According to Yahoo, I Shouldn’t Even Bother Playing Fantasy Football This Year

I haven’t played fantasy football through Yahoo in several years. ESPN is my service of choice. But this year I joined a new league that’s being run on Yahoo. No big deal, all the draft applications are more or less the same at this point.

But at the conclusion of yesterday’s draft, Yahoo sent me this email:

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Cool, right? They give me a nice compliment (“With a manager like you…should be in great shape”), and then they say my “C” grade is short for championship. Fuck yeah. Championship team guaranteed it sounds like.

Then I clicked the link to read my full report card (click on the pictures to make them larger):

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In case you decided not to read Yahoo’s scathing remarks about my team, I’ll give you the short version: Apparently the C grade does correspond to the typical letter grade scale where A is good and F is horrible. So it doesn’t stand for Championship after all? That was just their way of fucking with me in the email? And then they say I’m projected for a 4-10 record, 8th place in the league and called four of my running backs “the worst foursome of RBs in the league.” (Marshawn Lynch, Stevan Ridley, Darrent Sproles and Shane Vereen)

The final part of the report card that I didn’t attach to this post said that my strongest position is defense, where I selected Cincinnati. Fan fucking tastic.

So my question, obviously, is where the hell does Yahoo get off telling me to give up on the season before a single game is played? Oh right, because all of their expert player projections are always spot on. You’re right, Yahoo, you know exactly how many points each player is going to score each week, and you obviously know that my competitors are going to set the exact lineup every week that you think they should.

Maybe they’re just trolling me with this report card?

Obviously it’s a bunch of crap. On top of those four “worst RBs” I also grabbed Montee Ball and Bernard Pierce for depth, I have Matthew Stafford (guaranteed 5,000 passing yards) as my QB, Randall Cobb, Dwayne Bowe and DeSean Jackson as my starting WRs, and Fred Davis (accidental autopick) as my TE.

That’s championship caliber with a capital C. Any idiot can see that.

So after I win the championship in this league I’ll go back to what most of the world already does with Yahoo…completely forget that it exists.

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Going Once, Going Twice, Sold: Auction Fantasy Leagues Are Far Superior To Those Sleep-Inducing Traditional Leagues

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With only seven weeks remaining until the 2013 NFL Season kicks off, you’ve probably noticed that your fantasy football commissioners have begun reactivating the leagues, sending out emails about rule changes, and trying to find a good time on the calendar for all the team owners to do the draft.

(It never quite works out perfectly though, right? Some idiot claims he can’t even find two hours over the entire month of August where he can sit down and draft. Or one of your friends who smoked too much pot in college forgets about the draft entirely even though you texted him seven times on the days leading up to the draft.)

Before you automatically accept all the invitations back to your leagues, do yourself one huge favor: Strongly urge your commissioner to turn his league into an auction format.

If you truly love fantasy football and want to have the best experience possible, you will do what it takes to graduate from the standard snake draft format to the addicting auction format. Blackmail the commissioner, organize a boycott of his league, hold him at gunpoint until he makes the change…WHATEVER IT TAKES.

You won’t be sorry.

[Side Note: Debating between a standard draft league and an auction league is like picking sides in a bacon versus pork belly argument. They’re both delicious and everyone’s a winner. It’s just a matter of personal preference.]

I broke free from the grip of the snake draft only two years ago, but already I could never imagine a time when I wasn’t all-in on the auction. The more I talk to people about fantasy football, the more I realize that auction drafting hasn’t caught on with the masses.

I look forward to this opportunity to try to sway some of you auction league holdouts because I know you’ll enjoy fantasy season that much more.

But first, it feels necessary to quickly set the stage for my arguments by giving some details on the rules.

[Side Note #2: While I’ll touch on some of the rules and strategies of an auction league in this post, I won’t cover everything. You can find a lot more details on the logistics of it HERE.]

In an auction draft, each team is operating with a set budget (call it $200 per team). This money can only be used during the draft period to bid on the players you want on your team. As you’d expect, you’ll be bidding in a live auction against other owners who may want that same player (the entire thing is automated via ESPN’s draft application). An owner will nominate an available player by bidding at least $1 on him, and then the rest of the owners can jump in and bid increasingly higher amounts on that player. If the cost of a player exceeds the amount you’re willing to pay for him, you simply stop clicking the “bid” button. A player is awarded to the owner with the highest bid once no other owner is willing to go at least $1 higher than that bid.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This process goes on until all teams have filled all required roster spots. It doesn’t matter if you have extra money leftover. Once your roster is filled, you’re done with the draft. And whatever website you use for the draft will automatically make sure each team has enough money at all times to fill up their roster spots with at least $1 players. So a team can’t spend all $200 on five players and then have 11 empty roster spots that they get to fill via free agency.

Those are the only parameters enforced on you during an auction draft. The rest is your choice. Want to spend 95% of your budget on four studs and then fill in the bulk of your roster with $1 scraps? Go for it. Want to create a communist team where all 16 players cost you $12? You’re free to do as you please.

This leads to my first point…

1). A sense of control – In a traditional snake draft, you really have little control over what your team ultimately looks like. Yes, you can abandon the ESPN draft rankings and reach for a player you like who isn’t rated as highly as you think he should be, but for the most part it’s luck of the draw in terms of which “best players” are available once it’s your turn. On the contrary, you can walk into an auction draft saying “I’m getting these four players no matter what” (assuming you’re being reasonable and not targeting the four best running backs or something equally ridiculous). Nothing can stop you from getting your favorite players.

Now let me be clear: fantasy football is still a crapshoot regardless of your drafting format. But an auction draft gives you more control over that crapshoot. For instance, last year I spent $103—51.5% of my total budget—to acquire LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte. They combined for 304 fantasy points, or just four more points than Adrian Peterson had on his own (and Peterson only cost his owner $29). In that same draft, one of the owners grabbed Alfred “Who the fuck is Alfred Morris” Morris for $1 towards the end of the auction. While my $103 worth of “studs” was busy getting injured or being inept, this guy’s $1 no-name ended up as the fourth-ranked fantasy running back in 2012.

So yes, it’ll always be a crapshoot for the most part, but don’t you want to feel more responsible for your gems and busts?

2). Strategy, strategy and more strategy – Let’s face it, a standard draft has almost no strategy to it. You might want to pay attention if there’s suddenly a run on a specific position, but that’s pretty much where outsmarting your fellow owners begins and ends.

In an auction, when it’s your turn to nominate a player for the bidding, you may choose to select a guy who you do not want on your team under any circumstances. For instance let’s say you’re a Patriots fan and there’s a certain quarterback who’s burned your team in two recent Super Bowls. You may be thinking, “I’d rather have Aaron Hernandez pick me up in a rental car at 3 a.m. than end up with Eli Manning on my fantasy team.” In a snake draft, you stay far away from him. But in an auction draft, you nominate him right away for $1. Eventually the bidding ends and another owner shells out $12 for Manning. You just helped yourself out because that owner now has $12 less to bid on the guy you actually want, and he has one less roster spot available.

When you start researching auction strategies, you’ll see everyone recommending that you never spend more than $1 on a defense, a kicker or an individual defensive player. This is going to seem counterintuitive, but it’s not the worst idea to nominate the defense or kicker you actually want at the first chance you get. Why? Because either you get exactly who you wanted for the minimum bid, or someone goes over the top and bids $2 on that player. At which point you can laugh as your rival owner wins that player. I looked at one of my auction leagues from the 2012 season, and I found one owner who paid a combined $9 for his defense, kicker and three individual defensive players. He should have paid exactly $5 for those five positions. And trust me when I tell you that he could have used those wasted $4 towards the end of the draft when decent running backs and wide receivers were going off the board for only a couple bucks.

Bad strategy in an auction draft will come back to bite you in the ass, hard.

3). No reward for the guy who doesn’t check his roster – Seriously, how come the guy who doesn’t even check his team after the draft always gets the best player year after year? Oh, because he’s consistently the worst team. Right, got it. Why should that loser get first dibs on Adrian Peterson this year? With the auction he can still have him if he wants him, but now he’ll have to fend off nine other owners and be willing to pay a ransom.

Everyone should get a chance at every player. Outbidding your buddies with fake money to put together the best fake football team is your god-given right. Instead of treating the fantasy draft like an actual sports draft, we’re treating it like what would happen if tomorrow the NFL said, “You know what, this is boring. Every player in our league is now a free agent. Have at it, owners.” And that’s a lot more fun than just picking the player with the best value when it comes to your turn. BOOOOOORING.

4). No more waiting – Speaking of boring, how much does it suck when you have either the first pick or the last pick in your snake draft? You pick a player, and then you wait upwards of 30 minutes before it’s your turn again. I’ve actually fallen asleep during this downtime in the past (with the help of a sleep-deprived night before a morning draft).

With an auction, you can be in on every player. No more impromptu naps. And if you’re an adult with real world responsibilities who can’t justify sitting online for three hours drafting a fake football team, you’re free to spend all your money within the first 30 minutes and then leave the draft. It’s probably not a wise way to build a winning team, but you’re welcome to do it.

5). Auction chaos is the best kind of chaos – Have you ever been to a live auction in your life? It’s pure insanity. People start bidding absurd amounts just because someone else is doing the same thing. People go way over their preset budget for an item because they fall in love with the idea of having it. And people try to drive up the price for other bidders and end up stuck with something they never wanted in the first place.

This all happens in a fantasy football auction too. When people have money to spend and the pressure’s on, they just can’t help themselves. There’s absolutely no downside to this…unless you’re the guy who ends up with Drew Brees for $73.

That actually happened in my league last year. Someone bought Brees for more than 35% of his $200 budget. As a comparison, Tom Brady went for $53 and Aaron Rodgers for $61. So what happened with Brees? This owner apparently decided he was the last elite quarterback and he was getting him, balanced roster be damned.

6). Unintentional comedy is unmatched – By now you should be getting the sense that an auction draft is frantic. During a snake draft you have all that waiting time to plan your next move and some contingencies, but during the auction, things move at a ridiculous pace. Your best laid plans go out the window in a flash, and suddenly you’re sitting there with no backup plan. This is when hilarity ensues.

In my 2012 draft, Michael Vick got nominated and his price was hovering in the mid-teens with only a couple people in on the bidding. Keep in mind that most of the top QBs were still available. All of the sudden an owner jumps the highest bid by nearly $40 and “wins” Vick with a $55 price tag. Why did this owner go from $17 to $55? I have no idea, but it was the second funniest moment of the draft.

The funniest moment also comes with a word of caution to all owners because this will happen in every auction draft. You will be minding your own business, planning your next move, and then you’ll see that Adrian Peterson has just been thrown into the ring. You will say, “Obviously AP is gonna go for a lot, I’m gonna open the bidding in the thirties.” So you’ll up the current bid on Peterson to $35. And then you’ll get briefly confused when no other owner bids on him. And then the anger will set in. Because, buddy, you just paid $35 for the OTHER ADRIAN PETERSON…the free agent Adrian Peterson. Yes, that owner is a complete asshole, but you’re the one who just blew his load on a player who isn’t even signed to an NFL team.

This is a dangerous game we play. It’s fast-paced and unforgiving. Take a deep breath and make sure you’re looking at all the information. Otherwise you could end up with Michael Vick and the wrong Adrian Peterson for $90.

But I promise if you can avoid being that guy who accidentally spends all his money on two players who won’t combine to outscore Mark Sanchez in fantasy, then you’ll have the most enjoyable fantasy draft (and season) of your life.

Here are three more considerations to maximize the fun potential of your fantasy football season:

1). Bring on a co-owner – I’m not kidding. The league I’m in where I share a team with my brother is the one that’s most fun year after year. Why wouldn’t you want a partner to celebrate the victories with, lament the losses with, strategize about waiver wire moves and trades with. You know how everyone hates your fantasy football stories? If you didn’t know that, I hate to break it to you…nobody likes listening to other people’s fantasy stories, even if that other person is an owner in your league. But if you have a co-owner, you’ll actually be able to have lively conversations about your team and all the other teams. And of course, if you play fantasy football for money, it isn’t the worst thing to have somebody splitting all the costs with you.

2). Increase the winner’s pot with waiver wire money – In an auction league, the waiver wire process works differently than you’re used to. If you want to pick up a player, you’ll be submitting a blind bid in hopes that your bid is the highest. If you aren’t playing for real money, you’ll have a limited waiver wire budget so that each team has to be somewhat disciplined (i.e. so someone doesn’t bid $150 on Kirk Cousins after RGIII goes down in week 2). But if you’re playing in a money league, why not make the pot even that much sweeter by turning the waiver process into a real money situation. Sure, you can bid $25 to pick up Matt Barkley after Vick and Nick Foles get injured in the same game, but you’ll be putting $25 of your real money into a pool for the league’s eventual champion. Not only is this a decent way to police the waiver wire from ridiculous bids, but it also gets more money into the league. More money is almost always a good thing.

3). Make it a keeper league – There are a million different versions of keeper leagues out there. But here’s one way to do it in the auction format: Allow teams to keep up to three players from their previous year’s roster, but for each keeper they must pay the price they got that guy for the previous year plus 10 additional dollars. (Example: I drafted Andre Johnson for $32 in 2012. I’d say he was worth that money since he was the eighth best fantasy wide receiver. But if I want to keep him on my team for the 2013 season, I’ll have to pay $42 out of my $200 budget. Is he really worth more than 20% of the salary cap?)

Doing keepers this way means every couple years even the best players will be thrown back into the draft pool. No one’s going to keep Aaron Rodgers on their roster if it costs them $85.

I’m not saying this is the only way or the best way to do keepers in an auction league. I’m just saying it’s the way we do it, and it works.

Ultimately you may choose to ignore this article and stick with your old standby bacon, but I think you’ll regret not sampling the pork belly.

Week 11 NFL Picks: Should the NFL Step in and Force Tebow to Start, Jim Harbaugh’s Deadly Irregular Heartbeat and Much More

This intro is for all the fantasy football aficionados out there…

So I play in an auction keeper league where the dollars you spend on waiver wire pickups are real dollars. If you bid $6 to pick up Rashad Jennings and you get him, then you owe six real dollars into the prize pool for the end of season awards. At this point in the season, some teams are just out of the playoff picture. But in my league, a guy who has a 2-8 record just spent $14 combined to pick up Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell. Why would you spend a single dollar at this point of the season if you know you’re out of the playoffs? So now Kaepernick and Campbell are added to this manager’s murderers row of QBs on his roster, which includes Ryan Tannehill, Michael Vick and Matt Hasselbeck. That’s the fab five of fantasy QBs if you ask me. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since this is the same guy who regularly carries at least one backup Linebacker (we play with individual defensive players) and one backup Team Defense.

Oh, and my team lost to this guy’s team last week.

So the moral of the story is…I’m much better at analyzing and predicting what goes on in real football than I am in fantasy football.

But after back-to-back 7-7 weeks picking against the spread, I understand your hesitation if you don’t go “all in” on my picks this week. Give me some time and I know I can earn your trust back. Let’s proceed with the week 11 picks (home team underlined):

Buffalo(-3) over Miami: Well we’re back to that old familiar spot with the AFC East. It’s week 11 and we already know the Patriots are the only team in the division heading to the playoffs. Buffalo was a pre-season media darling, and Miami gave us a bit of a scare when they were 4-3 a couple weeks ago. But now we’re back in our AFC East comfort zone. This is one of those games where you pick the home team and don’t waste any more of your time thinking about it.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Detroit: ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! How is this line not at least three points higher? I don’t care that Clay Matthews is out for the Packers. The Lions basically got eliminated from the playoffs last week so I’m fully expecting a mail-it-in type of game from one of the least disciplined teams in the NFL. Plus, the Packers are coming off a bye, they’ve been hitting their stride lately and it’s a divisional opponent. I could see a situation where this game is actually close, but the safe play is taking Green Bay.

Atlanta(-10) over Arizona: It was a perfect storm loss for Atlanta last week. They were on the road in a loud dome (New Orleans) playing against a division rival who was pissed off for a number of reasons (the Saints’ soiled reputation for the bounty gate stuff, playing the “nobody believes in us card” as they teeter on the edge of being officially eliminated from playoff contention, wanting to hand their “little brother” Falcons their first loss of the season). And the Falcons made the deadly mistake of starting to talk out loud about the possibility of going undefeated. They were also facing a team in the Saints that actually has the firepower to keep up with the Falcon offense. But this Arizona team brings none of those things to the table. Atlanta rolls easily.

Carolina(+2) over Tampa Bay: I’ve gone the wrong way on almost every Carolina game this year (seriously, I’m 2-7 in picking games involving the Panthers), so that makes me wanna go against my instinct of taking the Bucs. Another reason to pick against Tampa: Doesn’t it make total sense that the four-loss NFC teams would lose so that we have to listen to “New Orleans and Dallas are alive in the playoff hunt” talk for the next couple weeks? Since Seattle and Minnesota (the other four-loss NFC teams who aren’t currently leading their division) are on byes this week, the responsibility falls on Tampa to get their fifth loss. I think they can do it.

Dallas(-8) over Cleveland: Did you know Dallas has already played six road games? Maybe this team will make a playoff run…Five more home games, only one game left against a team with a winning record (home vs Pittsburgh). They just need Tampa/Minnesota/Seattle to stumble a little bit. I’ll take the Cowboys to trick everyone into thinking they’re about to go on this run—starting with a big win over Cleveland.

Washington(-4) over Philadelphia: The Eagles just might be the worst team in football when all is said and done. They’re certainly the worst team against the spread so far this season (2-7 record). Washington’s coming off their bye week and RGIII says he feels refreshed. Who am I to doubt Black Jesus’s impact after a refreshing two-week break? Also, keep in mind that Nick Foles is starting for the Eagles—the same Nick Foles who apparently couldn’t even do enough in practice to convince Andy Reid to insert him over Michael Vick, a quarterback who would probably be voted Least Valuable Player if that award was real.

St. Louis (-3.5) over NY Jets: I can see the temptation to take the Jets. They’re terrible, but they’ll probably win another game at some point this season. Do yourself a favor and wait until they’re at home before trying to get cute by predicting a Jets win. The Rams are 3-1 at home this year with their only loss being a spirited attempt against Green Bay. I know the Rams aren’t as good as Seattle, but just like last week, I can’t see the Jets putting up many points in this one. By the way, how far below rock bottom does New York have to fall before Tebow gets to start? Seriously, this is getting annoying. What do the Jets have to lose at this point? And why doesn’t the NFL step in? Aren’t Jets games immediately 10 times more watchable not only for Jets fans but the entire country if Tebow gets the starting job? Sure his teammates are openly talking about how badly Tebow struggles with throwing mechanics in practice, but you gotta give the public what it wants!

Molly Pick:

I’m so glad there’s at least one game per week that I don’t give a shit about. It makes it so easy for me to turn the reigns over to Molly for one pick. For this week, I really couldn’t get a read on a mediocre Cincinnati team being favored by more than a field goal on the road against a historically bad Kansas City team. And I certainly didn’t wanna spend the brain power researching this game. In steps Molly and her 6-4 season record. Let’s see what she decided:

Jacksonville (+16) over Houston: Depending on who’s power rankings you’re looking at, this is a matchup of the best team in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. So this line isn’t actually that crazy. After all, Jacksonville has lost games this year by 20, 17, 38, 9, 17 and 17 points (as well as by three twice in overtime games). But if you’re looking for something to justify your Jacksonville pick, which I was, then you should feel good knowing that they’ve “only” been outscored by 10 total points in their four road games. Compare that to the 109 points they’ve been outscored by in their five home games. So, yeah, watch out for a dangerous Jags team on the road!

Oakland(+6) over New Orleans: I’m 100% prepared for New Orleans to prove me wrong, but I just can’t back a 4-5 team that’s giving almost a touchdown on the road. To me it seems like this line was set in response to all the love the Saints are getting from the public and the media right now. Everyone wants them to make an improbable playoff run. Vegas is going to get a ton of New Orleans backers in a game like this, regardless of the spread. So why not jack it up a couple more points than what it realistically should be?

Denver(-8) over San Diego: If the Broncos can win road games at Cincinnati (by eight) and Carolina (by 22), then they can obviously win a home game against the Chargers by more than eight, right? No team is on a better roll than Denver right now (though the Colts may argue otherwise), and the Chargers’ season is pretty much over. Even if the Broncos are only a touchdown better than this Chargers team, don’t forget about the special teams mistake the Chargers are due to make. Just like I can see the Lions quitting the season because they’re eliminated from playoff contention, I can see the Chargers doing the same thing.

Indianapolis (+9) over New England: Go ahead and pick the Patriots if you want. Lord knows I’ll be rooting for you to be right. I’m just done getting burned by them. I have no faith that they’ll hold onto a double-digit lead against any team, especially not a team like the Colts who have a top-10 QB and a formidable passing game. I would love nothing more than to be wrong. As far as the status of Aaron Hernandez, I would play it ultra-conservative if I was the Patriots. Against a mediocre defense like the Colts, New England shouldn’t have trouble putting up their usual 28-35 points. Re-introduce Hernandez to the NFL on national TV against the Jets on Thanksgiving. That’s my take.

Pittsburgh(+3.5) over Baltimore: If you look at the line movement on this game HERE, you’ll notice it opened last Sunday with Pittsburgh being a four-point favorite. Now the Ravens are favored by more than a field goal. So Vegas is putting a seven-and-a-half point value on Ben Roethlisberger’s health. Just in case you were curious. But let’s not forget that the Ravens have their own list of health issues. And whatever you do, definitely don’t forget how bad Joe Flacco is on the road. I won’t go into all the nerdy stat splits between his home games and his road games, but you can look at them HERE if you want. I’m taking the Steelers for that reason. Baltimore isn’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Byron “I can’t believe my parents didn’t force me to be left-handed” Leftwich.

San Francisco(-5) over Chicago: It doesn’t seem fair for me to have to predict this game when we have no clue who the starting quarterbacks will be come Monday night. But I don’t pay myself the big bucks to cop out like that. I’m picking the 49ers mostly because I think Alex Smith will start and Jay Cutler will sit. But I’m also picking them because the Bears have struggled, and lost, against the only two good teams they’ve faced this year. The Chicago offense is already sketchy enough with a healthy Jay Cutler. Just like last week when I didn’t expect Houston to turn the ball over against the opportunistic Bears D, I don’t expect the 9ers to do that either. Feels like the Bears will struggle mightily in this one. But if Kaepernick starts and Jim Harbaugh’s irregular heartbeat turns into him dying over the weekend, I want my pick back.

Here are the stats for this week’s picks:

-Home Teams: 10

-Road Teams: 4

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Underdogs: 3

-Road Underdogs: 2

-Road Favorites: 2

Round 4 of NFL Predictions: Regular Season Awards and Fun With Injuries, Firings & Screw Jobs

We’re only a day away from the start of football season. I had every intention of comparing the feeling I get on this day to the feeling kids get on Christmas Eve. I think I’ve compared the night before my annual March Madness Vegas Trip to that Christmas eve feeling. But to compare “NFL Regular Season Eve” with Christmas or the Vegas trip wouldn’t do it justice. Christmas comes once a year and lasts only a day. Vegas comes once a year and lasts four days. But the NFL season comes once a year and lasts FIVE MONTHS.

It’s not only the possibility of watching 256 regular season games and 11 playoff games in those five months—games which will be played on Thursdays, Sundays, Mondays and one Saturday. It’s also about spending most of your Tuesday and Wednesday each week tinkering with your fantasy lineups, stressing over who to pick in your suicide pool, and placing your weekly bets on whichever sketchy gambling website you use. And if you haven’t been building up ample goodwill with your girlfriend/wife/significant other over the past three months by letting her watch all of her ridiculous TV shows or telling her that each Sunday in the summertime is “her day,” then I don’t know what to tell you. You’re in trouble. Good luck trying to juggle three days of NFL games per week with your wife’s demands to have family time on the weekends and wanting to watch her own TV schedule during the week. Might as well kill yourself now.

If you’re like me, you’ve already set and reset your fantasy lineups for week one a number of times, you’ve studied the spreads for each game harder than you ever studied for a college exam, and you’ve definitely already read every single football article on every website on the internet. But you still have to get through tonight and a full work day tomorrow before the Giants/Cowboys kickoff. So do yourself a favor and read this post, or if you’ve missed any of our other rounds of predictions over the past two weeks, be sure to check these out:

Round 1: Predicting the future of the AFC Teams

Round 2: Predicting the future of the NFC Teams

Round 3: Predicting the 12 Playoff Teams and Super Bowl Winner

This post is where we discuss some of the boring regular season awards, like who will be the NFL’s MVP, but also some exciting yet obscure predictions, like who will be the first coach fired, and which player are we rooting for to suffer the first major injury of the season (OK, we’re not rooting for this, but we are willing to predict which big fantasy name incurs the first devastating injury).

We have about 15 categories to cover so forget about your plan to read this in less than five minutes so you can get back to work. Work can wait, football cannot (that sentence might have been the most brilliant thing I’ve ever written). I encourage you to read it all, but if you can’t do that for some strange reason, just know that the legit awards (Rookie of the Year, MVP, Comeback Player) are #1-#10, and the fake awards (First coach Fired, Referee We’re Going to Miss the Most, First QB to be Benched) are #11-#15. Away we go.

1). NFL Coach of the Year

Rmurdera: This award is always given to a coach who leads his team to the playoffs so you can forget about going with a guy like Chuck Pagano from the Indianapolis Colts even if you believe he’ll get that team from its two-win season in 2011 to an eight-win season this year. I had been thinking Gary Kubiak from Houston will get it this year because he’ll probably lead the Texans to one of the top seeds in the AFC, and you could argue he should have won it last year when Houston got to the playoffs for the first time ever while Kubiak had to deal with starting four different QBs during the regular season (Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart, T.J. Yates, and believe it or not, Jake Delhomme). More recently I thought of choosing Andy Reid from Philadelphia because of the sentimentality behind the choice…his son died just a few weeks ago. But then I remembered Andy Reid is a terrible football coach who continuously finds ways to screw up every close game and always seems to be finding ways to help his players get injured. Gary Kubiak is my choice.

Nkilla: It is going to be between Bill Belichick (Patriots) and Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay’s first-time Head Coach). The voters tend to like to vote new blood into these awards. If the Patriots go 15-1 or better, it probably goes to Belichick, so I am going to go with Schiano.

2). Offensive Player of the Year

Rmurdera: Believe it or not, the Regular Season MVP and Offensive Player of the Year are frequently different players, so we’re going to run through both. And while the MVP is almost always a QB (more on that in a minute), Running Backs seem to get their fair share of Offensive POY consideration (RBs have won these honors 11 times in the past 16 years). Since I’m obviously choosing a QB for my MVP, I’m going Running Back with this pick. I’m going with a guy who’s already had two seasons with more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage, a guy who had 20 touchdowns last year and really has no backup RB to steal yards or TDs, a guy whose team desperately needs to keep its quarterback healthy by not letting him run anymore (giving even more carries to this guy), a guy who’s only 24 years old. LeSean McCoy is my choice.

Nkilla: I find it tough to imagine this not going to a QB. This is an Associated Press award, and they tend to make it pretty stats driven. Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is the safe pick, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Matt Ryan. If he does not make the leap this year, his ceiling might be “above average regular season QB.”

3). Regular Season MVP

Rmurdera: In the past 13 seasons, only three Running Backs have won this award. No Wide Receiver or Tight End has ever won it. Even though a defensive player has won the MVP two times in the 55 years it’s been given out, we are not going to see that happen again anytime soon. It’s going to a quarterback. I’m going to really reach on this one and say Matt Ryan will be the 2012 NFL MVP. It’s OK if you find this pick confusing. I’m not even sure I believe in it. But Ryan’s numbers have essentially gotten better each year with the Falcons’ QB setting career highs in yards (4,177) and touchdowns (29) in 2011. On top of those stats, I’m also counting on an even better passing attack for the Falcons because of second-year Wide Receiver Julio Jones’ expected improvement, and a significant decline in their running game because of the age and tread on Michael Turner. If the Falcons are going to get one of the top spots in the NFC playoffs, as I expect them to, it’s going to be on Ryan to get them there.

Nkilla: Again, easy to pick Brady or Rodgers for this one. I think Matt Ryan could be in play as well. If New Orleans gets to nine or 10 wins, there will be a lot of talk for Drew Brees. I hate to say this, but if Denver makes the playoffs, it should probably go to Peyton Manning. This is a tough one because the voters all apply different criteria to what “MVP” means. I‘m going to say Ryan edges out Brady. If you’re looking for some non-QB dark horses, I say keep an eye on Brandon Marshall and Aaron Hernandez.

[Editor’s Note: I swear to Belichick that Nkilla and I didn’t have a chance to see each other’s answers before thinking through our own. I wanted to be clear on that since both of us predicting Matt Ryan as this year’s MVP could seem pretty suspicious. I guess we’re just both looking for that one ridiculous prediction that comes true so we can pretend we really are experts at this guessing game.]

4). Defensive Player of the Year

Rmurdera: This honor has gone to a player on a top 10-ranked team defense every year for the past decade. Might as well rule out any player from Indianapolis, St. Louis, Carolina, Washington, Green Bay, New England and Detroit right now. In an era of football where offenses are out of control and making it seem like there are no true shutdown defensive players, I’m going to select the one guy that we can all admit is the definition of shutdown cornerback. As nauseous as it makes me to pick a New York Jets player for any award, I’m going with Darrelle Revis for Defensive POY.

Nkilla: I’m picking Packers Linebacker Clay Matthews. He had a little bit of a “down” season last year. Drafting Nick Perry will open up some space for Matthews and his numbers return to the 2010 Matthews.

5). Offensive Rookie of the Year

Rmurdera: Andrew Luck is the safe, obvious pick. But I’m not putting actual money on this so why go with safe and obvious? Quarterbacks don’t win this award as often as you might think. I’m choosing Justin Blackmon, wide receiver from the Jacksonville Jaguars. I’m choosing him mostly because he’s on my fantasy team and I don’t feel like researching every rookie to make an educated prediction.

Nkilla: My understanding is that the trophy for this is already in Andrew Luck’s house. I think Russell Wilson actually might slip into the conversation.

6). Defensive Rookie of the Year

Rmurdera: No matter how much football I watch or how much of an expert I pretend to be, this is the type of category I don’t know much about, nor do I really care. So I consulted with my good friends over at the Bleacher Report and watched this 2-minute video. Since Linebackers win this honor more than other defensive positions, I’m going with Luke Kuechly, a Carolina Panthers Linebacker who played at Boston College. And no, I’m not happy that I’m predicting big seasons from two BC players (Kuechly and Matt Ryan).

Nkilla: I’m going with Chandler Jones (defensive end for New England). This pick was easy. He is the only defensive rookie I know. Also, he might have more sacks than the entire Patriots’ team had last year.

7). Comeback Player of the Year

Rmurdera: It’s probably stupid not to choose Peyton Manning for this award considering he’s the highest-profile name coming off a major injury and he missed all of last season. Compare that to guys like Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, Fred Jackson and Matt Forte, who all played in at least a couple games in 2011. But I know Nkilla is going to go very predictable on this prediction with Mannning, so I’m going with Charles. When he plays all 16 games and racks up 1,500 total yards from scrimmage, he’ll overshadow the Manning return.

Nkilla: If he plays a full season, even if he is horrible, it’s hard to find a situation where Peyton Manning does not win this. Even if Jamaal Charles leads the league in rushing yards & TDs and Denver goes 6-10, I imagine the voters are just itching to give this to Manning if he plays a full season.

8). League Leader in Passing Yards

Rmurdera: Again, not going safe here. If I’m saying Matt Ryan is this year’s NFL MVP, then I better be ready to put him at the top of all QBs for passing yardage. When Ryan inevitably finishes outside the top 15 in all major QB categories and his team goes 7-9, you can feel free to unsubscribe to this blog. I’ll understand.

Nkilla: I think this goes to Drew Brees again. Due to all the suspensions, I imagine New Orleans is going to have to come from behind more than usual, which should be good for Brees’ passing yards. I like Matt Ryan as a dark horse here.

9). League Leader in Receiving Yards

Rmurdera: Calvin Johnson is the only prediction here. Any other attempts at naming a different player are irresponsible and pointless. But let’s try anyway. My reach pick (or “dark horse” as Nkilla put it) for this would be Torrey Smith on Baltimore. As a rookie in 2011, Smith had 841 yards on 50 receptions. He’s clearly the Ravens’ #1 receiver at this point, so can we expect his receptions to be closer to the 80-90 range in 2012? If he catches85 balls at last year’s 16.8 yards per reception rate, he’d turn in a 1,428 yard season. I don’t think that’s outrageous for someone with his talent.

NkillaJulio Jones is the pick. He is +1200 in Vegas to lead the league in receiving yards as of this typing. Bet this. Bet it heavily. As fast as you can.

10). League Leader in Rushing Yards

Rmurdera: Not only am I picking Jamaal Charles to be this year’s Comeback Player of the Year, but I’m choosing him to lead the league in rushing yards. Here’s what I wrote in THIS POST two weeks ago, “The bonus for Charles is that the Chiefs play 10 games this year against teams that ranked in the bottom 12 in run defense in 2011. I like Charles’ odds to have some monster games against such soft defenses.”

NkillaI think Chris Johnson has a nice bounce back year and takes this. If Foster, Rice, or Charles won this, I would not be surprised. I just think maybe CJ has a little extra to prove.

11). Favorite Referee I’m Going to Miss During the Stupid Referee Lockout

Letting Nkilla start this one: Let me reiterate, this thing with the referees is stupid. Why even risk that the lead story every Monday morning being a ref changing the outcome of a game? That being said, it is important for our readers to know that we watch so much football we know every ref by name and we have nicknames for at least half of them. In fact, it would probably be fun to do one of those side-by-side lists of the refs’ real name and the nickname we’ve given to each of them over the years, and have your readers draw lines to match the correct real name to nickname: (answer at the bottom of the post)

Jerome Boger                Will Carruthers
Mike Carey                    Johnny Grier
Ed Hochuli                     The Hawk
Bill Leavy                      Steve Martin
Al Riveron                      Spanish
Jeff Tripplette                Jive Turkey
Ron Winter                    Old Man Winter

Of all of these guys, I am going to miss Mike Carey the most. He is very formal and robotic with all his calls, hand motions, and announcements, which gives the impression he is the best referee in the league even if he is not. I always feel like we are in good hands when Mike Carey shows up to announce the meaning of the first flag.

Rmurdera: I’m going with Jeff Triplette, who we nicknamed “Steve Martin” about five years ago (there’s your free answer to Nkilla’s challenge above). We gave him the Steve Martin moniker because from certain angles on the field (especially with his hat on), he actually looks kind of like Steve Martin the comedian. And I swear I’m not lying when I tell you one time a few years back, there was such a chaotic play on the field that to properly identify every penalty accumulated by the teams, he had to throw all of his penalty flags, his change of possession flag, his hat, his wallet and his car keys all onto the field. Whenever this guy is announcing a penalty, he gives a smirk that says, “The fact that the offensive lineman thought he could get away with such a blatant holding penalty is ridiculous. These players aren’t very bright, are they?” LOVE Steve Martin as a referee.

12). First Coach Fired in 2012

Rmurdera: It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when the first head coach will be fired. Over the past five seasons, only 2007 saw no head coach get fired midseason (though Bobby Petrino resigned from Atlanta with a few games left). Last year four coaches were fired during the season with Jack Del Rio kicking things off by getting axed from Jacksonville on November 29th. This year there appears to be only four potential candidates for in-season firings (this is because a lot of teams that are guaranteed to suck recently hired their new coaches and will probably give them at least into the 2013 season before getting rid of them). The potentials for 2012 are: Norv Turner with San Diego, Pat Shurmur with Cleveland, Ken Whisenhunt with Arizona and Rex Ryan with the Jets. I wanted to add Mike Shanahan with Washington to this list, but having RGIII as the new QB probably buys Shanny an extra year to do something with Griffin’s talent. Man, this is a tough one. All four candidates have such compelling reasons to be jobless by early November. I want to go with Rex Ryan here, really do. But I’m gonna go with Pat Shurmur. Not only is Cleveland going to suck, but they have a new owner who probably wants to stir the pot immediately and start bringing in his own hires.

Nkilla: This is actually a tough one this year, as a lot of traditional teams that fire their coach mid-season (Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Miami, Cleveland, Oakland) have new coaches in place that they will probably give at least one full year to. I think there is a 10% chance it could be Jim Schwartz in Detroit. I see that team taking a step back and they clearly are not very disciplined, which based on his hot-headed run-in with one of the Harbaugh brothers last year, I think stems from the coach. If Stafford gets injured and they have too many defensive players get suspended, I could see an outside chance where Schwartz goes. I say 40% chance Ken Whisenhunt is the first coach to go this year. I know they are only a few years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but when things fall apart quickly this year and L-Fitz turns on the QB situation, I could see Whisenhunt being the fall guy. Finally, I think there is a 50% chance it is Rex Ryan. All signs point to this Jets team being a giant disaster. If they start out 0-6 and have a QB controversy, I can see the players getting sick of Rex’s shtick real, real fast.

13). First Starting QB Replaced Because of Ineffectiveness

Rmurdera: Well, there are five rookies starting their team’s first game at QB this year, so it would be easy to choose one of them. But teams are reluctant to pull a rookie midseason even if he’s god-awful because it might “mess with their development.” I’m going with the guy who was the last of all starting quarterbacks to be announced as his team’s starter during this year’s training camp: John Skelton. Since Arizona’s coach, Ken Whisenhunt, was on both mine and Nkilla’s list of possibly-fired coaches, you’d think if Skelton starts slow, Whisenhunt will have a quick hook to try to save his job. I could see the Arizona starting QB position have a player change four or five times this year, and not because of injuries.

Nkilla: Wow, tough one. So many options. I am going to rule out any rookies starting even though some of them are so horrible (Ryan Tannehill). I expect them to have a longer leash. I’m going to rule out Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert for the similar “they are not rookies but very inexperienced second year players” reason. I am going to rule out Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer because their respective teams do not have another viable option. As for the Jets, I think Rex is going to be stubborn and let Mark Sanchez go about six games too long. I think there is a 10% chance Minnesota gives up on Christian Ponder and goes with Joe Webb. I think there is a 20% chance that Harbaugh realizes that Alex Smith is crashing back to earth very quickly and switches things up and goes with Colin Kaepernick. Winning my pick though is Arizona. I think there is about a 70% chance that John Skelton and Kevin Kolb alternate as starter six times before another team replaces a QB due to ineffectiveness.

14). First Major Injury to a Marquee Player

Rmurdera: The criteria I gave Nkilla for this award was that it had to be a guy that would make all fantasy owners gasp out loud, even if they didn’t personally own that player…think Tom Brady in 2008 or Jamaal Charles in 2011. I can tell you that a major injury to Matt Forte would pretty much ruin my fantasy season and all the preseason bets I’ve made on Chicago. But I’m going with Aaron Rodgers for the catastrophic injury. What can I say? I’ll gladly take the weakening of one of the few threats to another Patriots Super Bowl win. And for fantasy players it would be right on par with the Brady injury in week 1 of the 2008 season.

Nkilla: MoJo is an obvious one because of his holdout. But because of the holdout expectations are probably lowered anyway, so let’s not say him. I think Cam Newton is a candidate. QBs that scramble around a lot tend to get injured more (see Vick, Michael). But if I have to pick one, I am going to say Jimmy Graham. Couple of things going against him. For one, he and Gronk had such ridiculous years last year that they are being drafted as if they are top six wide receivers. Secondly, this whole New Orleans season is starting to have a stench on it between the suspensions and the hurricane. It seems like “Jimmy Graham, torn ACL”, is going to be the week 1 injury headline.

15). The Team Most Likely to Screw Me in a Suicide Pool

Rmurdera: There’s one and only one team that’s been screwing me left and right for nearly five years. They gave me the royal screw job in last year’s suicide pool with an inexplicable loss to a shitty team; I’m pretty sure I lost another suicide pool three years ago because of them; and they’ve screwed my team’s Super Bowl hopes twice in the past four years. That team, of course, is the New York Giants.

NkillaNever pick Norv Turner in a suicide pool. Ever. Even if he is coaching an NFL team against a high school team, do not pick Norv’s team. Maybe I will learn this lesson now that I’ve put it in writing because I think San Diego has screwed me the last three years.

(Answers to the referee real name vs nickname trivia: Boger = Jive Turkey, Carey = Johnny Grier, Hochuli = The Hawk, Leavy = Will Carruthers, Riveron = Spanish, Triplette = Steve Martin, Winter = Old Man Winter)