NFC Picks


With the NFL season nearly three-quarters of the way gone, I figure now is as good a time as any to check back on my preseason picks for each division.

We start with the NFC. In the North, I picked the Minnesota Vikings, which still looks okay. At the same time, I completely wrote off the Lions, who now look like a serious threat to win the division. Green Bay is still hanging around as well. Really, I could see any of these three teams winning the division. For now, I stick with my preseason pick.

I picked Dallas to run away with the East, so that looks pretty good at the moment. That said, the division is much more competitive than I, or just about anyone else, had expected before the season began. Washington has looked increasingly impressive as the season has gone on. That said, they still look a class below Dallas. Meanwhile, the Giants have had an outstanding season when you consider how low preseason expectations were for them. Nevertheless, Dallas is still the easy choice here.

In the South, I picked the Panthers to run away with it. Coming into the year they looked to be the most complete squad by far. Naturally, they are dead last in the division and all but mathematically eliminated. Tampa Bay has been coming on lately and the Saints are hovering around .500, but I think at this point it is Atlanta’s division to lose. I think they take care of business down the stretch and win the division.

Finally, we have the West. Coming into the season, I thought Arizona would continue to be one of the hotter teams in the NFL and that as long as Carson Palmer stayed healthy, they would run away with the division. Turns out I was way off. Theirs is one of the more head-scratching collapses of the season. The Rams and the Niners are just as awful as we thought they’d be. The O-line issues that I thought would doom Seattle still persist, and will eventually end their season, but not until the playoffs. Seattle runs away with the division.

It looks like at this point I should go 2-2 on my division winners.

Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor

The Andrew Luck Contract: Good or Bad?


Andrew Luck signed the biggest contract in pro football this offseason, which in and of itself isn’t terribly surprising. What IS surprising is the debate it spurred on whether it was a good contract for him, the team, and both parties. I’ve heard people argue that he didn’t get paid enough, I’ve heard people say that he got paid too much, and pretty much every opinion in between the two.

For me, the answer is pretty simple, with one caveat; it is a great contract as long as they can afford to put a serviceable offensive line in front of him. Andrew Luck deserves every penny of that deal; he is a rare talent at the most important position in the league. Yes, he’s thrown too many interceptions. That is as much a product of poor protection and a lack of talented skill players surrounding him as anything else. With a quality line, Luck rushes fewer throws, likely leading to fewer interceptions. In addition, with even the semblance of a running game, defenses will be forced to respect that aspect of the offense. And if Frank Gore has a bounce back year, it might even force them to commit another defender to the box. This would open up options in the passing game for Luck. Even if they do neither, Luck still deserves that payday. He is a strong, smart quarterback with a rocket arm and better speed than people give him credit for.

Enjoy that payday, Mr. Luck. You earned it.


Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor

Do Preseason Records Matter?


Preseason football is back; in fact, I have it on in the background as I write this. While it’s a welcome sight, it begs the question: do preseason records actually mean anything? Or is its only value to help coaches decide who gets the last few roster spots? After all, the starters hardly play, the teams keep their offensive schemes extremely vanilla, largely play out of their base defenses, and try above all to make sure no one important picks up an injury. To try to determine if preseason success has any impact on the regular season, I looked up teams who had winning preseason records and then checked what their regular season record for the corresponding season was.

First up was the Seattle Seahawks. In both 2012 and 2013, the Seahawks had a perfect preseason record. In 2012, they went 11-5 and reached the divisional round of the playoffs. In 2013, they went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl. Clearly preseason success indicates regular season success, right? Not so fast. In 2009, they went 4-0 in the preseason and won all of 5 games in the regular season.  In 2010, they went 1-3 in preseason, and 7-9 in the regular season, winning the atrocious NFC West. Take away? Inconclusive.

From here, we have the Washington Redskins. They had a perfect preseason in 2013, 2-14 in the regular season. In 2014, 3-1 preseason, 4-12 regular season. In 2011, it was 3-1 in the preseason, and a whopping 5 wins during the regular season. Conclusion? A good preseason means nothing in Washington.

Perhaps my favorite example is the 2008 Detroit Lions. A perfect 4-0 in the preseason. This was the team that featured Dan Orlovsky running out of the back of his own end zone for a safety en route to a gag inducing 0-16 season. The following season, they went 3-1 in the preseason and 2-14 in the regular season. The year after that it was 3-1 on their way to 6-10. They went 4-0 in 2011 and managed a 10-6 season with a playoff berth. Conclusion? For every 4 good preseasons the Lions have, they might get 1 good regular season out of it.

The lesson here is that playing well or playing poorly in the preseason most likely has very little effect on how a team performs in the regular season. Often times preseason wins go to whichever team leaves their starters in the longest, which are generally teams that haven’t performed well in recent years or who have a lot of roster questions. So, while you should by all means enjoy the glorious return of football, you shouldn’t get too excited if your favorite team does well in the preseason.


Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor

What to Make of the Oakland Raiders


The Raiders have been everybody’s off-season darling this year, and it’s easy to see why. They have some legitimate talent on offense, with Derek Carr developing nicely at the quarterback position. It helps that he has some excellent talent at receiver to throw to, with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree providing a nice 1-2 punch in the receiving corps. In addition, their defense signed some solid talent in the offense to bolster what was a fairly mediocre unit in 2015. Reggie Nelson, while hardly in his prime, should lend some maturity to the secondary. Closer to the line of scrimmage, Bruce Irvin has proven to be a solid pass rusher whose coverage skills are actually fairly underrated. One would think that with these additions, plus an extra year together for the Triple C’s (Carr, Cooper and Crabtree), would mean the team would make the next step and get into the playoffs. So, will they?

In a word, no. This is due to a variety of factors, the first being the division they play in. Questions at quarterback or not, Denver’s defense is still a horrible matchup for this Raiders team. The Raiders’ offensive line is less than stellar, and Denver’s D-line might be the best in the league. Denver’s secondary is also excellent, which means they can drag Oakland into a low scoring slugfest. This is not the kind of game the Raiders were built to win. Then you have the Chiefs. Arrowhead is one of the most difficult venues to play in, so you can chalk that game up as a loss already. The Chiefs’ offense is actually good enough to keep pace with Oakland’s, and their defense is better. Finally, you have San Diego, which hasn’t been very good the past few years. In spite of that, I actually think San Diego will have a bounce-back year and be competitive in the division. Philip Rivers is still going to put up numbers, and the defense shouldn’t suffer nearly as many injuries as they did a year ago.

The Raiders may actually be a better football team this year than they were last year, but don’t expect the record to show it.


Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor

Breakout Candidates for the 2016 NFL Season


Preseason football is almost upon us!

Here are some breakout candidates on the offensive side of the ball (in no particular order) for the upcoming season.

  • Tyler Lockett: Lockett had a pretty strong rookie year, catching 51 balls for 664 yards and 6 TDs, to go with both a punt and kickoff return for touchdowns, but he still somehow flew under the radar. This was due to a couple of factors; first, the Seahawks offense hasn’t been a pass-heavy offense for the majority of Pete Carroll’s tenure, and secondly, Doug Baldwin’s ridiculous second half season number overshadowed everyone. Baldwin will remain the first option in the passing game, but that will only serve to take attention away from Lockett, opening up opportunities for big plays. That, coupled with an extra year in the system, means Lockett should improve on his rookie numbers.


  • Ezekiel Elliott: Elliott should transition seamlessly from the college game to the NFL (legal troubles aside). The Dallas offensive line is hands down the best in the league, meaning Elliott will have plenty of holes to run through. He has the combination of size and speed to take full advantage and, as long as Tony Romo stays upright, the passing game will do its job to keep defenses honest. Expect him to put up big numbers in his rookie campaign.


  • Josh Doctson: Having watched Doctson a fair amount during his time at TCU, I am sold on his skill set. He highpoints the ball extremely well, has pretty good size, and has a knack for getting open. He has the necessary receivers in Washington to keep attention off of him while he adjusts to the pro game. Expect him to come on strong over the second half of the season.


  • Kevin White: Forced to sit out last season due to injury, I expect White to make up for lost time quickly. He’s big, he’s fast, and he’s strong. The image of him destroying Alabama’s secondary during his final season at WVU is still burned in my mind. A perfect complement for Alshon Jeffrey, the Bears will have one of the better receiving corps in the NFL this year. That should help Jay Cutler, the consummate “throw it up and let them go get it” QB. White is a good bet to have the best season stats-wise of anyone on this list.


  • Dorial Green-Beckham: An absolute athletic freak, Green-Beckham’s most formidable opponent thus far has been his awful decision-making. Despite his penchant for finding trouble and his inability to live up to his hype in college, I think he’s poised to break out this year. He showed glimpses of being an excellent red zone threat last year in spot duty for the Titans. This year I expect him to make the leap. He may not be a 1,000-yard receiver, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he hit double-digit touchdowns this season.



Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor

Is Gus Bradley a Good Coach?


I’m going to let you in on a long-held theory of mine – Gus Bradley is a lousy defensive coach. That may seem counter-intuitive considering he was Seattle’s defensive coordinator during the Legion of Boom’s rise to prominence, but I am fully convinced it is true. For one, Seattle’s defensive scheme is Pete Carroll’s and no one else’s. The defensive coordinator in Seattle may be able to suggest tweaks and wrinkles, but it is Pete who comes up with the overall scheme and approves what gets put into the game plan each Sunday. In addition, Seattle’s defense actually improved the year after Bradley left, with the Hawks going to back-to-back Super Bowls in the two years immediately following his departure. In Bradley’s final season as defensive coordinator, the Hawks had the 6th ranked defense in the league. The following year, under Dan Quinn, they were the no. 1 ranked defense in the league, a feat they repeated the following year.

Since taking over as Jacksonville’s head coach, Bradley has presided over some pretty awful defenses. That isn’t completely his fault; he inherited a roster riddled with holes and with a severe shortage of talent on that side of the ball. Despite efforts to shore up these holes, the Jacksonville defense has shown no noticeable progress during his tenure, going from 28th in 2013, to 26th in 2014, and 24th in 2015. Their pass defense has actually regressed during that time. Their offense has improved, but it would be a hard sell to attribute that to Bradley. It’s probably more due to the fact that they have a serviceable quarterback and they play from behind consistently, meaning they’re throwing the ball more often than many teams.

This season is probably make-or-break for Bradley; they’ve drafted defensive players in the first round the past couple of drafts and he has had enough time to mold the defense in his image. So will his squad finally make a leap to respectability this season? Something tells me they won’t.


Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor

Are the Texans and Brock Osweiler a good fit?



The Texans paid Brock Osweiler in the offseason, despite the extremely limited “sample size” they’ve seen from him on the field. They believe he can push them over the top in an already weak AFC South, but are they right?

Let’s start with the positives. First, Bill O’Brien has proven himself to be a pretty good offensive mind, so he should set Osweiler up for success system-wise. He will have a strong supporting cast on offense, led by DeAndre Hopkins. I expect Jalean Strong to have a very good second season and they managed to snag Lamar Miller in free agency, so the pieces are there for him to succeed. They also picked up the uber-athletic Braxton Miller, who has all the tools but is an unproven commodity at receiver. Add in the fact that, in this division, going 9-7 or 10-6 could very easily win it for them.

Having said that, I’m not sold on Osweiler. I watched quite a few of his games when he was at ASU, and while he has all the tools, I often came away unimpressed. Don’t get me wrong; he won’t be terrible, and he certainly will be better than that mess the Texans trotted out at the position last year. He will be a decent game manager who may throw the occasional back-breaking interception, and he probably won’t be the reason they lose games the majority of the time. In addition, I would be shocked if Andrew Luck suffered two terrible, injury-plagued seasons in a row, no matter how bad his O-line is. So while he will manage games fairly well and keep the Texans in the division race, I wouldn’t expect a breakout season from him. He is a serviceable NFL quarterback, and probably nothing more.


Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor

Josh Gordon: Does the Fantasy Reward Outweigh the Risk?


The NFL dropped a shocker of a decision this week when it decided to reinstate Josh Gordon from his indefinite suspension due to multiple failed drug tests. He will serve a 4-game suspension to start the season. If he makes it through that (and that is a BIG if), he will be free to play.

This raises the question; is Josh Gordon worth a late round flyer in your fantasy league? After all, the last time we saw him on the field, he was destroying secondaries while catching balls from one of the sorriest quarterback lineups you’ve ever seen. Seriously, who else would put up the stats he did while catching passes from the immortals that are Bryan Hoyer, Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden? Despite that and missing the first 2 games of the 2013 season, he put up 1,646 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. There is no doubt that the talent is there. Even with a long layoff the guy could still step back on the field and produce immediately. In addition, he’s back with his college QB, RGIII. Granted, RGIII isn’t exactly in the same shape he was at Baylor, but sometimes a change of scenery can do wonders for a player.

So is Gordon worth a draft pick in your fantasy league? In a word, yes. This comes with some conditions. First, due to the 4-game suspension and his disciplinary history, he is only worth a very late pick. Second, you have to be prepared to stash him for 4 weeks knowing full well that you could have a contributing player in that spot. On top of that, he is at a huge risk to get suspended again before his suspension is even up. If you can stomach all that, the upside to having him on your roster down the stretch is tremendous if he can come anywhere close to matching his past production.


Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor

What the Franchise Tag Means for Kirk Cousins and Alshon Jeffery



While many notable players such as Von Miller and Josh Norman got big money contracts this offseason, others had to settle for the franchise tag. Two cases stuck out to me in particular for very different reasons – Kirk Cousins and Alshon Jeffery. Kirk Cousins had a breakout year last season, throwing for 4,166 yards and 29 TDs vs 11 INTs while completing passes at an almost 70% clip. Having said that, I am not surprised at all by Washington franchise tagging him, as his production last year was an aberration compared to his career overall. Granted it was his first year as a full time starter, but tagging him essentially allows Washington to say, “Prove it” and see if he can continue to produce without committing to him long-term. If he puts up similar numbers in 2016, he’ll get the payday he deserves and then some.

Alshon Jeffery on the other hand, was quite surprising to me, as he is a proven commodity. Aside from time missed due to injuries, he has been very productive over his four years in the league. In addition, Chicago has let Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett go over these past two off seasons which means Jeffery is their only proven pass-catcher. Kevin White looked great in college but has yet to see any meaningful action in the NFL.  In addition, Jeffery is entering the prime of his career, and due to his injury history it is highly likely the Bears could have signed him to a much more team-friendly deal if they did it this offseason as opposed to taking the risk of him being fully healthy and producing at a great rate next season. If he does that, Chicago will regret not signing him this offseason, while Jeffery will get a payday on par with the Julio Jones and AJ Greens of the league.


Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor

Does Arian Foster Have Anything Left in the Tank?

Arian Foster just signed a 1-year deal with the Dolphins. This raises an important question; does he have anything left in the tank? Foster has always taken excellent care of his body, as he is one of the more health-conscious players in the league. That said, he is about to hit the running back’s worst enemy – his 30th birthday. In addition, Foster has hardly been immune to injuries throughout his career, especially in recent years. The good news for Miami is they got him on a very cheap deal, so if he does end up getting injured it won’t be a big blow financially. He’ll also serve as a good mentor for Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins new back out of Boise State. So, regardless of whether he performs well on the field (or sees the field for that matter), there is value in just having him on the roster. Yes, his yards-per-carry were down last year when he was healthy, but he was also playing without a legitimate QB behind center. This meant defenses could key in on the run knowing the Texans only had one legitimate receiving threat and no one to get him the ball. For all his flaws, Ryan Tannehill is a much better QB than anyone the Texans trotted out behind center last season. For that reason, plus the change of scenery bonus, I think Foster will have a pretty productive season with the Dolphins, especially since he will be splitting carries with Ajayi.


Keith Shaffer, Easy Streak Contributor