Thursday, July 28, 2016

USA Basketball Builds Friendships

By Travis Stahl

Hey, did you know the Olympics is about to start?  Just kidding, we all know that.  We've been bombarded with the horrific stories of what a wretched swamp hole Rio is for the last two years.  But now it's here ... as in the Olympics start in just a week.  If you haven't been watching any of the exhibition games leading up to the start of the games here is a news flash for you, the US Olympic basketball team looks really good.  Shocker right?

It's NBA players, it's supposed to be a good team.  We don't need to have the discussion of amateur vs. professional when it comes to Olympic basketball.  Yes, it changed with the Dream Team.  Prior to that other countries were already using NBA players so let's move on.  Instead of rehashing old story lines let's look ahead.  What comes out of this team is the great unknown.  The likelihood though is that some seeds are being sown that will grow into possibilities on the NBA court in the next few years.  We've seen it before.

When LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade teamed up in Miami that was all a collaboration that was born out of the Beijing Olympics.  The three were already friends and during the Olympics they figured out a way to make it all come together.  We heard whispers last week of the same sort of thing happening with Kevin Durant.  Durant loved playing in USA Basketball with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green of the Warriors so much that they formed a bond and that was a big factor in Durant signing as a free agent with Golden State.  When you find guys you love to play with you find a way to make it work.  That's an important factor in the NBA.

Sure, we aren't going to know what will come out of this group playing together for a couple of years.  Maybe Kyrie Irving and Paul George become great friends and decide to team up.  Or we might see DeMarcus Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge really hit if off and team up together on the Spurs.    You never know what could come out of these Olympic games.  The gold medal is a foregone conclusion.  How these guys feel about each other after the games though could determine who wins some rings in the NBA.

Let's be honest with ourselves.  The basketball on the court isn't going to be real exciting.  Team USA is going to wipe the floor with everybody.  The intrigue for me will be to see how everyone gets along on the floor.  That could say a lot towards shaping the landscape of the NBA for years to come.  Am I being wildly speculative?  Yes.  But it's happened before so it would not be too shocking to me to see it again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Training Camp Stories

By Travis Stahl

Training camp, training camp, I love training camp!  That is the official song in the NFL for the next couple of weeks.  We will sing it often.  Teams are reporting for camp and getting ready for the season which is now just over a month away.  If you think about it, there really isn't a whole lot that happens during training camp.  In fact, usually the most significant thing that comes out of training camps are injuries to key players.  That's unfortunate.  But there are a few things we need to keep an eye on as teams begin to practice.

Here comes Jimmy - As in Jimmy Garapalo, the new starting quarterback for the New England Patriots.  At least he will be for the first four games while Tom Brady serves his bogus suspension.  Garapalo will get lots of reps during practice because he always does.  But I have to think this summer he will be tied to the hip of head coach Bill Belichick as they try to fill young Jimmy's head with as much knowledge as possible.  Garapalo has already had a lot of time to sit back and watch so this isn't like the Patriots are throwing some rookie out there.  The key will be how quickly Garapalo picks up the finer quirks of the offense before the season starts.

For whom the Bell tolls - Pittsburgh running back LeVeon Bell is facing a four game suspension of his own for missing a drug test.  Bell of course is proclaiming his innocence.  How?  Either you were there and took the test or you weren't.  This is likely an argument that will drag on through the preseason as Bell continues to rehab from off season knee surgery.  In the meantime, we need to watch to see which backs the Steelers use during the preseason.  DeAngelo Williams was a stud last year while Bell was hurt and will more than likely be the starter.  But Pittsburgh will probably try to figure out which back they want to keep on the roster to spell Williams during those first four games.

Rookie running backs - Teams no longer wait for running backs to develop in the NFL.  The shelf life of a running back is so short teams need to get those guys out on the field now.  Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas, Derrick Henry in Tennessee figure to be the most visible rookies during preseason games.  But one guy who could emerge as the best rookie of the group is C.J. Prosise in Seattle.  With Marshawn Lynch's retirement the Seahawks need a new guy to really pound it at defenses.  Prosise is the best combination of size and speed on the Seattle roster.

Who is the Denver quarterback - Is it Matt Sanchez?  Is it rookie first round pick Paxton Lynch?  I'm guessing we will learn the answer to that during preseason.  Lynch will get every opportunity during preseason to show what he can do.  Realistically, it shouldn't take much to get past Sanchez on the depth chart.  And if the Denver defense is anywhere near the level it was last year all the Broncos quarterbacks will have to do is not screw up.  Seems like a reasonably possibility.  And, even if Lynch doesn't start week one I'm guessing it won't take long for him to get there.

I hate the preseason and training camps.  Get rid of the preseason games already.  Just let the teams practice for a month and then start the games.  The only reason we care about preseason games is they signal the real thing is near.  Nobody is sitting down and watching them start to finish on TV.  The purpose of these games was so the coaches could see the guys trying to make the roster in live action.  I think we can accomplish that on the practice field or at most in two preseason games.

Monday, July 25, 2016

How to Win Your Fantasy Football League

By Travis Stahl

We're coming down to it, fantasy football drafts will be starting in the next two weeks and continuing right up until the NFL season starts.  You know have in your possession the T and T top 15 at every position.  All you need now is to sit down and write out your draft strategy.  What?  You don't write out a plan to follow during your draft?  Shame, shame you know your name.  You have to have a draft plan written out ahead of time to keep you on track.  It's imperative.  Here are some pointers to write down to help you during your draft.

Don't draft old players - I've been preaching this for years and my good friend Trent Sutton called me after last season and said he gets it now.  You can't draft old players, especially at wide receiver and running back.  Just can't do it.  I always use Roddy White as my example here.  At one time White was a great fantasy receiver.  Very steady.  That was five years ago, not today.  If you draft Roddy White you know exactly right now what you are getting.  Maybe he gives you 700 yards and three touchdowns.  Maybe.  But it certainly won't be more than that.  On the other hand, let's say instead of Roddy White you have Bears second-year receiver Kevin White still on the board at the same time.  What is Kevin White going to do?  We don't know but he is young and fast and electric.  Kevin White could break off a 60-yard touchdown catch.  Roddy White could not.  Take the chance.

Draft wisely early - The majority of your fantasy points you score every week are going to come from the players you draft in the first three rounds.  I'm not making that up, that's a fact you can easily look up to verify.  Don't take chances early in your draft just take the guys who are at the top of the board.  There's a reason they are ranked so high.  Don't try to get cute and draft Derrick Henry as one of your starting running backs with your third-round pick.  Henry is going to be there in the 10th round just wait for him.  You can't roll the dice on a pick like that so high in the draft.  Now, on the other hand ...

Swing for the fences - Late in the draft swing for the fences.  You already have an established line-up of starters so this is a good time to take chances on a guy like Henry.  My last two picks in the draft one year were Steve Slaton and Chris Henry in their rookie years.  That worked out pretty well for me.  And even if it didn't are you really out anything if you cut your last pick in the draft and add somebody else?  No.  Take some chances late in the draft you never know when you are going to hit on a hidden gem.

Wait on a quarterback - Seems crazy doesn't it?  Last year in one of my league's the two starting quarterbacks in the championship game were Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisburger.  Neither of them were drafted high last year and won't be again this year.  Sure, having Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton gets you a lot of points.  But it doesn't get you substantially more than guys like Big Ben or Eli Manning.  The difference between the top 10 scoring fantasy quarterbacks is minimal compared to other positions.  If you build your team correctly you can win in fantasy football with Carson Palmer or Blake Bortles as your starter.

95 points - That's the cut off between winning and losing ... 95 points.  If you score 95 points you have a much more likely chance of winning your match-up that week.  Under 95, well your odds are not good.  Believe the protected points for your players.  You know how they come up with those numbers?  Yeah, computers and math.  It's not just guys like me sitting in a room spitting out guesses.  So when you set your line-up you need to find a way to score 95 points.  If you can't get there make changes.

The waiver wire - Speaking of making changes, don't be afraid to do it.  If you draft New England running back Dion Lewis and you haven't gotten more than five points from him in any week make a change.  The people who win at fantasy football are constantly working the waiver wire.  But it's not about making wholesale changes, it's about signing the right guy at the right time.  You don't want to add a free agent wide receiver who is getting ready for a December game at Green Bay in the snow.  That probably won't work well.  Look at a guy's numbers and see what he is scoring from week to week, not just his total points scored.  Take Buffalo wide receiver Sammy Watkins for example.  At one point two years ago Watkins had somewhere around 90 points after the first five weeks of play.  But 50 of that came in one game so in the other three games combined he really hadn't done much of anything.  You don't want that.

The name says a lot - This is the most entertaining part of fantasy football, coming up with a team name.  Don't be bland.  Don't be generic.  A hundred people are going to name their team Cool Brees.  Be better than that.  The funnier the better.  The dirtier the better.  I usually try to come up with some kind of evil/bad guy name.  I've been Francois L'Undercoot, The Hammurderer, The Pink Barracuda, The Legion of Doom and The Wild Bunch just to name a few.  Get creative and see what you can come up with.

Most importantly when it comes to your draft is stick to your plan.  If you know the people you are drafting with you can pretty much hit on every guy you target in every round.  That's important.  There is nothing worse then walking away from a draft and not liking your team.  Get the guys you want in the round you want them and you will be fine.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fantasy Football Kicker Rankings

By Travis Stahl

Every season in fantasy football the same thing happens with kickers.  We roll through the draft, everyone selects their kicker and then the season starts.  After about four weeks go look at the kicking scoring leaders.  What you will find is that at least four of the top 10 scoring kickers are available on the waiver wire and nobody notices.  They're just sitting there, racking up points, while everyone else in your league holds on to their original kicker who's doing nothing.  Give him the boot and get somebody new.

1. Stephen Gostkowski - New England Patriots
2. Steven Hauschka - Seattle Seahawks
3. Graham Gano - Carolina Panthers
4. Dan Baily - Dallas Cowboys
5. Mason Crosby - Green Bay Packers
6. Blair Walsh - Minnesota Vikings
7. Justin Tucker - Baltimore Ravens
8. Matt Prater - Detroit Lions
9. Chandler Catanzaro - Arizona Cardinals
10. Cairo Santos - Kansas City Chiefs
11. Adam Vinatieri - Indianapolis Colts
12. Josh Brown - New York Giants
13. Robbie Gould - Chicago Bears
14. Chris Boswell - Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Dan Carpenter - Buffalo Bills

I can tell you right now without a doubt in my mind this will not be the top 15 kickers in fantasy scoring at the end of the season.  This is just our starting point.  Kickers are entirely dependent on the offense of the team.  If the offense scores a lot of touchdowns that's bad for the kicker.  What you really want is an offense the moves the ball consistently but struggles to punch it in once they get there.  That is why Tucker in Baltimore and Walsh in Minnesota score so many points.  All we care about is that our kicker gets some points.

As with any other position there are a few guys to keep an eye on this year.  Don't sleep on Jason Myers in Jacksonville.  The Jags offense might be really good this year and put Myers in a position to score a lot of points.  Same goes for Ryan Succop in Tennessee.  With two good running backs on the roster for Marcus Mariota to work with the Titans are going to put Succop in a lot of scoring opportunities.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fantasy Football Defense Rankings

By Travis Stahl

Finding a fantasy football defense you trust to put in your line-up every week is no easy task.  The way NFL offenses march up and down the field it has become an exercise in futility just to find a defense you can chose that will score you positive points on a weekly basis.  It's not far fetched to have a defense score you 15 points one week only to come back the next week and put a -5 on the board.  That especially hurts when those negative points cost you a win.  With defenses all you can do is find one that is the most consistent.  They are all going to turn in bad games, some just more than others.

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Cincinnati Bengals
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Arizona Cardinals
5. Kansas City Chiefs
6. Houston Texans
7. Denver Broncos
8. Buffalo Bills
9. New England Patriots
10. New York Jets
11. Oakland Raiders
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
13. Green Bay Packers
14. Minnesota Vikings
15. Pittsburgh Steelers

Know how  your defenses score points in your fantasy league.  For the most part points are scored for collecting sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries as well as how many points and yards are given up.  In return, your defense loses points for giving up a lot of points or yardage.  A team like the Patriots doesn't get a lot of interceptions or sacks.  But, New England gives up little yardage or points compared to other fantasy defenses.  One tip to keep in mind to store away until December.  The defense you start the year with might not be the defense you end the year with.  As teams start resting offensive starters it's beneficial to start picking up defenses on a weekly basis depending on the match-up.

If you are looking for a sleeper don't rest on the Los Angeles Rams.  Yes, they have let a couple of guys go but this is still a very fast, aggressive unit.  Early in the season playing games in LA might also give them an emotional boost.  One team that could really put it all together and move up the board is the Jaguars.  If Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Donte Fowler are all healthy the Jax defense could be a top five unit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Fantasy Football Tight-End Rankings

By Travis Stahl

So, you say you are in a fantasy football league and you are in need of a tight-end?  That's too bad for you.  If you don't take the one you want (Gronk) in the first round you will likely be stuck with a tight-end (not Gronk) that you don't really like.  Gronk.  I'm not being too subtle there am I?  If you want to win your fantasy football league or at least have a very good shot you better draft New England Patriots tight-end Rob Gronkowski and you better do it in the first round.  Yes, there are a few other serviceable tight-ends available.  But nobody compares to Gronk.

1. Rob Gronkwoski - New England Patriots
2. Jordan Reed - Washington Redskins
3. Greg Olson - Carolina Panthers
4. Travis Kelce - Kansas City Chiefs
5. Tyler Eifert - Cincinnati Bengals
6. Delanie Walker - Tennessee Titans
7. Coby Fleener - New Orleans Saints
8. Julius Thomas - Jacksonville Jaguars
9. Gary Barnidge - Cleveland Browns
10. Ladarius Green - Pittsburgh Steelers
11. Martellus Bennett - New England Patriots
12. Zach Ertz - Philadelphia Eagles
13. Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers
14. Eric Ebron - Detroit Lions
15. Zach Miller - Chicago Bears

Just to review how you are looking at this list real quick.  There is Gronk.  Then there is a significant drop off.  Then there is Reed and Olson.  Then there is another significant drop off.  If Gronk goes before you get him to better rethink your draft plans and take Reed or Olson a round or two sooner than you had anticipated.  Having a tight-end who can contribute meaningful points is invaluable.  Think about it this way.  Gronk is going to get you 10-20 points every week.  Reed and Olson will be in the 8-15 point range.  Everyone else will be in the 5-10 point range per week.  Sure, these other tight-ends will have a sporadic big week but consistently they aren't scoring a lot.  When you are fighting for every win that difference of five points per week is huge.

If you want one guy to target who might turn in a huge year go with Bennett.  Yes, Gronk is going to get most of the looks.  But remember what kind of numbers Aaron Hernandez put up playing with Gronk in New England before he went to jail?  Gronk and Hernandez were No. 1 and No. 2 in fantasy points scored their last season together.  The New England offense is built to get the ball underneath.  Bennett could end up with some really big numbers.  For a sleeper very deep in the draft you might want to consider Green Bay tight-end Jared Cook.  Cook isn't getting a lot of attention right now but when Aaron Rodgers is throwing the ball to you good things can happen.

Monday, July 18, 2016

These Olympics Keep Getting Worse

By Travis Stahl

In the world we live in today the media picks up on everything and runs with it.  It doesn't take long for a small story with importance to gain steam and become a global issue.  When a story doesn't rise to that level of prominence it's almost surprising.  Yesterday I saw a story on Facebook so I read it and found it absolutely fascinating.  I also found it odd the story hadn't picked up national attraction yet.  Maybe it will because this Rio Olympics which features one problem after another is about to get hit with another issue that will spill over into a major global showdown.

The anti-doping agencies of the world along with 20 federations of amateur athletes are going to approach the Olympic committee today and ask that the entire Russian team be banned from participating in these games.  Apparently the Russian track and field athletes have already been barred from these games and now it seems the rest of the team might be prohibited from competition as well.  Allegations arose recently that Russian athletes were all taking part in a state-sponsored doping program.  Essentially the Russian government was having its athletes use performance enhancing drugs and then tampering with the samples to make sure they didn't get caught.

There is growing evidence to suggest this all started in the Sochi Winter Olympics hosted in Russia.  One of the Russian scientists conducting the doping defected from the country and is spilling his guts.  His story has since be corroborated by multiple sources.  This is a huge slap in the face to the Olympics and quite the embarrassment for Mother Russia to get caught with a hand in the cookie jar.  You can argue the amateur vs. professional status of Olympic participants all day long.  But doping of any kind can't be tolerated in these global events.  Everyone knows that.

Think about the kind of political tension this scandal has the potential to unleash.  Russia is going to be furious.  They will scream they are innocent in the face of guilt.  Russia will of course think the U.S. is behind it all.  Instead of accepting responsibility for the largest doping scandal in Olympic history the Russians will blame everyone else.  This has the potential to turn very ugly.  I don't ever remember the Olympic committee banning an entire countries delegates from participating so this is uncharted waters.  Leave it to the Rio games to come up with some new, disgusting way of tainting the Olympics.

We've had Zika, corpses, bacteria and viruses infesting the waters of Rio and now this.  I hate to ask, but can it get any worse?  These Rio games have seemed to hit every roadblock possible.  It makes me have a bad feeling about what's to come.  This can't end well right?  At some point we have to start believing the tea leaves which point to Rio being an out and out disaster.  If there is a silver lining to all of this maybe the Olympic Selection Committee will now remove it's collective heads from it's nether regions and stop putting the games in third-world countries.  It doesn't work and we are seeing that on a daily basis in Rio.