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Spoiler Alert: Week 2

If you’re looking for a new show, I strongly recommend Cinemax’s ‘The Knick’. From Clive Owen’s spiked doctor to the gruesome-but-fascinating imagery of turn-of-the-century surgery, things look promising. So far. I’m skeptical, you see, as I imagine anyone who wasted five or so years on ‘Lost’ awaiting something better than that lame finale is.

Then again, I’m glad I hung with the whole first season of ‘The Leftovers’ (exec produced by one of ‘Lost’’s creators)…but it was a slow burn: Things didn’t really start happening ‘til at least Episode Five. By the end, though, my patience was rewarded.

Maybe I’m reaching, but I feel like there’s something we football fans can take away from Dave Dameshek’s scripted-television-viewing habits, namely: It’s too soon here in mid-September to pass judgment on just about any NFL team. We’re 60 minutes into the season, everybody: Slow down. Let’s see where this show’s heading.

After just one week of evidence, pro pigskin’s kneejerkers have reached the following conclusions: The Packers are fraudulent would-be contenders after getting exposed in the C-Link, while the Seahawks are likely to go 16-0. The 0-1 Patriots are done for because of shoddy play on either side of the line of scrimmage. The Niners D doesn’t miss NaVorro Bowman or Aldon Smith. Tom Coughlin won’t make it to October. RGIII is damaged beyond repair. Jay Cutler stinks. Matt Ryan is elite. Matt Stafford, too. The Colts may as well shutter the doors for the rest of year without Robert Mathis. (Actually, that one might be true.) Matter of fact, they all might be true. Point is, we don’t know yet.

Things are even worse for the Pittsburgh Steelers, on whom the kneejerkers now have TWO weeks of evidence to pass final judgement. Never mind the team is just 1-1 (overall and in the division, same as the Ravens): if social media is to be believed, the Steelers are doomed! The defense stinks! The o-line is inept! Fire Todd Haley! Fire Dick LeBeau! Fire Mike Tomlin! Trade the whole team to Cleveland and start anew!

If I may, though…

Maybe the callow Steelers’ defense just needs more time to learn the intricacies of Dick LeBeau’s tricky scheme. Maybe the Baltimore crowd – already amped for a primetime game against the archrival – was even louder in support of their currently troubled franchise and disruptive to the road team. Maybe the Ravens themselves understood losing two home games within the division in the first two weeks would give them an imposing mountain left to climb. Maybe without an ill-timed fumble or penalty, the game would’ve gone Pittsburgh’s way – and we’d be comparing the 0-2 Ravens to ‘Rake’.

Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, the Steelers and Ravens each have 14 episodes left in the season. Everyone else has 15. In TV terms, we’re barely through the opening credits. Let’s not turn the channel just yet.

 

spoiler-alert

Warning: Do NOT continue reading if you don’t want to know the results of the rest of Week One’s games.

(0-1 this week, 9-7 last week, 9-8 on the season)

DOLPHINS 17

BILLS 19

K. Moreno: 18 carries, 65 yds

BUF D: 4.5 sacks, 2 turnovers

JAGS 21

SKINS 30

C. Henne: 23-40, 290 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs

D. Jackson: 3 rec, 110 yds, TD

COWBOYS 23

TITANS 31

D. Bryant: 7 rec, 120 yds, TD

B. Sankey: 34-yd TD rec

LIONS 28

PANTHERS 24

G. Tate: 5 rec, 90 yds, TD

K. Benjamin: 4 rec, 95 yds

CARDS 20

GIANTS 23

L. Fitzgerald: 3 rec, 56 yds

R. Jennings: 18 carries, 97 yds, TD

PATS 21

VIKES 20

K. Thompkins: 6 rec, 88 yds, 2 TDs

MIN D: 1 sack

SAINTS 34

BROWNS 17

D. Brees: 24-30, 390 yds, 3 TDs

B. Hoyer: 22-43, 280 yds, TD, 2 INTs

FALCONS 24

BENGALS 31

ATL O: 21 rush att, 60 yds

G. Bernard: 15 carries, 105 yds, TD; 5 rec, 60 yds

RAMS 0

BUCS 9

Z. Stacy: 25 carries, 75 yds

P. Murray: 3-for-3 FGs

SEAHAWKS 26

CHARGERS 23

M. Lynch: 19 carries, 110 yds, TD

K. Allen: 5 rec, 110 yds, TD

TEXANS 21

RAIDERS 28

JJ Watt: 3 sacks

D. Carr: 22-37, 300 yds, 2 TDs

JETS 13

PACKERS 30

C. Ivory: 10 carries, 30 yds

R. Cobb: 8 rec, 125 yds, TD

CHIEFS 7

BRONCOS 42

J. Charles: 50-yd TD run

D. Thomas: 10 rec, 140 yds, 2 TDs

BEARS 31

NINERS 30

J. Cutler: 400 yds, 4 TDs

C. Hyde: 12 carries, 90 yds, TD

EAGLES 35

COLTS 27

S. McCoy: 17 carries, 102 yds, 2 TDs; 4 rec, 44 yds

TY Hilton: 68-yd TD rec

Good luck to your team this weekend. I hope they win…unless they’re playing my team.

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Last-Minute Fantasy Advice

By Philip Bildner, NFL Media intern

In Fantasy Land, there is only one thing is more consistent than Mr. Romo’s 4th quarter interceptions:

Manning, Rodgers, and Brees. Essentially the Mt. Rushmore of the NFL (except for Brady). Since 2009, these fantasy gods have finished at an average of 2.5 in QB rankings (sans 2011 Manning and 2013 Rodgers’ collarbone fiasco). In fact, the man dating Olivia Munn has finished 1-2-1-2 from 2009 to 2012 in QB rankings. Not too shabby. As for your uncle who won the MVP award last year, no one from a mile away (pun intended) thought “The Sheriff” would put up a 400+ point season–not even my buddy who lives up in Breckenridge who, mind you, is an Indy fan. We all know these are your must have QBs in the grand universe that is Fantasy Football, but here is a Full-Comprehensive-32-Team-NFL-Fantasy-Extravaganza for you.

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

The Duh: Peyton Manning – His MVP performance will get “The Duh” nod any day, but his dancing skills from off-season practice will melt your heart.

The Potential Awesome: Monte Ball – “The Sheriff’s” previous running backs have received a default of 1000+ yards and 10+ TDs. Call it the Peyton effect and Ball the, um, ball carrier.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Emmanuel Sanders – He’s 27 and in his prime, runs a 4.41 40-yard Dash, and disses his old QB. All keys to success, I think? Wes Welker’s injury issues also may give way to more Red Zone targets for the former Steeler.

The Wildcard: Juwan Thompson – Sadly, I can’t pick my Cal Alum C.J. Anderson here because this undrafted rookie from Duke is secretly the one sneaking up the Broncos’ depth chart. Come midseason, it may be Thompson and not Hillman that plays second fiddle to Monte Ball.

San Diego Chargers

The Duh: Keenan Allen – the man who should’ve been the 1st pick of the 2013 Draft – took the NFL by storm last year. This offseason he’s worked on his speed and claimed he can run even faster. Remember folks, he didn’t even start the first 2 games last year.

The Potential Awesome: Philip Rivers – Finishing 6th in QB rankings last year was a great first step back to Fantasy Relevancy. But without the Whiz at OC, can Rivers do it again? Frank Reich will have something to say about that as the Chargers unleash a lightning no-huddle offense.

The “I already know this sleeper”: LaDarius Green – Besides his awesome name that inspired a Key and Peele football parody, Green is the great Antonio Gate’s protégé. A.J. Smith’s last good pick as GM is ready for more snaps and a breakout season.

The Wildcard: Chargers Defense – Remember when San Diego finished with the #1 Defense in the NFL with “Riverboat Ron”? Me neither. Fun Fact: The Chargers never allowed Manning to score more than 28 points last season 3 times.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Duh: Jamaal Charles – J-Mall accounted for over 1/3 of the Chief’s total yards in 2013. Andy Reid’s punt free game plan? Handoff to Charles, Handoff to Charles, Pass to Charles, Touchdown.

The Potential Awesome: Chiefs Defense – There’s no way they finish 1st in points again with their schedule against the NFC West, but they’re a strong candidate for a Top-5 Finish.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Travis Kelce – This year’s potential Julius Thomas. He looks great on the field, has fantastic hands, and has been eating into Anthony Fasano’s snap count. By midseason Alex Smith might have found his new Vernon Davis.

The Wildcard: Knile Davis – If you take Charles in the first 3 picks of your fantasy draft, you better grab his back-up and insurance policy in the middle rounds. Remember when Charles tore his ACL in 2011? Wow that feels like forever ago.

Oakland Raiders

The Duh: Khalil Mack – Ok I know you can’t draft a LB in default leagues, but for you IDP guys he’s a must! The offense, however, is going to have to find their diamond in the rough the hard way, and it might be rough to watch.

The Potential Awesome: Maurice Jones-Drew – Coming back to his roots in the North Bay may be a good thing for the one-time Fantasy Football leader, even if it’s with the Oakland Raiders. After all, they are going to run the football, right? Who were their wideouts again?

The “I already know this sleeper”: Rod Streater – If you get desperate and decide to take a flier on one of their wide receivers, Mr. Streater is the vanilla pick. Though Denarius Moore may have looked great in preseason, remember he’s FIGHTING for a roster spot. Fun Fact: As a Senior at Temple, Streater helped the Owls win their first bowl game since 1979.

The Wildcard: Darren McFadden – Literally the epitome of the wildcard. Though he can’t stay healthy, “Run DMC” can be a fantasy superstar when on the field. If anything, he should at least be worthy of your bench.

AFC EAST

New England Patriots

The Duh: Stephen Gostkowski – Yes a kicker. Don’t laugh. Kickers are people too (see Hall of Famer Ray Guy). He’s consistently been a top 2 kicker the last 3 years in fantasy, and with PATs potentially moving back a few yards, you’ll wish you had drafted the man formerly known as “The Beaver.”

The Potential Awesome: Rob Gronkowski – You know the story. Boy meets HOF QB, boy scores lots of touchdowns, boy wants WR money…wait that’s somebody else. Maybe if he’s healthy he can actually play through his $53 million contract extension and get some more.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Shane Vereen – The Woodhead replacement has been great on the field when healthy. If Gronk goes down again expect big numbers from Vereen who has some of the best hands of any NFL running back. Fun Fact: The former Cal Bear led all NFL running backs in receptions (40) and rec yards (369) over the final 7 weeks of 2013.

The Wildcard: Logan Mankins – Actually it’s Timothy Wright, the man for whom the Patriots just traded. He finished 14th in Fantasy last year at the TE position (more than Gronkowski) and will be a huge insurance policy on your bench should you draft the Pats #1 TE in the middle rounds.

Miami Dolphins

The Duh: Mike Wallace – Ryan needs to take Mike out to a nice candlelit dinner at Outback Steakhouse to build some chemistry. Heck, at least a lunch or coffee date. Wallace can burn defenses, but speed isn’t everything–especially when the ball is thrown to the other side of the field.

The Potential Awesome: Charles Clay – Speaking of the other side of the field, Clay has been the benefactor of the Dolphins’ “I’m getting sacked/check down” game plan. Finishing 7th at the TE position last year, look out for him to improve upon his 7 TDs from last year. Fun Fact: During his 5-catch 109-yard performance against Indy last year, he had a rushing TD.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Lamar Miller – Who are you Mr. Miller? Or, rather, who is blocking for you? I don’t think we can write out Miller for his past performances. Rather, picking Miller is like investing in the Miami O-line. Do you believe?

The Wildcard: Ryan Tannehill – He played just about as good as Matt Ryan last year with just about as bad an O-line. Then why is it that Matt Ryan gets drafted in fantasy leagues and Tannehill doesn’t? Oh yeah, the Dolphins didn’t draft Jake Matthews. Still, the former wideout is a great QB2 with low QB1 potential if his newly formed O-line holds up.

New York Jets

The Duh: Fireman Ed – The Jets need somebody to start a fire. Anybody! We need this man-fan back! Do it for the children! If only a guy like this was the coach of the New York Jets…oh wait…

The Potential Awesome: Chris Johnson –You’ve got to love that he may have the entire backfield all to himself. The man formerly known as CJ2K could be seeing a lot of touches this year in New York with Geno Smith still learning the ropes. CJ1.5K?

The “I already know this sleeper”: Eric Decker – I haven’t watched his wife’s reality TV show on E! but I did watch him play for the Broncos these past 4 years. The 3rd round draft pick finally got paid. Now let’s see him catch some balls as a WR1.

The Wildcard: Jets Defense – This one’s for all you defensive roulette players in the fantasy universe. Who plays the Oakland Raiders Week 1? Sheldon Richardson and Gang Green. Who likes free interceptions from Matt Schaub? Everybody. Can they start Carr already?

Buffalo Bills

The Duh: C.J. Spiller – The former 1st round pick is pretty much the only Bill coming off draft boards this fantasy season. It should be noted that we’ve still yet to see him return to his speedy form. I still can’t remember why he is rated so high…was he just a 1 year wonder in 2012?

The Potential Awesome: Fred Jackson – 3 years past the dreaded age of the running back deadzone, Jackson defied all logic last year by finishing 10th at the RB position. I’m pretty sure Fred’s done in fantasy relevancy, but if you were like me and drafted Spiller last year, you might regret not snagging Jackson as an insurance policy.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Bryce Brown – Yes he’s listed 3rd on the Depth Chart, yes he’s inexperienced and hasn’t started more games than I can count on one hand, but this dude can run. If not this year, then definitely in 2015.

The Wildcard: Sammy Watkins – Another rib-injury for Watkins after an underwhelming preseason. He wasn’t the 4th overall pick in the draft for nothing, but be wary if you decide to take a flier on the former Clemson Tiger.

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Duh: Antonio Brown – Looks like the Steelers paid the right wideout. He’s pretty much the only receiver who’s played with Roethlisberger last year and will receive a lot of targets because of it. Consider Brown a safe Top-10 WR with Top-5 potential.

The Potential Awesome: Le’Veon Bell – Why is he not “The Duh” pick? Because of his silly run in with the law. If he can stay out of trouble, Bell can play like the bell cow Pittsburgh drafted him to be. Learn from your mistakes Le’Veon (see Josh Gordon).

The “I already know this sleeper”: Markus Wheaton –The new X-Factor for the Steelers. The “other” wide receiver from Oregon State ran track and field while in College. I think this is the year the Steelers forget all about Miles…uh…Mitchell…Mark…wait what’s his name again?

The Wildcard: Dri Archer –Dri could find himself a starter for the Steelers if Bell and Blount keep up their silly off-the-field antics. Archer has the ability to rip apart a defense with blazing speed and great vision. Watch out for the Kent State Speedster who ran a 4.26 40 at the combine.

Baltimore Ravens

The Duh: Dennis Pitta – Of all the Ravens players to pick, Pitta is probably the most “vanilla.” Back in 2012, Pitta finished 7th at the TE position, and the Raven’s O-line is having some issues. With less 7-step drops this year, Flacco will find his favorite checkdown TE in the endzone and provide Pitta owners with something to brag about.

The Potential Awesome: Ray Rice – Moving on from his awkward offseason, Rice appears fully healthy for a potential return to fantasy greatness. The only problem is it looks like he will be in a timeshare in the backfield. And to think it was only 3 years ago when Rice finished 1st at the RB position.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Bernard Pierce – Playing second fiddle to Rice may be a thing of the past. Pierce has the chance to prove himself for an expanded role these first two weeks with Rice suspended. Some reports even suggest he has outdone #27 in practice as well.

The Wildcard: Torrey Smith – Ah Torrey, what happened? Yes he improved his fantasy ranking from 23rd to 20th at the WR position, but his touchdowns dropped in half from 8 to 4! With Pitta back, Rice at 100%, and Kubiak at OC, don’t expect a huge increase in the TD department from Smith. What you see is what you get–around 140 fantasy points and a Top-20 finish.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Duh: A.J. Green – Finishing 4th at the WR position the past 2 years is no easy feat. Green, who arguably has the best hands in the business, is carrying the Bengals. His next contract should reflect that. Consider him one of the safest picks at the WR position this year.

The Potential Awesome: Giovani Bernard – Though he had less than 700 yards rushing last year, it was his 514 receiving yards that made him a fantasy stud. Gio is in line for a bigger workload and more receptions with Marvin Jones out with a broken foot.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Jeremy Hill – And here comes someone to ruin the fun. The Bengals may have a committee again this year with this LSU rookie turning heads at camp. OC Jackson has a “run-first ask questions later” mentality, so expect to see some quality touches given to Hill even with Gio as the starter.

The Wildcard: Andy Dalton – Would you believe me if I told you the “Red Rocket” finished 5th in points at the QB position last year? Now that you’ve looked it up, would you believe his ADP is round 12? Snag and stash this QB1. He didn’t get signed to a monster extension for nothing.

Cleveland Browns

The Duh: Jordan Cameron – With Josh Gordon officially suspended for the entire 2014 season, the ball will be thrown to this former basketball player quite often this year. Top-5 TE numbers is a possible fantasy reality. After all, he was 5th at the TE position last year WITH Gordon on the field.

The Potential Awesome: Ben Tate – Hurray for Tate! He finally has a backfield all to himself, sort-of. It’s time for him to prove he can have a 1000 yard season of his own. Barring an injury or two, or four to his ribs, expect Ben to run his heart out play after play.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Terrance West – Poor Ben. Right when he gets a starting role his team drafts a potential replacement. It should be noted that Ben has a history of injuries, so West is a great handcuff to the former Texan rusher.

The Wildcard: Travis Benjamin – The Browns need somebody, anybody to step up at wide receiver. My money ain’t on the one year wonder from Dallas they got in the off season. Maybe that number change from 80 to 11 for Travis is a good thing? He’s looked good so far.

AFC SOUTH

Indianapolis Colts

The Duh: Andrew Luck – As a Cal Bear, I’ve spent my early college days despising Luck while he played at Stanford. The way he moved the offense so methodically down the field with Pep as his OC…and having all those star receivers at his disposal…we were talking about college football, right?

The Potential Awesome: Trent Richardson – Oh My God. What am I doing recommending T-Rich? He has looked sluggish all preseason just like he did during his horrendous 2013 campaign. Potentially, T-Rich can finish in the Top-15 at running back this year. Let’s hope for his sake he does, lest he go down as one of the biggest trade busts this side of 2010.

The “I already know this sleeper”: T.Y. Hilton – Everyone should already know his name after Reggie Wayne went down last year. Hilton now must take the next step in becoming Reggie 2.0 for the Colts. Another 1000+ yard season is definitely possible for the former FIU Panther.

The Wildcard: Hakeem Nicks – So you’re telling me the Colts have 3 legitimate wide receivers starting? That’s just not fair. Why did you let him go Coughlin?! Why?! Nicks has already looked terrific this preseason. We all just wonder if Luck is “Manning” enough to spread the ball around for everyone to enjoy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Duh: Toby Gerhart – Most people forget that while at Stanford, Gerhart led the nation in rushing yards, touchdowns, and points scored in 2009. Playing behind All-Day these past few years must have him itching for a chance to show the world what he’s made of. Expect the Jaguars to give the former Viking 300+ touches this year.

The Potential Awesome: Marqise Lee – Most thought of the former Trojan to be a 1st rounder. That chip on his shoulder is only going to make him play more explosively this year with the Jags. Already a starter on a WR thin team, the rookie has the potential for a Top-25 finish in fantasy land at the wideout position.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Marcedes Lewis – Another Southern Californian Jaguar, but from the “other” LA school. Marcedes not only has an awesome name, but he has the football skills to back it up. If only he had a competent passer to throw him the ball.

The Wildcard: Blake Bortles – Taking all bets! How long does it take the Jaguars to start Roethlisberger 2.0? My money is on Week 6 vs. the Titans after a 0-5 run. Might as well see what the kid’s got in a “REAL” NFL game by that point.

Houston Texans

The Duh: Arian Foster – I’ll just let Foster explain the situation: “I’m just out here trying to be the best teammate I can be and I’m gonna work hard at doing that. I’m just trying to be the best teammate I can be, man. Yeah, man. I’m just trying to be the best teammate I can be, you know. I’m gonna work hard at doing that.”

The Potential Awesome: Andre Johnson – After much hullabaloo over being shipped away from the Oilers, I mean Texans, Johnson returned to his one and only team. Am I the only one who feels bad for him not being able to have a run at the Super Bowl?

The “I already know this sleeper”: DeAndre Hopkins – With 800+ receiving yards last year, I’d say most fantasy enthusiasts were disappointed with DeAndre’s rookie campaign. Don’t fret, because year two is coming up and DeAndre and Andre are the only two reliable receivers on the team. There could be a 1000+ sophomore season in the mix.

The Wildcard: Alfred Blue – Don’t look now, but there’s another LSU running back that might steal the show. The Texans might be wise to start a timeshare in the backfield to keep Foster healthy, but my gut tells me they won’t. Alfred will get the starting nod if Foster gets all black and blue, so make sure you have him as insurance.

Tennessee Titans

The Duh: Bishop Sankey – Though reports have come out stating Sankey is having fumbling problems and may not get the starting nod, don’t listen to them. I mean, who do they have instead? Shonn Green?

The Potential Awesome: Kendall Wright – One of the few receivers to get over 1000 yards last year was Wright, and he did it with the Titans. Tennessee might be fighting an uphill battle most season in the points department, which only means more opportunities for Wright. Right? Right.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Justin Hunter – The other WR to target in Tennessee. He’s impressed throughout training camp and in the preseason and may start for the Titans this year.

The Wildcard: Dexter McCluster – The former WR/RB for the Chiefs joins the Whiz as his new Danny Woodhead. With the potential of another fiasco in the QB position for Tennessee, McCluster could see a lot of backfield touches and checkdown receptions.

NFC WEST

Seattle Seahawks

The Duh: Richard Sherman and the Legion of Boom – If there is a “Duh” pick on the Seahawks roster, it’s the entire defense that blanked the Broncos for a full Half in the Super Bowl last season. Barring any injuries to their backend, expect the Seattle Defense to finish first in fantasy points this year.

The Potential Awesome: Marshawn Lynch – Beast Mode got his extra million in the bank, but does he have anything extra in the tank? Bad rhymes aside, the former Cal Bear is going to be the bell cow for the ‘Hawks at least another year. They may run him into the ground and drop him in 2015, in which case fantasy owners should jump at picking him up for another 300+ touch season. Just remember to handcuff him with Christian Michael in the later rounds.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Percy Harvin – Well that 1st round pick paid off. Harvin put the nail in the coffin with his 2nd Half Kickoff return in the Super Bowl and has Top-5 WR potential. Don’t believe me? Mr. Glass had just under 100 fantasy points through his 1st 8 games in 2012 with the Vikings. Extrapolated, that would have finished him 5th at the WR position that year. Roll the dice if you’re feeling lucky.

The Wildcard: Russell Wilson – Ok so it’s not really a “Who?” player, but Wilson has the talent around him to finish in the Top-5 at the QB position this year. If you don’t get one of the Mt. Rushmore of quarterbacks in the first 2 rounds, wait on Wilson and grab him in the 6th or 7th. You won’t regret it.

San Francisco 49ers

The Duh: Vernon Davis – Arguably the safest pick from the 49ers squad is their star tight end known for his Jamba Juice trickster antics. Though Davis may not get the same amount of targets with Crabtree back and the addition of Stevie Johnson, he is still a Top-5 TE in fantasy land.

The Potential Awesome: Colin Kaepernick – One of the most athletic players in the NFL is also one of the most polarizing. No I’m not talking about his religious tattoos. Alex Smith loyalists call Kaep a bust waiting to happen who has accuracy problems. Others don’t care because he runs like a gazelle and gets you tons of fantasy points. Which side of the fence are you on?

The “I already know this sleeper”: Carlos Hyde – Marcus Lattimore is out. Kendall Hunter is out. LaMichael James is recovering from a dislocated elbow. Frank Gore is 31 years old. Hyde has looked amazing all preseason and is being treated like a starter. If you haven’t heard about him yet, you certainly will this year.

The Wildcard: Frank Gore – A New stadium. An old running back. Kind of sounds like a bad Hemingway story. His 2,187 career attempts over the last 9 years is a lot. A timeshare may be in order for the former Miami Hurricane. That being said, he is still Frank Gore. Fun Fact: Only he and Marshawn Lynch have had at least 1100 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns since 2011.

Arizona Cardinals

The Duh: Andre Ellington – It’s a bit weird to not put Fitzgerald here, but Ellington is the new “it” man for the Cards. There is no competition in the backfield for him, and he looks to have a big role in the passing game as well.

The Potential Awesome: Larry Fitzgerald – That being said, Fitzgerald is still Fitzgerald. The former Pitt star used to be one of the elite fantasy receivers in the game, and pending a huge season from his signal caller, Larry could have a monster year again.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Michael Floyd – Boasted as the new WR1 on the Cardinal’s depth chart, Floyd has a lot to live up to as Fitzgerald’s protégé. He’s certainly lived up to the lofty expectations throughout his preseason. Lining up across #11 doesn’t hurt his odds with safeties trying to decipher which one to cover.

The Wildcard: Carson Palmer – He really hasn’t had a break since his leg did back in 2006. What? Too soon? He does, however, have a HC in Arians who is raving on and on about Palmer and his ability to throw for 5,000 yards this year. I don’t know about 5K, but 4.5K definitely seems possible.

St. Louis Rams

The Duh: Zac Stacy – With Bradford out for the season, the Rams will rely heavily on Stacy. But you knew that already. Let’s move on.

The Potential Awesome: Jared Cook – Joining Fisher from Tennessee last year, Cook had a monster Week 1 with 141 yards and 2 TDs. Unfortunately that didn’t continue throughout the season, but if he could do it once he can do it again.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Kenny Britt – Another former Titan to join Fisher and the Rams. Britt has the potential for a breakout season and 1000+ yards. That dream fizzled a bit when Bradford went down, but expect Britt to still be the star wideout on this thin roster.

The Wildcard: Benny Cunningham – Fisher is going to have Hill hand the ball off to his halfbacks, a lot. Cunningham is the obvious handcuff to Stacy. By midseason, he may even start eating into Stacy’s snap count. It may be wise to also look out for Tre Mason who may get in mix at some point later this year.

NFC EAST

Philadelphia Eagles

The Duh: LeSean McCoy – Last season, McCoy had 100+ yards from scrimmage in his final 7 games. That trend should continue in Chip Kelly’s mad-scientist fast-paced experimental offense. Darren Sproles shouldn’t worry fantasy owners since he and McCoy essentially play completely different positions. Expect Shady to stay the bell cow.

The Potential Awesome: Nick Foles – The journeyman from Arizona had 24 touchdown passes in 10 starts last season. That was more than Luck, Kaepernick, Flacco, or RGIII had all season! The fast paced offense also doesn’t hurt his chances at fantasy stardom.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Jeremy Maclin – He’s got some big shoes to fill. However, most people don’t know that over the 4 seasons Maclin and DeSean played together, Maclin had 26 receiving touchdowns to Jackson’s 21. Reports have also suggested that Maclin flew right by Revis Island for trips to the End Zone during joint practices with the Pats.

The Wildcard: Jordan Matthews – the 6’3’’ rookie from Vandy was getting a lot of praise at Eagles camp this off season. He is the first receiver Chip Kelly has ever selected in an NFL draft as a HC. Defenses beware what he has in store for his first WR toy.

Dallas Cowboys

The Duh: Dez Bryant – As they hash out the details for his new contract, Dez should be regarded as the safest of Cowboy picks. In his final 5 games of the 2013 season, Bryant had a reception touchdown. Expect the Cowboys to throw A LOT as they try to mask the deficiencies of their defense by scoring as many points as possible. This means a lot of fantasy points for Dez.

The Potential Awesome: DeMarco Murray – What a nice surprise. Given his first fully healthy season, Murray dominated fantasy. Over the last 7 weeks, his 123.7 average yards from scrimmage were 3rd only to McCoy and Charles. If given another healthy year, Murray will bring big stats to Big D.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Terrance Williams – Let me repeat myself, the Cowboys are going to throw A LOT. With Dez drawing double and even triple coverage during games, it’s time for Williams to step it up and help the Cowboys return to the playoffs.

The Wildcard: Joseph Randle – The 2nd year running back, though 3rd on the depth chart, is the true backup for Murray. Should anything happen to the former Oklahoma Sooner, expect Randle, and not Lance Dunbar to get the expanded role as the lead back.

Washington Redskins

The Duh: Alfred Morris – No his 2013 campaign wasn’t that superb. He led running backs with 5 fumbles and finished 15th at the RB position. Why am I so high on him then? Because now he’ll be facing cover 2 consistently with Garcon AND Jackson on the field. Not to mention that RGIII is healthy so they can run some good ol’ pistol again.

The Potential Awesome: DeSean Jackson – I don’t know why he is getting drafted so late in standard leagues. The former Cal Bear finished 10th at the WR position last year with 1300+ yards and 9 TDs! He also has a huge chip on his shoulder against a former coach with the same name. Boy oh boy am I looking forward to those matchups.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Jordan Reed – The tight end missed some time last year due to injury which is why I think he is getting drafted so late. The former basketball player may see less receptions due to the advent of Jackson, but he still poses matchup problems for defenses due to his 6’ 3’’ frame and speed.

The Wildcard: Pierre Garcon – The other Redskin WR who is getting passed on in fantasy leagues. Garcon had 10+ targets in each of his final 10 games and led the NFL with 113 catches. No he won’t get as many targets as last year, but he is definitely a lock to finish in the Top-20 should he stay healthy.

New York Giants

The Duh: Rashad Jennings – After jumping from team to team, from east coast to west coast to east coast again, Jennings finally gets his chance to be an RB1 for a team hurting for a playmaker. Now with David Wilson retired, Jennings is expected to be the bell cow for Big Blue.

The Potential Awesome: Victor Cruz – Who else on the Giant’s roster has the potential to be a fantasy superstar? Cruz a-la 2011. Fun Fact: In his final 10 games, Cruz had zero, zilch, nada, nil touchdown receptions. Let’s hope Manning and he can return to their Super Bowl winning forms.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Rueben Randle – The 23 year old wideout from LSU is joined by a 21 year old wideout from LSU in Odell Beckham. Randle however has a huge edge not only due to his experience in the NFL but that he is injury free. What’s that saying? The greatest ability is availability.

The Wildcard: Odell Beckham Jr. – Ok so even though he’s injured doesn’t mean he is forever banished to fantasy irrelevancy this year. Beckham was selected in the 1st round for a reason, to help the Giants now. When he returns to 100%, Beckham Jr. should produce right away in an offence that needs someone to step up.

NFC NORTH

Green Bay Packers

The Duh: Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers is ready to come back from his injury and prove all the doubters wrong. The only troublesome statistic for fantasy owners: Rodgers has had 0 rushing touchdowns in his last 10 games and only 3 in his last 36. Remember when he used to run and get you 6 points instead of 4?

The Potential Awesome: Eddie Lacy – We’ve only seen one year from Lacy AND half of it was without Rodgers. Now with Rodgers back in the mix, Lacy may have even MORE yards from scrimmage as defenses will relieve pressure from the box.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Mason Crosby – Hurray another kicker! Without Rodgers last year Crosby finished 4th in fantasy points at the Kicker position. Yes it was far more field goals than PATs, but those PATs really do add up (see Matt Prater). With the offence fully restored and better than ever with Lacy in the backfield, expect Crosby to put up super numbers week in and week out.

The Wildcard: Richard Rodgers –Word on the street in Cheeseville is that Rodgers is going to throw to Rodgers since Rodgers may be the next best thing since Rodgers came from Cal to Green Bay. Wait which Rodgers was I talking about?

Chicago Bears

The Duh: Matt Forte – Believe it or not, of the top 16 in rushing yards from 2012, only one player saw an increase in rush yards from 2012 to 2013. Not only is Forte a PPR monster, over the final 9 weeks of 2013, he had the most touches in the NFL with 212. Forte should be a Top-5 RB again this year with the continued assistance of Marshall and Jeffery drawing double coverages on the outside.

The Potential Awesome: Alshon Jeffery – The reason I’m going with Jeffery over Marshall here is because Marshall began doing something last year that was a bit uncommon for him: dropping passes. He led the NFL with 12 last year. You can make a case for either receiver, but I’ll take the younger stud with more upside. Plus, Jeffery’s average ADP is in the 3rd round compared to Marshall in the 2nd.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Jay Cutler – If you decide on taking a QB1 late, don’t skip on Cutler. How many weapons does he have available to him? A lot more than other signal callers in the NFL. If his O-line can keep him on his feet, the Bears can be one of the scariest offenses in the NFL in 2014.

The Wildcard: Ka’Deem Carey – The All-American rookie from Arizona is now the backup to the versatile Matt Forte. If Forte goes down, Carey is stepping in, and in an offence that boasts two trees at wide receiver and the Black Mamba at tight end, Carey would walk into a very, very attractive backfield to run from.

Minnesota Vikings

The Duh: Adrian Peterson – One of the few to run for 2000+ yards in a season. The only I know of that did it after an ACL injury. He’s a cyborg. End of story. Draft him Top-3 and relish in the fact Norv Turner is his OC. Remember LaDainian Tomlinson? That could be AP in 2014.

The Potential Awesome: Cordarrelle Patterson – For someone who hasn’t played much football in their life, Patterson sure makes it look easy. He had the most fantasy points among wide receivers over the final 4 weeks last year and scored 1+ TDs in his final 5 games. Things are looking up for the former Vol.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Kyle Rudolph – Wow, how the mighty have fallen. It wasn’t that long ago that Rudolph was staring in fantasy commercials after his 9 TD 2012 season. Now that Turner is the OC in Minnesota, Rudolph should return to form and your upcoming TV advertisements.

The Wildcard: Matt Asiata – Should the football gods permit a monstrosity of an injury to AP again, Matt Asiata is a must have handcuff. Surprisingly, Asiata is only owned in 0.2% of leagues on NFL.com. Looks like no one is taking these handcuff suggestions seriously.

Detroit Lions

The Duh: Calvin Johnson – Megatron the all-mighty. The only man in the past 3 years to finish 1st twice at his position besides Jimmy Graham. If you find yourself at the bottom of the first round without an elite running back, or you just feel like going wide receiver heavy in your draft, pull the trigger on Johnson knowing your WR1 spot is completely solidified.

The Potential Awesome: Reggie Bush – Bush’s 86-yard run for a touchdown last week was nothing short of spectacular. Ok, I know it was against the Jaguars, but did you see him outrun 3 defenders?! He finished 11th at the RB position last year while missing 2 games to injury and had at least 12 rushing attempts in each game besides his 9 in week 2. “Bring the Wood!”

The “I already know this sleeper”: Eric Ebron – The 1st rounder from UNC got engaged, drafted, and basically became a millionaire in the span of 24 hours. Not too shabby. Though he’s listed 3rd on the depth chart, the Lions didn’t draft him in the 1st round to sit on the bench.

The Wildcard: Golden Tate – I am a skeptic when it comes to Mr. Gold here. Yes he’s got the bling to prove he’s a legitimate WR…and not to mention the contract. Though he’s never had a 1000-yard season, this could be his 1st. With Megatron on the other side, 1-on-1 and maybe even 1-on-0 matchups could send Tate into Fantasy heaven.

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints

The Duh: Jimmy Graham – Drew Brees was a close second, but when your tight end leads the NFL in touchdown receptions he gets an “Auto Duh”. Graham is basically the Megatron of the Saints and sits on top TE Mountain. He scored 56.5 points more than the next player at his position. That is one discrepancy you’ll want to consider when thinking about taking him in the 1st round of your draft.

The Potential Awesome: Drew Brees – I’ve never met Brees in the flesh, but one of my ex-bosses had dinner with the “Who Dat?” signal caller 3 years ago and said he was a delight. Over the past 3 years Brees has finished 2-1-2 at the QB position. That’s delightful enough for me.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Brandin Cooks – Last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner not only has a Super Bowl winning QB to throw to him, his defensive teammates have raved about his play in camp and during preseason. If Sammy Watkins isn’t the rookie to finish in the Top-20, my money’s on Cooks to be this year’s Keenan Allen.

The Wildcard: Khiry Robinson – Though he only carried the ball 8 times compared to Ingram’s 18 in their playoff win last year against Philly, Robinson could be in line for more touches out of the backfield in 2014. Ingram will get his shot to be the lead back, again, for the 3rd time…but if the past is any indicator, I’d roll the dice on Khiry. I mean his name alone…so cool.

Atlanta Falcons

The Duh: Julio Jones – The Falcons addressed their O-line troubles in the 1st round of the NFL draft this year. Why does this matter? Because now Matty Ice can take 5 and 7-step drops and throw it deep to Jones. Before his injury, the star Falcon led the NFL with 41 receptions and ranked 2nd with 580 receiving yards. Expect a Top-5 WR finish this year.

The Potential Awesome: Roddy White – Yes he’s 32, but that’s only 2 years older than Brandon Marshall. 2013 was a forgettable year for White who had to deal with double coverage and a QB that couldn’t throw him the ball. Now that Jones is back, expect White to return to his 2012 form. Fun Fact: In December of 2013, White finished in the NFL’s Top-5 in targets (60), receptions (43), and rec yards (502).

The “I already know this sleeper”: Devonta Freeman – Sorry S-Jax but most of us in fantasy have given up on your return to relevancy. It’s only a matter of time for the BCS National Champion rookie to become Atlanta’s new bell cow. When that time comes, you’ll be glad you snagged him at the back-end of your draft.

The Wildcard: Levine Toilolo – The former Stanford Cardinal spent one year learning from the former Cal Bear basketball star. We haven’t seen much of Toilolo so far, but someone has to fill the void left by future HOFer Tony Gonzalez.

Carolina Panthers

The Duh: Cam Newton – Cam had 700+ yards rookie and sophomore years and has never finished below 4th at the QB position. As long as he can return to 100% health, Newton should continue running the rock as his stable of wide receivers has a huge learning curve to overcome.

The Potential Awesome: Greg Olsen –Though he finished 8th at the TE position last year, Olsen should see a heck of a lot more targets with the loss of essentially their entire wide receiver corps. A 1000-yard season isn’t entirely out of question.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Kelvin Benjamin – The 6’5’’ BCS National Champion has shined so far in preseason. Some have argued the former Seminole should be the first Panthers player chosen in Fantasy drafts, but that’s a bit rich for my blood. He could however easily reach the end zone 10 times this year, making for an intriguing fantasy sleeper.

The Wildcard: Jerricho Cotchery – The former Steeler is listed as the Panther’s #1 wide receiver. Depth charts are not always the be-all end-all, but it should be noted Cotchery did have the 2nd best TD grab to reception ratio last year (1 every 4.6 catches).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Duh: Doug Martin – It is a bit scary that the Muscle Hamster only had 1 TD on 139 touches last season before his injury. That being said, new OC and former Cal Bear HC Jeff Tedford loves to run the ball. With the 6’5’’ twin towers of Jackson and Evans to the sides, Martin could have a lot of running room come Sundays.

The Potential Awesome: Vincent Jackson – Jackson fell a bit in the WR standings from 6th in 2012 to 14th in 2013. He now has a legitimate WR2 lining up across from him to relieve some pressure from opposing DBs. Having a QB with a 109 rating throwing him the ball also might increase his fantasy potential.

The “I already know this sleeper”: Mike Evans – Of the two star Texas A&M players, it looks like Evans will get the honors of starting in a Week 1 NFL game in 2014. A potential rookie of the year, this 6’5’’ beast should be free of double coverages and brackets the first few weeks of the season with Jackson lining up on the other side.

The Wildcard: Josh McCown – After his two 1-year deals with the Chicago Bears, McCown signed a 2-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, following former HC Lovie Smith. He looked better than Cutler last year, and may break into the Top-10 at the QB position in fantasy this year.

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Pittsburgh Steelers’ All-Time Roster

Strong effort here from Elliot Harrison on his pass at the all-time Steelers team…but allow me to respond (starters in BOLD):

QB: BEN ROETHLISBERGER, Terry Bradshaw, Kordell Stewart

That’s right – I’ve got Roethlisberger over Bradshaw. Let the bellyaching begin! Before you dash off angry missives about how dumb I am, consider that – for all of Bradshaw’s big-game greatness (proven by those four rings and two Super Bowl MVP trophies) – he never had to overcome what Roethlisberger has: an atrocious offensive line.  Roethlisberger won one Super Bowl (vs Arizona) and lost another (vs Green Bay) in spite of playing behind one of the league’s ten worst lines. The good news is, if Roethlisberger doesn’t come out of the gate on fire, Bradshaw is there to take over. Bradshaw was no stranger to platooning early in his career, splitting snaps with Joe Gilliam. Why is Kordell the third-stringer? Because barring both the two guys ahead of him suffering mysterious MCL injuries, he won’t be under center. In the meantime, he’ll serve the offense well with a return to his more popular alter ego, “Slash”. And besides, who else is there?  We know what Neil O’Donnell does when the pressure’s on in the big game.

RB: FRANCO HARRIS, JEROME BETTIS, Barry Foster, Willie Parker, Rocky Bleier, Merrill Hoge

Franco – maybe the most underrated Hall of Fame running back (yes, I realize that’s an oxymoron) – paired with the most durable big back ever, the Bus. Who’s the fullback and who’s the halfback?  Who cares?  Good luck stopping them. Fast Willie makes the team as our change-of-pace back, and Merrill Hoge will serve the team well as out-of-the-backfield pass-catcher (that is, if he ever makes it onto the field). And good ol’ Rocky? Well, he’s there to provide inspiration and grit.

WR: LYNN SWANN, JOHN STALLWORTH, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Louis Lipps, Antonio Brown

Don’t get caught up in their stats, Fantasyheads – Swann and Stallworth are two of the all-time best… especially in big games. You’re probably more familiar with Swann’s work because of the iconic midfield catch in X, but Stallworth made more than his share of huge plays on the big stage.  The two fourth quarter bombs in XIV pulled that game out, and his two touchdown grabs in XIII – one a then-Super Bowl-record 75-yard sprint, the other a twisting catch of a Bradshaw floater between two Cowboy DBs.  Plus, Hines Ward?!  And Santonio Holmes?!  That makes three Super Bowl MVPs.  Good luck stopping them. Wait… did I say that already?  Oh, and sorry, Yancy Thigpen: you had a good run, but you’ve been replaced A.B, who Ike Taylor says is the best receiver in the game today.

TE: HEATH MILLER, Bennie Cunningham, Eric Green

They block well, they catch even better. Anything else you want out of the position?

OT: LARRY BROWN, LEON SEARCY, Jon Kolb, Marvel Smith, Tunch Ilkin

G: ALAN FANECA, Steve Courson, Carleton Haselrig

C: MIKE WEBSTER

c/G: DERMONTTI DAWSON

Webster and Dawson are the “only” two Hall of Famers in this group (with Faneca a solid future candidate), but there’s plenty of experience across the line. We can also expect Dawson (who played one season at guard before switching to center) and Searcy to play with additional fire because of the embarrassing lack of Super Bowl rings on their fingers.

Onto the defense, where the seemingly big question is: 4-3 or 3-4?   But clearly, the correct answer is 3-4. Too many great LBs.

DE: MEAN JOE GREENE, LC GREENWOOD, Dwight White, Ernie Stautner

NT: CASEY HAMPTON, Gary Dunn, Fats Holmes

We’re sliding Mean Joe (the NFL Network’s “#1 Steeler of All-Time) over to end in the 3-4, where he’ll combine with Casey Hampton to form the most impenetrable duo in the history of football. Power sweep?  Meet the Steel Curtain. Even Vince Lombardi’s or Jimmy Johnson’s running attacks would be lucky to break even. Literally. They might even have negative rushing yards. [Side note: I’m not sure if Fats Holmes deserves to make the team over Aaron Smith, but in the name of justice, all members of the original Steel Curtain front four must to be on the team.]

OLB: JACK HAM, JAMES HARRISON, Joey Porter, Andy Russell

ILB: JACK LAMBERT, JAMES FARRIOR, Levon Kirkland, Lawrence Timmons

Linebacker is unquestionably the richest position for the most successful organization of the Super Bowl Era. Stars like Greg Lloyd, LaMarr Woodley, Bryan Hinkle, Kevin Greene, Jason Gildon and David Little – who’d be starting on other franchises’ all-time Ds – don’t even make the cut on this dominant team.

CB: MEL BLOUNT, ROD WOODSON, Ike Taylor, Dwayne Woodruff

Blount & Woodson: Two of the five best corners to ever play. Ever.

SS: TROY POLAMALU, Donnie Shell

FS: MIKE WAGNER

CB/S: Carnell Lake

Wagner plays ballhawk, Lake provides versatility, Shell punishes anyone who dares to run downfield, and Polamalu dominates in which ever fashion the game dictates.

K: Gary Anderson

P: Craig Colquitt

KR/PR: handled by Woodson/Lipps/Swann

I’d say the odds are better than 50/50 that the Steelers would get at least one touchdown on a return per game with this trio.

HEAD COACH: Chaz Noll

He’s too often ignored by the national media when history’s greatest coaches are discussed, but the man Myron Cope called the Emperor Chaz Noll is also the Man Most Responsible for Building The Steelers of the ‘70s (also known as: The Best Team Ever).

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Spoiler Alert: Super Bowl XLVIII

This morning I wrote and re-wrote about 1200 words analyzing what I see as the keys to the game. I veered into the reasons why I’d like to Peyton Manning win and why I’d like to see Richard Sherman win. I outdid myself with pretentious platitudes about Percy Harvin and Von Miller and the 12th Man and the Mile High Fan and legalized weed and legacy and thugs and (the lack of) a wintery mix. Then I deleted it.

At this point, who cares what I or anyone thinks? Let’s just get to the game.

spoiler-alert

Warning: Do NOT continue reading if you don’t want to know the result of the Super Bowl.

(170-98 on the season)

SEAHAWKS 26

BRONCOS 20

DEN –

P. Manning: 311 yds, TD, 2 INTs

K. Moreno: 17 carries, 44 yds, TD

W. Welker: 6 rec, 70 yds

D. Thomas: 3 rec, 68 yds, TD

SEA –

R. Wilson: 290 yds, 44 yds rushing, TD

P. Harvin: 3 plays

D. Baldwin: 52-yd TD rec.

R. Sherman: INT

MVP: Marshawn Lynch (24 carries, 130 yds, TD)

Enjoy the game, everybody. I hope your team wins.

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They should call it ‘Coldth’

Dave is excited about this year’s Super Bowl being held on the ice planet of Hoth …

hoth

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Spoiler Alert: Championship Sunday

Q: What do the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, and Auburn Tigers have in common?

A(1): Each has played at least one post-season game in 2014

A(2): Heath Evans has played for all of them

What Forrest Gump was to pop culture in the second half of the 20th century, Evans is to football this month.

Evans – the smart fullback who spent ten seasons with the Hawks, Pats, Saints (and Dolphins) – now regularly shares his insights with you on NFL Network… and with me in the hallways of NFL Network whenever I can trap him for a few minutes.

Along with the heaps of great anecdotes about Jerry Rice’s time in Seattle, winning a ring in New Orleans, and watching the original Beast Mode run from the sidelines as a member of the Saints, Evans is especially insightful on the mindset of one Bill Belichick. Matter of fact, I’ve taken to calling him ‘The Hoodie Whisperer’. Evans’ admiration for his former coach runs deep (so deep, in fact, he even claims Belichick has a sense of humor!), but simultaneously demystifies ‘The Patriot Way’: To hear him tell it, there’s not some metaphysical magic at work. Rather, it’s Belichick’s practical trust in his players to not only know their own jobs, but – literally – the responsibility of every other teammate involved in any particular play design.

So I asked the Hoodie Whisperer what he expected from the Pats on Sunday.

“They’re gonna take the air of it.”

Really? Don’t you think the plan should be to just pick on Quentin Jammer all day?

“They’re gonna run the ball.”

Does that mean we’ll see a ton of LaGarrette Blount? Or might Belichick throw a curveball and go with Shane Vereen?

“No, Shane’s dropped some balls lately. Bill definitely doesn’t like that. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of Stevan Ridley… (Denver DT Terrance) Knighton is real solid, but a guy like Ridley might be able to get some quick hitters past him.”

Like anybody else, the Hoodie Whisperer can’t talk for long about Belichick without getting around to Tom Brady.

What’s Brady like?

“As humble and nice a ‘superstar’ as there is… he’s really just one of the guys. He’s a really hard worker.”

Willie McGinest – another longtime Patriot-turned-NFL-Network-analyst – furthers this point: “Win or lose, when we got on that team plane to go home, Tom went straight to back of the plane, took up a whole row, turned on his laptop and started studying for next week.”

The Hoodie Whisperer: “Yep, you hear it about a lot of guys, but Tom honestly doesn’t care about his numbers. He only cares about winning.”

Yeah, but isn’t that true of every QB? Does Peyton Manning care about his stats?

“Peyton knows how many touchdowns he’s thrown, believe me.”

Hmm.

“I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think he thinks his touchdown passes give his team the best chance of winning.”

The Hoodie Whisperer is not what Broncos and some Colts fans call a “Peyton Hater”. In fact, he raves about what #18 can figure out about a defense – and how quickly he can figure it out – before every snap he takes. Virtually anyone who’s played against Peyton supports this.

This week, I also kibitzed with Terrell Suggs, who was on the field for the win against Manning’s Broncos last January in the divisional round. Did Suggs – who’s been trash-talking rival QBs since before Richard Sherman was catching passes at Stanford – have a withering crack about Peyton’s overtime interception?

“It showed Peyton’s character. He came into our locker room after the game… I’ve never seen that before… an opposing quarterback… and he and Ray Lewis talked like high school buddies for an hour. Made me say I’m no longer an adversary of Peyton Manning.”

The comment is especially stunning when held in sharp relief to his response about his feelings for Brady.

True or false, Suggs: you really don’t like Tom Brady.

“True… it’s football history… the whole thing… the knee pointing, the Brady Rule, all of it.”

To be fair, Suggs also says he’s “seeing his therapist” to quell said disdain… but my takeaway is this: Both Manning and Brady are good at football. Seriously. When you beat someone a lot, it tends to cause raw feelings.

Which leads me to another takeaway: The Hoodie Whisperer, T-Sizzle, and (at least 97% of) all pro football players are human beings. They work year ‘round with the goal of reaching the Super Bowl, but in seven of the past twelve seasons, they’ve instead had to sit and watch Brady or Peyton play in the big game. That means an inordinate number of an entire generation of football players have had an inordinate number of their seasons within their relatively brief football-playing lives ended by either Brady or Peyton. And you think you’ve got reasons to hate them? Come to think of it, we should be amazed we don’t hear more disdain for either guy. Instead, we hear almost nothing but respect and admiration.

So what’s any of this mean? And does any of it have an impact on Sunday’s game? Heath doesn’t know. Neither does Suggs. No one knows. One thing we do all know, though: two legacies are on the line. The winner will get a shot at immortality. The loser will be judged harshly. Except by his fellow players.

spoiler-alert

Warning: do NOT continue reading if you don’t want to know the results of Championship Sunday.

(4-0 last week; 170-96 on the season)

PATRIOTS 38

BRONCOS 37

NE: J. Edelman – 7 rec, 90 yds, 2 TDs

DEN: P. Manning – 402 yds, 3 TDs, 2 INTs

NINERS 20

SEAHAWKS 17

SF: F. Gore – 27 carries, 110 yds, TD

SEA: M. Lynch – 27 carries, 88 yds, TD

Enjoy the title games! I hope your team wins…

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Reality Shek: Dueling Personalities

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Spoiler Alert: Divisional Round

two-cakes1

I’ve got two cakes in the fridge for the games this weekend. One cake’s for eating, the other’s just to have. Figured that’d be fitting, because I’m rooting for both sides in every game.

I know, I know… I’m being Pollyanna. Or maybe I’m subconsciously trying to ingratiate myself to that fan who took my pick against his team in Week Seven so personally he tracked me down on Twitter to accuse me of “hating” his city.

I choose to believe my heart is pure. As a fan myself, I’m equally excited and empathetic towards those who’ve got a nerve-wracking three-and-a-half hours upcoming on Saturday or Sunday. As a diehard, I know the reflected glory and relief when your team wins, and bitter pain when your team loses.

Like I say, some fans accuse me of hating their team. The supposition is – because I don’t hide the fact I grew up a Steelers fan – I therefore root against everyone else. I get it, but it’s just plain incorrect. As a grownup, I’m able to successfully distinguish what I think from what I want. The intellectual aspect aside, though, my personal allegiance to one team is precisely why I’m rooting for everyone this weekend. Silly as it seems to those unknowing, unlucky souls who don’t understand the sports fan’s devotion, I know the visceral emotion post-season football evokes.

For 16 days each fall, we live vicariously through the deeds of large human beings wearing the right logo. A lucky few get to keep on rooting when the calendar flips to January. As a Steelers fan, my pain is done for the season (unlike at least one other supporter of the black-and-gold) but I still know what winning can do. Winning makes the frigid winter feel shorter. It gives us something to look forward to while chipping the ice off the windshield or waiting at the train stop in the rain or maybe even rebuilding a city.

I was in New Orleans shooting a Mardi Gras bit for Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show just a few days after the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010 – and just a few years after Hurricane Katrina. It was as joyous a place as I’ve ever been. I don’t want to slip into some maudlin hyperbole by overstating the significance of that Saints’ season, but it’d be vapidly cynical to ignore the boost the team gave those fleur de lis-festooned people literally dancing in the streets stretched in front of their still-tattered homes.

Is fandom delusional? Yes. Does a collection of high-paid athletes gathered from far-flung origins winning a game actually fix anything in your life? No. But like the Marx Brothers do for Woody Allen at the end of ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’, a playoff game – even one our team loses – gives us a distraction, and at best makes us part of something larger, something shared, something fun. Like Woody asks, “Don’t you want to be a part of the experience?” Yes, Woody, I do. And that’s why I’m eating just one cake this weekend.

spoiler-alert

Warning: do NOT continue reading this if you don’t want to know the scores of the divisional round games.

(1-3 last week, 166-96 on the season)

SAINTS 16

SEAHAWKS 24

NO – D. Brees: 299 yds, TD, 2 INTs

SEA – M. Lynch: 133 yds, TD

COLTS 24

PATS 35

IND – T.Y. Hilton: 52 yds

NE – S. Vereen: 142 yds/scrimmage, 2 TDs

NINERS 23

PANTHERS 10

SF – A. Boldin: 86 yds, TD

CAR – D. Williams: 41 yds

CHARGERS 24

BRONCOS 37

SD – M. Ingram: 2 sacks

DEN – D. Thomas: 114 yds, 2 TDs

Enjoy the divisional round, everybody! I hope your team wins…

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Inside Out: McGinest & Sharper on Cold Weather Games

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Inside Out: McGinest & Sharper on Playoff Prep

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