but I can’t bet against Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs…especially while he’s on this remarkable run. Projected Score: Packers 31 – Cowboys 28.

Bernard Faller: This should be an epic contest. Aaron Rodgers is destroying both good and bad defenses right now in an MVP-type year. Green Bay likely loses star receiver Jordy Nelson in this one, though. I expect many stacked defensive fronts from the Packers in an attempt to limit Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott and force fellow rookie Dak Prescott to win the game. Dallas comes up just short as Rodgers is simply playing too well at this part of the season. Projected Score:  Packers 31 – Cowboys 27.

Luke O’Connell: If Dallas loses this game, much will be made of the pressure, rookies, and walls.  Smarter men than most do a good job of debunking the rookie wall narrative.  There may be something to be made of what the pressure will do in this game.  Dak Prescott and Zeke played in massive college games all year long they have hurdled obstacles in the form of the elite athletes lined up across from them.   In a vacuum it would be hard to bet against their pedigree, their record, and their accomplishments this season.   Sometimes the chalk doesn’t win, however, and Aaron Rodgers seems set to wreak havoc.  RSO Angle:  The value fluctuation in Packer Receivers, and clarity on the proper tier and compensation for Dez Bryant. Projected Score: Packers 34 – Cowboys 31.

ENJOY THE GAMES EVERYONE!

Can the Seahawks Make a Run?

Updated: July 23rd 2017

As someone living in Seattle who closely monitors the Seahawks every season, this season feels very different. There is no consistent, dominant defense, no running game, and the team has committed very little financially to the offensive line. Yet as of right now, Las Vegas is still giving the Seahawks 12-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, which is the exact same as the Atlanta Falcons. Here’s three reasons why it won’t happen.

1) The Void of Earl Thomas

While Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett may be the most vocal on the Seahawks defense, Earl Thomas is their clear defensive leader. The defense clearly hasn’t been the same since Thomas sustained his broken leg in Week 13 vs. Carolina. To wit, they’ve given up an average of 24.5 points a game in the four games since Thomas got hurt and that total would be considerably higher if they didn’t happen upon the anemic Rams offense in one of those weeks. You can beat this team through the air of late as Steven Terrell does not hit like Thomas, nor have the awareness to provide the right help as evident in this Davante Adams 66 yard touchdown and this 80 yard touchdown bomb to J.J. Nelson.

Additionally, the leadership qualities that Thomas brings in the huddle and on the sidelines are clearly missing and now distractions like Richard Sherman’s supposed media boycott are interfering with the play on the field. This is the type of situation that doesn’t get questioned when teams are winning handily and humming along, but when teams start to show cracks, issues like this become common. To me, this is one sign that the writing is on the wall for the Seahawks.

2) The Running Game

By now you have probably seen this Beast Mode video, but if you haven’t yet thank me later. Aside from a 72 yard touchdown run by C.J. Prosise earlier in the year, there haven’t been many highlights in the run game of late for the Seahawks. In fact, the team finished the season with three straight games rushing for under 100 yards.

The problem here is twofold: first, injuries have hampered Russell Wilson’s ability to run the read option which had previously produced success for both Wilson getting yardage in chunks as well as running backs like Thomas Rawls. Second, the offensive line has been abysmal from a blocking perspective, as noted in this Football Outsiders table which shows the Seahawks offensive line ranked second-to-worst in the NFL in running up the middle and 29th running to the left end. With these stats, maybe there’s a reason Wilson threw the ball from the goal line against the Rams.

While all indications are that both Wilson and Rawls are at their healthiest since the season began, the Seahawks defense, plus the power run game/read option all have to be working like clockwork for the team to be dominant. Perhaps the Seahawks are gearing up for this in the playoffs, but can the line hold up and can the Seahawks stop opposing offenses routinely too? Seems doubtful.

3) The Opponents After This Week/The Kicking Game

As I predicted in the Reality Sports Online Wildcard Predictions Article, the Seahawks should hold serve at home and win this weekend against the Lions behind the raucous home crowd and playing a suspect Detroit Lions defense. After that, the road gets incredibly difficult.

Personally, I think the Seahawks path ends next week in Atlanta, a team that frankly should have beaten the Seahawks in Seattle earlier in the season. Matt Ryan passed for 335 yards and 3 touchdowns in a narrow 26-24 defeat and Julio Jones had his way with Sherman (7 catches for 139 yards and a TD). The Falcons got little in the run game that week behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, but the Falcons offense is humming right now and with the game being played potentially in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons opportunistic defense would make enough plays to beat the Seahawks.

To me the road ends in Atlanta, but if it doesn’t, it would likely end in Dallas or with a loss in the Super Bowl. It would take Russell Wilson going on an Aaron Rodgers type run for me to believe the Seahawks can go all the way this season.

Added to which, if any game gets close, kicker Stephen Hauschka missed six extra points this season (he was very accurate field goal wise, going 33 for 37). He also only made one 50+ yard field goal the entire season.

For all these reasons, and unless Wilson can take his team on a magical carpet ride, I think the Seahawks will be out in the divisional round.


Matt Goodwin is entering his third season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year four of his main league. He also contributes for numberFire. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a championship for a Cleveland major sports team a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (6 year old son) and Lainie (2 year old daughter) and the Cleveland Cavaliers have finally provided that reality! Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.

Wildcard Weekend Predictions

Updated: July 16th 2017

Yes, your fantasy season is over, but the NFL playoffs have begun! Whether your team is still alive or failed to make the exclusive 12-team field, the action this weekend should be very entertaining as there as some marquee matchups (Giants traveling to Green Bay) and some head scratchers that should still be entertaining (Oakland at 12-4 traveling to Houston with their 3rd string rookie QB). The RSO Writers have made their predictions for and given a little of each game, which can be found below. Enjoy the games!

A quick summary of the picks in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans (Line HOU -3.5): ML – 4 OAK & 5 HOU // ATS – 5 OAK & 4 HOU
  2. Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks (Line SEA -8): ML – 9 SEA & 0 DET // ATS – 5 SEA & 4 DET
  3. Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Line PIT -10): ML – 8 PIT & 1 MIA // ATS – 5 PIT, 2 MIA & 2 PUSH
  4. New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers (Line GB -4.5): ML – GB 6 & NYG 3 // ATS – 3 GB & 6 NYG

#5 Oakland Raiders (12-4) @ #4 Houston Texans (9-7) [Line: Houston -3.5]

Stephen Wendell: Well, ready for the pillow fight of all pillow fights? Not sure how to dissect the a mentally damaged Brock Osweiler vs. Connor Cook matchup we are about to witness, but Cook will look to feed off his incredible Bowl Game performances (2014 Rose Bowl and 2015 Cotton Bowl) and use the Raider’s great offensive weapons while Osweiler will look to bounce back from being benched at the end of the season when it mattered most and pull out a playoff win and make a run to justify all the money he is making. I have loved the Raiders all year, and something tells me Connor Cook will do enough for the Raiders to win in what looks to be a very similar game to the first round game in 2012 where a rookie QB T.J Yates led the Texans to a playoff win over another rookie QB, Andy Dalton, who is still searching for that first elusive playoff victory. Projected Score: Raiders 21 – Texans 14.

Matt Papson: I’m probably one of the few people outside of Houston or Oakland looking forward to this matchup. I wish it were Tom Savage squaring off against Connor Cook instead of Brock Osweiler, but I’m excited to see Cook get a chance to play. He’s the first guy in the Super Bowl era to start his first NFL game during the playoffs. I’m rooting for him to succeed, but the Texans have been strong at home. I picked the Raiders to win the AFC before the year started, so it’ll be disappointing to see them get bounced in the wildcard round after such a stellar year for the struggling franchise. Projected Score: Texans 24 – Raiders 20.

Kyle English: This game is going to be dreadful to watch.  As a Hopkins owner in multiple leagues this year, I know Osweiler has been just horrendous in his short time with the Texans.  Meanwhile on the other side, we have Connor Cook making his first career start…in the playoffs…on the road…yikes.  However, Cook has played in big games in his time with MSU so I believe he’ll handle this situation fine.  Should be a low scoring game with struggling offenses and plenty of work for the kickers.  I like Oakland to pull it out and give Cook a 1-0 start to his career. Projected Score: Raiders 16 – Texans 13.

Robert Cowper: A lot of the conversation surrounding this game will be about the quarterback woes.  Specifically, many are talking about how the Raiders are in trouble after losing star QB Derek Carr and possibly losing backup Matt McGloin.  One thing that I believe has gone under the radar is how well the Raiders have managed their backfield trio of Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.  All three had at least 100+ touches during the regular season and essentially alternated throughout the season depending who had the hot hand minus a few missed games (for comparison the only other playoff team to have that depth are the Lions who were forced to due to multiple multi-week injuries).  When Murray isn’t working between the tackles, Washington and Richard can provide a change of pace (averaging 5.4 and 5.9 yards per carry respectively); both Murray and Richard are more than capable receivers, combining for 62 receptions.  Washington had 10+ touches four times while Richard did three times and only one time did one of them do it in consecutive weeks (Washington in Weeks 5-6 while Murray was hurt), illustrating the hot-hand approach.  What I’m trying to say is, as long as Connor Cook can hand the ball off and complete some screen passes, the Raiders will be just fine.  The Texans defense is fine, about middle of the pack in most rushing stats, but it won’t be enough to steal a win.  Projected Score: Raiders 22 – Texans 13.

Matt Goodwin: After watching Brian Hoyer in a home playoff defeat to the Chiefs in the wild card round last year for the Texans, I vowed never to pick the Texans again in a playoff game until they got a serviceable quarterback. Well, Houston spent big in the free agent market on Brock Osweiler, thinking he’d be serviceable and unfortunately, early returns are that they swung and missed and the only reason their big-dollar quarterback is playing right now is because Tom Savage (who frankly wasn’t much better) has a concussion. That said, I don’t like the Raiders situation any more than I like Houston’s. While Connor Cook showed accuracy and the ability to win at Michigan State, he shriveled up like a frightened turtle in some big games. If Derek Carr was healthy, I’d be picking the Raiders and it wouldn’t be close. In the end, even with it being his first game back from an ankle injury, give me Lamar Miller’s rushing, the Texans tough defense against a rookie quarterback, and their 7-1 home record this season in a boring game to watch. Projected Score: Texans 17 – Raiders 13.

Nick Andrews: Before week 16 I would have said that the Raiders were the only question mark still left in the AFC in terms of “Who could upset the Patriots”. Fast forward two weeks and they will be starting a third-string rookie quarterback, on the road, in his first career start. While this by no means is a nod of excellence to the Texans and their lackluster options at quarterback it simply comes down to who I think will play less bad (that is a proper term to use for this matchup). Give me Osweiler and a strong Texans defense. Projected Score: Texans 18 – Raiders 12.

Dave Sanders: Nothing says the start of the postseason quite like Connor Cook vs. Brock Osweiler.  As the 3rd string QB for much of the year, Cook hasn’t seen the reps of a usual backup quarterback.  He even admitted this week that plays were called last week that he never even practiced.  Expect Oakland to call a very conservative game and lean heavily on their running game, even if Houston loads the box.  On the Houston side, I expect Brock Osweiler’s season-long struggles to continue.  He’ll likely find C.J. Fiedorowicz over the middle of the field about a half-a-dozen times, but will make too many mistakes and kill too many drives.  In what feels like a preseason game, I will take the Raiders. And just think – the winner likely gets to travel to New England next week…Projected Score: Raiders 23 – Texans 10.  

Bernard Faller: This matchup features arguably the worst starting quarterback of 2016 in Houston’s Brock Osweiler and Oakland rookie Connor Cook making his first professional start.  Both teams will rely heavily on the run game and limit quarterback touches offensively.  Houston holds the one big advantage in this game with one of the better defensive units in the NFL, particularly against the pass where the Texans allow only 6.6 YPA (tied for 2nd in the NFL).  Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus make trouble for Cook all day long and the Houston defense forces two big turnovers.  Osweiller finds redemption from a miserable season on the way to a Texan playoff victory.  Projected Score: Texans 21 – Raiders 13.

Luke O’Connell: The Brock Osweiler redemption begins (and ends) here.   He should be able to do just enough against one of the measurably worst quarterback prospects in a while.   Brock has done nothing to assure us he can lead an NFL franchise, but Cook couldn’t even get voted team captain for his Spartans.   Pro Football Reference presents this tail of per game averages for two quarterbacks:

Screen Shot 2017-01-05 at 11.43.22 AM

The helmsmen of these two playoff teams are remarkably similar.   If you guessed that player 1 is Cook, albeit over a markedly smaller sample size, good on you.   The difference is that Houston has a slightly stronger weighted defense according to the smart folks at Football Outsiders.   Injuries can be too much for a team to overcome, and are all witnesses to losing a great young QB like Carr too soon.   Look for the Houston Defense to rally as they have done all year.  RSO angle: Watch the RB rotation for Oakland (Jalen Richard is available in most leagues for a long term contract) and WR/TE targets for Houston. Projected Score: Texans 17 – Raiders 14.

#6 Detroit Lions (9-7) @ #3 Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) [Line: Seattle -8]

Stephen Wendell: It is just too hard to bet against the Seahawks at home ever and especially in January. This team is too experienced and used to the pressure, and while I think Matt Stafford will give everything he has (perhaps even a broken limb), he is going to fall just short in this one. The Seattle defense will be its normal self, but Detroit’s lackluster secondary, especially against tight ends, will be the difference…look for Jimmy Graham to have a big game. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 20.

Matt Papson: This will be an interesting game, though I like the Seahawks to win the NFC at this point. I’m not sure I see a path to victory for the Lions, even though I expect Matt Stafford to play his heart out. Projected Score: Seahawks 38 – Lions 24. 

Kyle English: I think this one is going to be closer than most people think.  The Seahawks have a banged up secondary and the Lions are going to toss the ball all over the field.  Having said that, the Seahawks have the 12th man behind them and the Lions have lost 3 straight coming into the playoffs and have 8 straight playoffs losses dating back to 1991.  I don’t think the Lions reverse those trends.  Projected Score: Seahawks 27 – Lions 23.

Robert Cowper: Unlike for the Raiders, the Lions regular season backfield depth won’t mean much against the Seahawks, especially since Theo Riddick is now on IR.  It’s no surprise that the Seahawks defense is stout: #3 in points against and #1 in yards per rushing attempt.  However, they are more vulnerable in the passing game where Earl Thomas is out and they are #15 in yards per passing attempt.  Luckily, for Detroit they have Matt Stafford who doesn’t mind slinging the ball.  Stafford has only thrown for 300+ twice since their Week 10 bye but has still managed to average more than 39 attempts per game in that span.  Wilson hasn’t been as prolific over the same span but has, on average, attempted more passes over the last seven games than the first nine and far more this season than years past.  The Lions defense, per Yahoo Fantasy, allowed on average 1.3 TD from WRs during 2016 which is tied for the second worst in the league; not surprisingly then, they also gave up the second most fantasy points to opposing QBs.  The Las Vegas wisdom has this pegged as a pretty low scoring affair with an over/under set at about 42.5 depending on where you look; my gut tells me this is going to be a shootout, defenses be damned.  Projected Score: Seahawks 33 – Lions 29.

Matt Goodwin: The Lions find themselves limping into the playoffs with three straight losses (albeit to three NFC playoff teams). Going into a place like Seattle and getting a win in those circumstances is tough sledding. Seattle is showing plenty of cracks as well, but should be fired up in a home playoff game with a healthier than any point since the season opener Russell Wilson. While the Seahawks would like to establish their running identity against a suspect Lions defense, they ranked 25th in the league in rushing yards this season, which is a far cry from their Marshawn Lynch led teams. Perhaps the Seahawks were playing possum a bit with a division that was wrapped up fairly early and plan to use Wilson and Thomas Rawls on the read option more, which they were unable to do at all during the season due to injuries to both. If this ends up to be a battle of kickers, Seattle’s Stephen Hauschka has been very shaky on extra points and getting kicks blocked this season. Projected Score: Seahawks 23 – Lions 13.

Nick Andrews: Stick a fork in the NFC North; the Lions have this one in the bag. That’s what many people were saying while sticking their fork in some turkey on Thanksgiving. Well after three straight losses to end the season Fold Field will be empty this January and the Lions will have to go the dreary Pacific Northwest instead. The Seahawks have been up and down this season with questionable performances as of late but with no running game behind Matthew Stafford and Seattle’s defense being rich with playoff experience Russell Wilson just needs to avoid turnovers and they should be able to control this game. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 13.

Dave Sanders: Detroit’s surprising season likely comes to an end Saturday.  Losers of three straight, the Lions hopes may hinge on the injured finger of Matthew Stafford as they’ll need him at his best to pull off the upset in Seattle.  From the Seahawks’ perspective, they’ll likely go as far as Russell Wilson can take them.  Their running game has been a disaster all year, with much of the blame falling on their horrid run blocking.  Expect Baldwin and Graham to do just enough to hold off the reeling Lions…Projected Score: Seahawks 27 – Lions 17.

Bernard Faller: Detroit limps into this contest the loser of three straight to finish the year.  Contrary to the Oakland-Houston game, this duel sets up as a pass heavy contest with Russell Wilson and Matt Stafford.  The Seattle offensive line has struggled all season and the Lions have not enjoyed any consistent usage in the run game.  The Seahawks defense will be the difference in this game.  While not the same unit without play making safety Earl Thomas, the defense still contains difference-makers at all levels including Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, and Cam Chancellor.  Detroit went to the playoffs by winning close games but not this one as Seattle wins at home.  Projected Score:  Seahawks 23 – Lions 20.

Luke O’Connell: That coach, that stadium, that defense.  It is hard to conceive of a scenario in which a Zach Zenner/Eric Ebron led offense can marshal a victory against the ‘Hawks.  Stafford’s saving grace is that no one expected him to rally for the victories the Lions did have this year.  This one should be light on drama. RSO angle: frustrated Lockett owners may be willing to sell for pennies and if Tate lays a Golden egg he could be had at a reasonable price. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 10.

#6 Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ #3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) [Line: Pittsburgh -10]

Stephen Wendell: Nobody is quite sure how Miami ended up 10-6, but here they are with a chance to win and advance to a game against their divisional foe New England, a game in which they would probably be close to 14 point underdogs. Matt Moore is certainly one of the better backup QBs in the league, and I think he won’t completely embarrass himself, but the Steelers simply have too much offensive firepower with the killer Bs. Look for the game to perhaps be close in the first half but for the Steelers to pull away in the second half behind big performances by Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell. Projected Score: Steelers 35 – Dolphins 20. 

Matt Papson: I think this is going to be a lot closer than people think. And I think the Dolphins are better off with Matt Moore. The Dolphins aren’t particularly good, but I’m not certain on the Steelers either. Ultimately Ben, Antonio, and Leveon will find a way to advance. Projected Score Steelers 24 – Dolphins 21.

Kyle English: Since coming back from a suspension, Bell has racked up 1268 yards on the ground (good for 5th best for the season) and another 616 receiving yards in all of 12 games.  He’s been an absolute monster and, when combining him with Big Ben and Brown, they are almost impossible to stop.  Add in the fact that if the Dolphins get behind at all, they’ll probably be relying on Matt Moore to throw them back into the game and this one could easily turn into a blowout.  Projected Score: Steelers 38 – Dolphins 17. 

Robert Cowper: Despite beating them already in 2016, the Dolphins are a heavy underdog against the Steelers.  Everybody knows Le’veon Bell’s great, along with Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, so we won’t spend any time on them but instead let’s look at Jay Ajayi vs the Steelers rush defense.  Ajayi was a surprise this season after being left at home for the Dolphins season opener.  Ultimately he earned 1,272 yards and 8 TDs, despite not getting more than 7 carries until Week 5.  In their early season game against the Steelers, Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and 2 TDs.  Most casual fans would assume the Steelers have a great defense but that is based solely on past reputation.  Aside from points against (#10), you’ll find the Steelers ranked between #12-18 in most defensive statistical categories.  I believe the Dolphins will be able to move the ball again this time and their prospects will rest heavily on how far Ajayi can carry them which should be far enough to keep it close.  I can’t believe I have convinced myself of this but my bold prediction is that this game will come down to a special teams touchdown from the Dolphins (it’s also how they beat the Jets in Week 9).  They are ranked #5 in kick off return average and have two return TDs (one kickoff, one punt).  Meanwhile, the Steelers have struggled on kickoff coverage, ranking #29 in kick off return average and #25 on punts.  Projected Score: Dolphins 18 – Steelers 11.

Matt Goodwin: In spite of Ben Roethlisberger’s success as a two-time Super Bowl winner, he’s never thrown for three touchdowns in a playoff game, and has only eclipsed 300 yards passing in three playoff games, which coincidentally are all losses. With the 18 degree weather in Pittsburgh and the Miami Dolphins 30th ranked run defense according to Pro Football Focus, look for Pittsburgh to run the ball early and often with Le’Veon Bell. Given his success a few weeks ago in the snow in Buffalo and his patience as both a runner and his skills as an elite pass catcher, Bell figures to be the bellcow that propels the Steelers to victory with a little bit of Antonio Brown sprinkled in. Matt Moore has been more than adequate as Ryan Tannehill’s fill-in and Jay Ajayi torched the Steelers for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a week 6 victory (30-15) in a game that the Dolphins dominated time of possession. I see the opposite happening in this game, with Bell running rampant and the Steelers controlling clock. Projected Score: Steelers 20 – Dolphins 10.

Nick Andrews: Unless Pittsburgh uses the same starters as they did against Browns last week it will be hard for the Dolphins defense to keep up with a lethal Steelers offense. The Dolphins defense looked to have come together against the Jets only to be brought back to earth when put up against the ageless Tom Brady. Faced with another elite quarterback, Big Ben should be able to pick his spots with this defense. While they have a solid running game with Jay Ajayi that can open up a big Kenny Stills touchdown at any point but unless they connect on two or three of those big plays Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will be the only guys on Monday morning’s highlight reel. Projected Score: Steelers 31 – Dolphins 16.

Dave Sanders: Although the Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15 in Week 6, I don’t give Miami much of a chance of advancing past Sunday’s game.  Without Ryan Tannehill, I’d expect the Dolphins to lean heavily on Jay Ajayi in an effort to control the clock and keep Ben and company on the sidelines.  It’s impossible to ignore Big Ben’s home/road splits at this point.  It’s truly jarring and has reached a point where I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him as the only QB on my fantasy roster next season.  In likely Pittsburgh’s lone home game of the post-season season, I’d expect the Steelers’ offense to put this game out of reach by the 3rd quarter.  In DFS, LeVeon Bell’s price can’t be set high enough for me to fade him this week.  Projected Score: Steelers 34 – Dolphins 20.

Bernard Faller: Pittsburgh storms into the playoffs the winners of seven straight to end the regular season.  The Steelers offense focuses on the trinity of Ben Roethlisburger, Antonio Brown, and LeVeon Bell.  Miami also finished the season strong going 8-2 in the final 10 games.    This game also spotlights another backup quarterback in the playoffs, Miami’s Matt Moore.  Miami will attempt to run the ball all game long with sophomore sensation Jay Ajayi against an underrated Pittsburgh defense.  It will not work as Miami won’t keep pace with the Steelers offense.  Pittsburgh is just too talented across the board and triumphs handily.  Projected Score:  Steelers 27 – Dolphins 17.

Luke O’Connell: If this game was in Miami…OBJ and Cruz would be watching.   Also, the very real Ben Roethlisberger splits would make it a fun call to wager on Adam Gase’s sea mammals. However, all the indicators look great for Pittsburgh here.   Antonio Brown and Bell are transcendent players, and the home crowd in a great sports city might be enough to rattle even Matt Moore. RSO angle: Chances are the big names are not moving. Brown, Bell, Ajayi are set pieces.   Devante Parker and Jarvis Landry should be watched.   For GM’s willing to commit, this game might help open up some trade wallets. Projected Score: Steelers Big.

#5 New York Giants (11-5) @ #4 Green Bay Packers (10-6) [Line: Green Bay -4.5]

Stephen Wendell: Certainly the most intriguing playoff game of the weekend. Everyone knows that both of Eli’s Super Bowl titles included trips to Lambeau Field where the Giants took down the Packers as underdogs in both occasions (2007 NFC Title Game and 2011 Divisional Playoff Game). That experience and those good memories in Lambeau will be important, but I don’t think the Giants will do it a third time. Perhaps it is because I was in the stands in Philly and witnessed the start of Rodgers and the Packers six game-winning streak, but I just think that Rodgers is too focused and playing too well to be denied. This is the year Green Bay makes it back to the Super Bowl. Projected Score: Packers 28 – Giants 17.

Matt Papson: Choosing the Giants visiting Lambeau seems crazy as I type it. The packers are hot at the right time. The Giants are a better football team. Projected Score: Giants 27 – Packers 21.

Kyle English: Far and away the toughest game for me to call.  Rodgers completed his “run the table” prophecy and has played remarkable down the stretch.  They’ve even found something that looks at times like a run game to go with it while averaging over 30 PPG in their last 6.  Meanwhile, the Giants have relied quite a bit on their defense and allowed the second lowest PPG this season.  Eli has won a few in Lambeau before, but I think the aerial attack of the Packers gets it done in a close one.  Packers squeak out the W. Projected Score: Packers 24 – Giants 20. 

Robert Cowper: The Packers are a buzz saw.  As a Cowboys fan, I recently had somebody ask me which playoff team I would least like to see in Dallas’s Divisional Round matchup and I did not hesitate: Green Bay.  I’m not sold on Ty Montgomery as an every day RB but he’s good enough that it doesn’t matter.  Not surprisingly it all comes down to A-A-Ron.  Rodgers’ numbers are crazy.  The last INT he threw was on November 13th.  Over the last two weeks against Minnesota and Detroit, he has 647 yards and 8 TDs.  He’s also contributing on the ground to help pick up the slack from the lackluster running backs, rushing for 369 yards (a career high) and 4 TDs this season.  I don’t believe there is any way for the Giants to stop, or even slow, Rodgers even with their Top 10 passing defense.  If the Giants are missing CB Janoris Jenkins and/or DE Jason Pierre-Paul their chances are diminished even further.  Luckily for Eli Manning,  Odell Beckham Jr. et al, the Packers have a Bottom 3 defense in passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, etc.  That will allow them to keep the final score closer than the play on the field will feel.  Projected Score: Packers 29 – Giants 20.

Matt Goodwin: I’m giving the Giants the best chance of the road teams to win this weekend, but with a huge contingency. Eli Manning has to be virtually flawless against a banged-up Green Bay secondary and the Giants questionable run game has to keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands. If Eli can establish chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. and hit some big plays, the Giants could come out victorious. That said, Rodgers is playing in another stratosphere right now and his chemistry with Jordy Nelson (especially in the red zone) is untouchable. Until he blinks, give me Rodgers at home.Projected Score: Packers 24 – Giants 21.

Nick Andrews: Appropriately the best wildcard game is saved till last. No team has been hotter than the Packers over the last six weeks and they benefit from the Lions late season collapse to earn an extra home game. Eli hasn’t had much to worry about in his playoff experiences at Lambeau, he’s won twice there in their last two Super Bowl runs, but he has been a serious hamper to his offense’s effectiveness this season. The team has a tremendous defense but they will need to score more than 20 points to defeat Aaron Rodgers. I still see them getting it done but only if Manning plays better than he did in December. Projected Score: Giants 26 – Packers 24.

Dave Sanders: There’s not much better than watching one of the best quarterbacks ever perform at the top of his game.  Understated throughout his epic run is the way Aaron Rodgers has protected the football, with zero interceptions since November 13th.  Converted running back Ty Montgomery has provided an added dimension that the Packers have lacked since Eddie Lacy’s remarkable 2014 season.  Count me out on the Giants’ bandwagon as I do not believe Eli will be able to put together a 3rd improbable playoff run, especially this late in his career.  Quietly having a very poor year, Eli ranked as ProFootballFocus’ 24th ranked QB as of 12/21.  Though he’s only had 16 interceptions this season, he’s had far more “turnover worthy” plays than most quarterbacks.  In what may be the first of many January wins for this Packers team, I’ll take Green Bay. Projected Score: Packers 31 – Giants 24.

Bernard Faller: This game also showcases two teams playing well going into the postseason.  Green Bay won the last six games on the strength of an offense which scored 30 or more points in each of the last four contests.  New York, on the other, finished 9-2 on the strength of a top-notch defense which has not given up 20 points in any game for seven weeks.  Something must give in this one.  The difference between MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers and a perpetually mediocre Eli Manning will determine the outcome.  The Giants defense will keep things close but New York has no run game to lean on.  The erratic Manning will make at least one huge mistake which dooms New York.  Projected Score:  Packers 24 – Giants 20.

Luke O’Connell: Despite my aforementioned fandom for the Vikings, this is the game that we must see.  Aaron Rodgers continues his superlative run, Eli carries a playoff legacy into Lambeau with the game’s most exciting player as his wingman.   Winter may weigh heavily on these teams, as the projected temps are in the teens.   Eli suffers in the conditions he will face on several levels.   His game splits in grass/turf, cold/warm, and Lambeau specifically show a quarterback that plays at levels double-digit percentage points below his best, both in his career and this season. Rodgers is more ambiguous statistically in the cold, but the general trend of games this cold has driven scores a few points down and closer together. Look for the game to go under its projected Vegas line.   The narratives this week should encompass all the lines above, but the heart of the story here is how much Eli Manning can still play.   If his past playoff performance resides in that arm, then the Beckham, Cruz, Shepard trinity should be too much for the Packers to contain. RSO angle:   Every single receiver should be on the table for the right price.   Break the bank for Beckham? gamble on an aging Jordy? Devante Adams? Ty Montgomery (WRish)? Projected Score: Giants 24 – Packers 21.

NCAA Championship Game Preview

Updated: July 16th 2017

Back in 2009 I wrote a preview for every college football bowl game.  It was a lot of work and an undertaking that I regretted somewhere between the Humanitarian Bowl and the Insight Bowl.  I went back and re-read some of those previews this weekend though and found them very interesting.  Now that I have two full years of RSO under my belt, I couldn’t help but think in terms of how all of the mentioned players fared in the NFL and whether or not I would have risked a rookie draft pick on them.  Of all the previews I re-read, the Sun Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma was my favorite.  It was chock full of NFL talent: Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, Demarco Murray, Gerald McCoy and Toby Gerhart.  A common refrain I hear from fellow dynasty owners is that it’s tough to keep up with the college season and all of the teams – I think the bowl season is a perfect way to get some exposure and start researching for your rookie draft.  So, I decided we should take a look at this year’s championship game and see if there are any lessons that can be learned for RSO users.

Alabama

What is there left to say about Alabama?  They are 40-3 over the last three season featuring three different quarterbacks: that is impressive.  Current QB Jalen Hurts is the most athletic of those three signal callers (Jake Coker and Blake Sims being the other two) but he’s just a true freshman so he isn’t really on the radar for RSO users.  His numbers are impressive though: 65% completion percentage, 21 passing TDs, 891 yards rushing and 12 rushing TDs.  What’s most important for our purposes is that he’s certainly capable of keep the chains moving and can distribute the ball well to the backs and receivers.

Those backs and receivers are all young too – most being sophomores.  Even though they may not be draft eligible yet, their stock will only continue to rise so take note now.  RBs Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough combine for a fearsome one-two punch.  Harris averaged 7.2 yards per carry over 141 carries (1,013 yards) but scored just two TDs.  Scarborough is a patient, bruising runner and the touchdown vulture, scoring nine in 2016.  He averaged 6.6 yards per carry for 719 total yards.  Neither tailback is featured heavily in the passing game though, just 15 total receptions, mostly from Harris.  Scarborough reminds me more of TJ Yeldon than Derrick Henry who the semi-final game commentators were comparing him too.  He’s tall for a RB at 6’2″ but does not shy away from contact – in fact he initiates contact and bounces off.  Harris didn’t really impress me in my limited time watching the Tide this year, I think Scarborough will be the better pro when he’s eligible.

Junior Ardarius Stewart was the leading WR in 2016 by yards (816 vs 740) but was out-caught by sophomore Calvin Ridley  (52 vs 66).  Ridley’s NFL prospects mostly go back to his true freshman season in 2015 where he put up a 89-1,045-7 stat line, including a huge game in the semi-final against Michigan State going for 8-138-2.  Ridley’s production fell off in 2016 because of Hurts’ run-first mentality but I don’t think that will actually hurt his NFL draft stock.  He draws comparisons to Amari Cooper but I think he could be even better than that.  Come this time next season, I fully expect Ridley to be a top ten pick.  He’s not a sexy name, but I am intrigued by Gehrig Dieter.  He was a graduate transfer from Bowling Green who joined Alabama for the 2016 season.  He only amassed 15 catches for 214 yards and 4 TDs but the fact that Nick Saban took him on for the season speaks louder than his on-field production.  In his junior season at Bowling Green he totaled 94-1,033-10.  If he went undrafted I would not be surprised, but I think he’s the kind of guy who emerges in the preseason, finds his way into the lineup and turns out to be a PPR factor in future seasons (my mind went to Quincy Enunwa and Adam Thielen, similar size and potential career arc).  TE OJ Howard won’t get any looks early in your RSO rookie draft but he is a big body (6’6″ and 235lb) with big play ability; if he lands with the right team he could be a sneaky third round pick or free agent stash.  If Howard’s name sounds familiar it’s because he torched Clemson last year in the championship game: 5 receptions, 208 yards and 2 TDs.

For those of you playing in IDP leagues, you typically can’t go wrong drafting a first- or second-round Alabama player.  According to NFLDraftScout.com’s most recent mock drafts, Alabama could have as many as four defensive players selected in the first twelve picks: Jonathan Allen, Marlon Humphrey, Reuben Foster and Tim Williams.  LB Reuben Foster and DE Jonathan Allen will likely be impact starters in 2017 for their NFL teams and maybe for your RSO team.  Foster is a high-volume tackler (103 total in 2016, 30 more than 2nd place on the team) who can also get to the quarterback (4 sacks in 2016).  Allen racked up 145 total tackles, 43.5 tackles for loss and 27 sacks over the last three seasons; he finished 7th in Heisman voting this year, the highest for a defensive lineman since Jadeveon Clowney in 2012.  He’s probably a “tweaner” in the NFL, somewhere between a DE and DT that could be a positive if he lands in the right place, or be his downfall if he ends up in the wrong system.

Clemson

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: I am not a fan of Deshaun Watson.  It’s nothing personal, by all accounts he is a great young man, but I just don’t want to put the fate of my RSO franchise in his hands.  There is no doubt that he is talented but in my opinion he makes too many mistakes.  Against Ohio State, Watson threw two INTs early in the game that could have made for a much different outcome if the Buckeyes were able to take advantage but the ensuing drives ended in a missed field goal and a punt.  Among 124 qualifying quarterbacks (who averaged 14 attempts per game), Watson threw the second most interceptions (17) in 2016; in 2015 he threw 13 for a total of 30 in the last two seasons.  For comparison, Dak Prescott, Paxton Lynch and Christian Hackenburg combined to throw just 15 INTs in 2015 before being drafted.  DynastyLeagueFootball.com has Watson as their rookie QB1 for 2017 but that’s more a result of the weak class than Watson’s pro possibility.

Junior RB Wayne Gallman is fun to watch and luckily for us it seems as if he will be entering the draft this offseason.  He’s a slasher of a running back who I feel would be at home in a zone-running scheme in the NFL even more so than he has been in Clemson’s read-option attack.  The more highlights I watch and research I do, the more I fall in love.  He’s big enough (6’1″, 215lb) to hold up over the course of the season and is a good enough receiver to stay on the field in some third down situations in the NFL.  Over the last two seasons, Gallman has combined for 2,940 yards from scrimmage and 30 TDs.  I think his RSO draft stock will be heavily influenced by his performance against Alabama in the championship game.  Honestly, I hope he struggles in that game so his stock stays idle and I have a chance to grab him in my home RSO league at 1.09 or 2.02.

As good as I believe Gallman is, he’s not the best pro prospect on his team.  That honor goes to junior WR Mike Williams.  Williams’s story is a good one.  He was injured early in the first game in 2015 after colliding with the goalpost support while catching a touchdown.  He fractured his neck and spent the rest of the season rehabbing so he could come back with a vengeance in 2016 and that’s exactly what he did.  Williams will probably be a top ten pick in this year’s NFL draft after an impressive 2016.  Williams hauled in 90 balls for 1,267 yards and 10 TDs.  As a sophomore back in 2014, he went 57-1,030-6 so he’s no one-hit wonder.  Depending on where you look, Williams is either listed at 6’3″ or 6’4″ but either way he’s tall enough to be an elite NFL receiver.  Williams will most definitely be the first WR drafted in RSO leagues this year, but he probably won’t be the only Clemson WR taken.  Junior WR Artavis Scott is a smaller possession receiver who has had at least 73 receptions in each of his three seasons with the Tigers.  Scott doesn’t have gaudy numbers that will drive his RSO draft stock but given the right offense, he could be worth a third round rookie pick.  Sophomore WR Deon Cain isn’t draft eligible this offseason, and may not be relevant this time next season to be honest, but he is a big play threat that could make the difference versus Alabama.  He averages 19.1 yards per catch, has 9 TDs this season and has a catch of 20+ yards in eight of fourteen games this season.  Senior TE Jordan Leggett is also a factor in the passing game, but might make more of an impact as a good blocker.  He’s been banged up lately and left the Ohio State game injured but I couldn’t find any updates online; assuming he is healthy heading into the offseason, he should be a top five rookie tight end, and much like OJ Howard, deserve some consideration.

On defense, Clemson is much less appealing from an IDP perspective than Alabama.  ILBs Ben Boulware and Kendall Joseph each had at least 100 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and an interception.  I don’t believe either will really impact RSO owners this season; if Joseph returns for another season he could see his value increase.  DT Carlos Watkins had 10.5 sacks this season and could be a late first-round NFL selection.

TL:DR

Both teams are full of NFL-caliber talent so this is an important game for dynasty owners to watch.  The players that you should keep an eye on in the championship game are: Calvin Ridley, Wayne Gallman and Mike Williams.  In my opinion those are the three that will have the most impact on RSO leagues in years to come (don’t forget though that Ridley is not draft eligible until 2018).

My prediction?   Alabama wins easily because of their defense and ball control offense but the score ends up being close due to some late garbage time scoring.  Hurts has at least 15 carries; Ridley only gets a handful of targets but has at least one game changing play; Scarborough serves as the hammer to kill the clock at the end, totaling at least 150 yards; Watson throws at least two INTs; Gallman starts strong and has good per-touch numbers but is mostly forgotten about once Clemson falls behind.  Final score: Alabama 34, Clemson 24.


Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.