The 2012 NFL regular season retrospective
One of the maxims of being a successful fantasy owner in any sport is that you have to watch a lot of games. Traditional local broadcasts have become passé as hardcore fantasy owners turn instead to season packages like NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass and MLB Extra Innings, and aggregation programs like the incomparable NFL RedZone, ESPN's NBA Full Court and MLB Network's MLB Tonight. With few exceptions, a fan can watch any game they want, at any time they want and anywhere they want (when DVRs and mobile devices are included in the mix). This past season I would approximate that I watched (and live tweeted) either in part or in it's entirety close to 90 percent of the NFL's games, so, needless to say, this article that ranked each of the 256 NFL games in terms of watchability piqued my interest. Coming from a fantasy perspective, I don't necessarily agree with all of the ratings (Drew Brees owners certainly ate up the Saints 41-0 blowout of the Bucs, the 256th-rated game), but it's a great concept and perfect fodder for debate. There's also a list of the most and least watchable teams of the season. Here are my top and bottom five games and teams of the season through my fantasy eyes.
1. Titans 44, Lions 41: This Week 3 thriller saw 820 passing yards, 1,020 net yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns of 40 yards or more.
2. Colts 35, Lions 33: Andrew Luck's coming out party had virtually everything a (non-Detroit) fan could want.
3. Packers 28, Saints 27: A dramatic heavyweight battle in which Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers combined for seven touchdown tosses.
4. 49ers 41, Patriots 34: A lopsided blowout turned into a thriller late as Colin Kaepernick outdueled Tom Brady.
5. Redskins 28, Cowboys 18: The numbers weren't gaudy, and being in Week 17 the fantasy stakes were minimal, but a winner-take-all battle between bitter rivals made great theater for any fan.
256. Jets 7, Cardinals 6: Ryan Lindley against Mark Sanchez and then Greg McElroy. Enough said.
255. Raiders 15, Chiefs 0: K.C. gained 119 total yards and Sebastian Janikowski provided all of the scoring.
254. 49ers 34,Jets 0: New York failed to show up in the year's first shutout.
253. Browns 7, Chargers 6: If you're trying to find a reason why Norv Turner lost his job, take a gander at this snoozer.
252. Bengals 23, Ravens 17: A meaningless contest played mainly by backups with both teams' playoff seedings already decided.
Most interesting (fantasy) teams
1. Saints: Second in yards for and first in yards against, the Saints approached every game as a potential shootout.
2. Patriots: There was always something to see between the mastery of Tom Brady and a defense that bent often but didn't break enough to be a problem.
3. Falcons: Ryan, Gonzo, Julio and Roddy were sometimes unstoppable. The same couldn't be said for the running games of Atlanta's opponents.
4. Lions: Detroit's season was a weekly exercise in Murphy's Law, and the failings often came in the most bizarre or heartbreaking fashion.
5. Buccaneers: Tampa Bay's offense made major strides thanks in large part to Doug Martin and a defense that scared nobody.
Least interesting (fantasy) teams
32. Cardinals: An offensive tragedy of epic proportions for the once-great Larry Fitzgerald and his fantasy owners.
31. Jets: Remove the mostly-fabricated Tim Tebow subplot and other tabloid-generated buzz and all you're left with is an undermanned and uninteresting squad.
30. Chiefs: The only thing keeping the Chiefs out of the bottom spots was an occasional mega-game from Jamaal Charles.
29. Jaguars: At least Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon were around, although usually in a losing effort.
28. Raiders: Compounding a plague of injuries were four games against the painfully boring Chiefs and Chargers.
NFL divisional playoff 'Perfect Team'
We're down to the NFL's version of the Elite Eight this weekend. For those of you playing playoff fantasy games, here's whom I see as having the most favorable matchups.
QB Tom Brady, Patriots (vs. Houston): A month ago the NFL's "Mr. January" carved up the Texans for four touchdown passes (and potentially could've had a fifth if not for a fumble recovery touchdown) at Foxboro. And although the Bengals couldn't muster an offensive score against them, Andy Dalton is no Tom Brady.
RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (at Falcons): In full Beast Mode against the Redskins with 127 yards and a touchdown, Lynch now gets to face a Falcons defense that allowed an average of 123 yards and a score per game to opposing rushers.
RB Frank Gore, 49ers (vs. Packers): Jim Harbaugh was prudent in his use of the veteran back during the regular season, limiting him to just over 16 carries per game. Now it's the playoffs, so expect a heavy dose of Gore and his 4.7 yards per carry to keep Aaron Rodgers & Co. on the sidelines.
WR Demaryius Thomas, Broncos (vs. Ravens): Peyton Manning is usually matchup-proof. He'll get the job done no matter how good the opposing defense is. And as his deep threat, Thomas is in position to have a major impact on the playoffs.
WR Wes Welker, Patriots (vs. Texans): In their first meeting this season, the Texans held Welker in check, limiting the NFL's second-leading pass-catcher to three of his season's 118 catches for 52 yards. Basically, Welker has them exactly where he wants them. I'd be surprised to see him with less than eight catches this week.
TE Rob Gronkowski, Patriots (vs. Texans): I don't think I could pass up this matchup. Despite missing five games Gronk led all tight ends with 11 touchdown receptions (an average of one per game) while the Texans gave up 11 touchdowns to tight ends this season, tied with Denver for the most in the league.
FLEX Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (vs. Ravens): When last these teams met in Baltimore on Dec. 16, Moreno gained a tidy 115 rushing yards and scored a touchdown. He edges out Dennis Pitta, who scored twice against the Broncos, albeit in garbage time of a game more lopsided than the 34-17 final score.
K Steven Hauschka, Seahawks (at Falcons): If he's able to recover quickly enough from a calf injury suffered in Washington in order to play against the Falcons, Hauschka will be a great call for a Seahawks team that should find some drives into Atlanta territory stalled by Thomas DeCoud & Co.
D/ST Denver Broncos: Von Miller, Champ Bailey and the rest of this overlooked unit get Joe Flacco right where they want him -- away from Baltimore, where he's 4-4 with a 74.9 rating. At home Flacco is 7-2 with a 101.0 rating this season, including last week's playoff game. Ray Rice's sudden case of the fumbles doesn't hurt their case either.
Fantasy basketball clicks
? Why Melo was so hot:Following a contentious battle with the Celtics amid a playoff atmosphere at Madison Square Garden Monday, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (who shot just 6 of 26 from the field) went to confront Kevin Garnett at Boston's team bus and was met by an army of security personnel as well as his head coach, Mike Woodson. The two All-Stars had multiple altercations during Boston's physical 102-96 win and were each called for technical fouls. While it's possible that Anthony, the second-leading scorer in the NBA, will face suspension for taking the disagreement into the loading area, a similar continuation of an on-court incident between Zach Randolph and Kendrick Perkins earlier this season only resulted in a fine.
Perhaps Anthony was already riled up after hearing about this at his alma mater.
? Andre the Errant: In a recent issue of Dime Magazine, Nuggets coach George Karl said that Andre Miller is one of the best point guards of all-time. While he does rank 10th all-time in assists, Miller ranks below the likes of Terry Porter, Chauncey Billups and the Hon. Kevin Johnson in terms of career Win Shares at his position. He has never been an especially flashy nor sought-after fantasy guard. Part of the reason for this is his dreadful three-point shooting. Among active players who've attempted at least 200 treys in their careers, Miller ranks dead last at 20.6 percent. Teammate Ty Lawson has struggled early in the season and Miller has capitalized by averaging a team-high 11.0 assists per 48 minutes; however, he's also averaging career lows in points and rebounds. He's currently owned in 63 percent of fantasy leagues and is a prime candidate to be included in a larger trade if you can pull it off. Sorry, George.
? Pickup of the week: Derrick Williams, PF, Timberwolves: Over the weekend Kevin Love owners were dealt a serious blow when it was discovered that Love re-fractured the third metacarpal on his right hand, the same hand that cost him nine games at the start of the season and played a big role in him missing 64.8 percent of his field-goal attempts when he finally did return. Love's misfortune creates another opportunity for Williams, the second-overall pick of the 2011 draft, to have a fantasy impact. This isn't Williams' first crack at fantasy relevance, but it might be his best with Love likely out until at least the All-Star break. The 6-foot-8 power forward has shown brief glimpses of why he earned the lofty draft position, like on Nov. 16 when he scored 23 points, blocked four shots, grabbed seven boards and made 8 of 16 field goals against the Warriors, so we know the talent is there. He'll be battling journeyman Dante Cunningham for playing time, but with Love's future in Minnesota in doubt it's Williams who stands to benefit the most. He's worth a speculative bench spot and could pay long-term dividends.
Fantasy baseball clicks
? Draft for the Hall: Years of hand wringing and countless debates will pause on Wednesday when the Baseball Hall of Fame reveals its class of 2013. As you know by now the list of eligible candidates is a Who's Who of suspected steroid users from the late 1990s and early 2000s, including two of the greatest fantasy players of all-time, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The voters have been asked to choose between the candidates' gaudy numbers while quite unfairly weighing, in some cases, pure innuendo about who was a cheater and who wasn't. There's a distinct possibility that fair or not, nobody from that era gets in because of this rule:
"5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
Well, here's an easy solution: Establish a separate fantasy baseball wing in the Hall and hold an experts draft based solely on stats for enshrinement, thus eliminating the pesky "integrity, sportsmanship, character" subjectivity clause. The first round gets in each year. Just such a set-up would take the guesswork out of the decision. The all-time Home Run King and annual 40-40 threat Bonds? Welcome to Cooperstown. Roger Clemens and your seven Cy Youngs? No brainer. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Rafael Palmeiro. All in, no questions asked.
And it's not only a rogue's gallery we're looking for. Some players who have been tainted by time would also have a great chance when limiting factors are eliminated. The winningest pitcher of the 1980s, Jack Morris, wouldn't have a problem. Nor would Tim Raines. Or Lee Smith (or any other long-time successful closer). Heck, Dale Murphy was a first-round pick in many of fantasy baseball's early years. Ticket likely punched. Who cares that Edgar Martinez didn't play a position? In the Fantasy Wing, he's in. And the Mile High altitude at Coors Field only enhanced Larry Walker's fantasy value, so why should it hinder his Hall chances? Ticket punched.
And while we're at it, let's not forget about him.
? Big Puma's big payday: Another big-name free agent came off the board over the weekend when Lance Berkman inked a one-year, $10 million contract with the Texas Rangers, in part to replace at-bats lost by Josh Hamilton's free-agent defection and the trade of utility man Michael Young to the Phillies. Berkman should be a major run-producing, middle-of-the-order designated hitter in a still-potent Rangers lineup and comes with the added bonus of having outfield eligibility. Others will be scared away by his advanced age and injury history but isn't that why the DH was invented? You can now scratch Berkman off this quality rundown of baseball's best remaining free agents.
? Fantasy baseball countdown: Last week we provided you with a countdown to when Spring Training games begin. This week we look toward the arrival of pitchers and catchers.