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Feet Firmly Planted in Fantasy

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BALTIMORE — The most exciting day of the year for my college buddies and I isn’t Christmas, any of the eight days of Hanukkah or Thanksgiving. It isn’t a big movie premiere, birthday or even finally getting a date with that girl from the subway; it’s the day in the first week of August when the Retired Orangemen Fantasy Football League Draft Book arrives in the mail. It’s the very best day of the year because it means two things are in our immediate future: the upcoming NFL season, and the annual ROFFL Draft Weekend.

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The ROFFL dates back to 2002 and as you guessed, consists of me and my Syracuse University buddies, along with a few stragglers we needed back in the day to fill out the league (Binghamton, Haverford and Oneonta are also represented). But it’s turned into much, much more with a website, weekly articles, a podcast, an entire Draft Weekend, trophies for first and last place, and the aforementioned Draft Book. That first season we picked our players via an autodraft, and ironically, the guy who won has never had a winning season in 12 years.

In 2003 though, it all changed when we decided to have a yearly live draft in Atlantic City. For our 10th anniversary we tore down Las Vegas (what can I say, we like to gamble) and for our 13th year we started a new tradition: holding our draft in the city of the team that wins the Super Bowl. So as it was we all packed up our magazines, ADP lists and team gear for the state where crab cakes and football are emphatically done: Maryland.

Admittedly, Baltimore wasn’t my first choice. Being a West Coast Guy now, I was rooting for San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII, but to say the Charm City was anything but a fantastic host would be a classic Barry Sanders stretch run. For the 12 of us who made the trek – Parker had to phone in from Los Angeles and Jarrett from New Jersey – it was arguably the most fun we’ve had at a Draft Weekend.

It all started with a night at Camden Yards in a suite to watch the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics but not before a few of us hit up Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, which is home to some of the rarest comic books in the world. Jason, Jay and Marc are makeshift nerds and were geeking out upon seeing the first edition Superman and Batman, as well as old action figures, movie posters and the like from pop culture throughout the years. It was a pretty amazing and well curated museum, and the history buff in me enjoyed it immensely. A couple of them even bought Avengers keychains, while I would’ve loved to have taken home an Elvis poster.

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But the real reason we were there Friday night was to see some baseball, stuff our face with Boog Powell’s BBQ and announce our keepers for the upcoming season. See, the ROFFL is a 2-player keeper league and you can retain any player for you want for a maximum of three seasons; so there’s definitely some strategy that goes into who you’re keeping on a year-to-year basis. This season was the end of my time with Texans superstar running back Arian Foster, so I was forced to keep Jaguars stud Maurice Jones-Drew and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. I debated keeping Mike Wallace over Ryan since quarterback has some depth this year, and even had a plan hatched earlier in the week to wait and draft Andrew Luck and a Colts receiver, but I chickened out and made the safe play with The Mattural and the high-powered Atlanta offense.

All-in-all, the keepers went pretty much as I predicted in my mock draft, aside from Rob Gronkowski not being kept, one guy keeping Antonio Brown instead of Reggie Wayne and another keeping Ray Rice over Reggie Bush (we’re a PPR league), and so as the Orioles game went on – and they rallied for a 9-7 win thanks to a Brian Roberts’ grand slam – talk in the suite and the bar afterward turned to draft strategy. Back into the mix this season were all-world running backs Adrian Peterson, Foster, LeSean McCoy, and some studs who were not kept, such as Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Larry Fitzgerald and Stevan Ridley. As I was picking in the 8 hole, I figured to have my selection of one of the latter four, which I was completely OK with.

Before I get ahead of myself, Saturday kicked off with a trip to the smallest and most-stupidly-staffed Dunkin Donuts in the 410 and a pre-draft tour of M&T Bank Stadium, also known as the Ravens Nest (I don’t know if anyone actually calls it that, but let’s be honest, they should). Originally, I wasn’t too keen on taking a tour of a football stadium, as I’d been in a couple before, and generally speaking, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Boy was I wrong.

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Some highlites: the stadium is made with 1.5 million bricks, and if you laid them out end-to-end would cover 155 miles to Ocean City, Md.; the new-and-improved concourse wasn’t open to the public for last Thursday’s preseason game, which made us the first civilians to walk through it; our tour guide was this 70-year old named Tom who used to be a roadie for the Allman Brothers Band; a luxury suite can be yours for the cool price of $125,000 a year, which includes 28 tickets and 23/hour a day access throughout the entire year; Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti’s two-story luxury suite has bulletproof glass for when President Obama comes to visit; they have 3 jail cells in the depths and roughly kick out 150 people per game, most of them women; when John Madden used to still broadcast games for Fox and NBC, he’d drink a half case of beer before each contest and Tom said he almost got fired once for knocking a beer all over the broadcast console; our buddy Josh, who set the whole thing up and worked a year for RaveTV, wrote some of the inspirational essays that adorn the Club Level walls, which was pretty neat to see; the Ravens lockeroom is located 30 seconds from the field, whereas the visitors takes a few minutes to access. Tom made sure to let us know that’s a huge advantage come halftime.

However, the ultimate highlite of the tour was when Tom let us go on the field to run rampant like those brats in “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” but not before we walked through the Ray Lewis Memorial Look At Me And All My Awesomeness Tunnel. Of course, I had to do the dance. The only thing missing was a giant heap of sod for me to throw off myself and shove down my throat, which Tom assured us Ray would do before each game after posing for a picture with the weekly sod giver contest winner. Once on the field, we went Ray Kinsela after he finally finished the Field of Dreams and stood there and soaked in what he had created. Our jaws were agape and eyes buggin’ at what we were absorbing through our sports fan pours. Now, I’ve covered many football games in my sportswriting days and even stood on the sideline next to the head coach for most of them, but I have to admit, it was pretty awesome being on a NFL field with your 10 buddies and a football. My arm isn’t what it used to be, but I turned back the clock a bit throwing touchdown passes to the guys. Oh, and I even dusted off my shoe and drained a 25-yard field goal (on my 2nd attempt). So if Justin Tucker misses any chip shots in the first couple games, I’M READY!!!!

As for the draft itself, I was more than happy to take Ridley with my first pick. I debated between him and Morris for a couple minutes, but in the end, it’s always fun to have a player on the team you root for (and one who could score 15 touchdowns this season). So instead of Tom Brady touchdown passes, I’ll be hoping receivers get tackled at the 5 and Ridley takes it in from there. The problem with my league is that most of my buddies tend to over-think and over-analyze who’s available and their potential. As has been proven time and time again, fantasy football is 98% luck and 2% setting yourself up to have good luck, so there’s roughly no difference between who you’re taking in the later rounds. Such, our draft runs insanely long, and that’s just what happened last weekend. Thankfully, there was an Orioles game going on we could peek out the windows of the B&O Warehouse behind Camden Yards (oh, did I fail to mention we drafted in the warehouse behind Camden Yards? my bad) and take in while Jason and Nick spent an episode of Ray Donovan debating between Brian Hartline and Toby Gerhart.

In the end, I was very satisfied with my top selections (MJD, Ryan, Ridley, Marques Colston, Tony Gonzalez), my defense (Seahawks) and my backups with starting potential (Roy Helu and Andre Roberts). I took a flyer on a couple sleepers (DeAndre Hopkins and Markus Wheaton) and went back to old reliable with my kicker (Sebastian Janikowski). Is this finally the year the Gregg Moore Trophy takes its rightful home at Brockman Manor? I don’t know, since an injury could squash all title hopes faster than you can pronounce Michael Hoomanawanui. The Colt .45 LA Bandits have been so close before and came up short, but with another season anew I’m hopeful, and that’s no fantasy.

2012 NFL ‘You’re The Man’ Rankings — Week 6

LOS ANGELES — Admit it, as you got ready for Monday Night Football this week and went through your normal routine of reading online articles, scrolling Twitter and watching pregame shoes you came across the nugget that it was 666th editing of MNF. And as you let that sink in, it also dawned on you that Monday’s game was to feature one Tim Tebow. And knowing what we know about Tim Tebow you thought to yourself: “hmm… something screwy might happen tonight.”

It was then, I came to the slow realization that I would not complete an epic fantasy football comeback (down 48 with Arian Foster and the Texans defense) and that yes, something screwy is DEFINITELY going to happen tonight. Well, we were all duped. Yes, the Jets were in the game, but it had nothing to do with anything Tim Tebow did, which sucks. Rex Ryan totally deprived us of a classic Tebow moment when, down 6 and with the ball with 3:28 to go Mark Sanchez trotted out under center and naturally he didn’t do jack and the Texans won.

Seriously, how great would that last drive have been if it was all Tebow? No doubt he would’ve found a way to win the game and implode Twitter all at the same time.

While God Blesses you, let’s find out who’s the man.

32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) (31)  Did you know in the last two games Maurice Jones-Drew has 25 total carries, while Blaine Gabbert has thrown it 77 times, with three of those landing into the hands of the Jaguars opponents? No, it’s true. I looked it up. That ratio seems kinda off kilter to me. Hopefully during the bye week Mike Mularkey can get that ironed out. #FreeMJD

31.) Tennessee Titans (1-4) (30)  Chris Johnson is proving to be that girl you grew up with who always talked the talked but never walked the walk when walking was required, if ya know what I mean. Either do something or shut the hell up. And I feel for my brother Matt Hasselbeck. He’s not getting ANY help out there. At he’s still handsome as f–k.

30.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-4) (28)  Eric Winston is my new favorite player in the NFL. Kudos for standing up for your quarterback and everyone in the NFL. Having said that, the fans still have a right to boo. Doesn’t make it right or make them tasteful for doing it.

29.) Cleveland Browns (0-5) (32)  You may be looking at this list and wondering how a winless team is not ranked as the worst team. If not, then you and I are on the same page. I think of it like this, at least the Browns CAN score and have proven they have the ability to put the ball in the end zone. After 5 games they have 100 points, which is more than the 1-win Chiefs (94), Titans (88) and Jaguars (65). Trent Richardson is proving he’s past the knee problems.

28.) Oakland Raiders (1-3) (29)  There’s a good chance I may only have the Raiders this high because I picked up Carson Palmer on my fantasy team for a bye-week replacement for Matt Ryan in Week 7. Maybe. #FreeDMC

27.) Carolina Panthers (1-4) (24)  I wasn’t buying the “What’s Wrong With Cam?” headlines after Week 2, but five weeks is a good enough sample size to start wondering what’s going on with him. Newton is 17th in the NFL in yards, 20th in Passer Rating, has just 4 TD passes and has been sacked 13 times. Not exactly Superman efforts.

26.) Buffalo Bills (2-3) (19) — I hope Matt Barkley owns some winter clothes, knows how to operate a wood stove and can drive in the snow, because those Buffalo winters are FRIGID!! Seriously, it’s time to set the Ryan Fitzpatrick (1,057yds, 12TD, 8INT)  ship out to sea blazen with that green stuff from Game Of Thrones. All that’s missing is Braun launching the flaming arrow into Lake Erie.

25.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) (26) — The best thing that could’ve happened for the Bucs was that they were off last week, which means their coach couldn’t do something stupid and their players couldn’t poorly execute his stupid decisions. I want to like this Tampa Bay team. And with the Chiefs coming to town, it better get a win if it wants any shot at the postseason.

24.) Detroit Lions (1-3) (25) — Ya know, every year Maloney and I wonder who’s the first coach to get fired. It’s a fun little game we play and he always says it’s Lovie Smith and I try to really think about it. Well, the Bears are 4-1 so it won’t be him, but maybe it’s time to ask: is Jim Schwartz on the hot seat?

23.) New York Jets (2-3) (22) — I posted on Twitter during the game Monday how the Jets are who we thought and the Texans needed adjusting. Then someone said how I should give the Jets some credit. Credit for what? Showing up for a Monday Night Football game? So I should get credit for showing up to work today? It’s like that Chris Rock sketch about Ns and black people. Ns always trying to take credit for stuff they’re SUPPOSED to do. I would hope you’d come out and play during a nationally televised game. I would hope. God Bless.

22.) New Orleans Saints (1-4) (27) — Drew Brees throwing a touchdown pass Monday night was as likely to occur as me pulling up for 3 on a fast break in pickup basketball on Saturday. But, what made that record special was that it was caught by #19, since that was Johnny U’s number AND his son Joe being in attendance. However, this record doesn’t impress me that much given how advanced today’s passing games are and how easy it is for receivers. What’s more impressive in regards to Brees, is his longevity and consistency.

21.) Miami Dolphins (2-3) (23) — When watching “Hard Knocks” earlier this summer, I didn’t even think this Dolphins team would get to 2 wins for the season, let alone after 5 weeks of the NFL year. It’s clear that starting Lauren Tannehill’s husband and cutting Chad Johnson were the right moves. However, would like to see some more defense before they climb out of the 20s.

20.) Dallas Cowboys (2-2) (17) — Jerry Jones and I have nothing in common. He’s a billionaire. I’m a thousandaire. He owns Texas. I’ve been there once. He likes plastic surgery. I have still a scar on my back from falling out of an avocado tree earlier this spring. However, we both have this going for us: we’ll be on the Season 4 Premiere of the FX fantasy football comedy “The League” this Thursday at 10:30pm ET. Tune in.

19.) Washington Redskins (2-3) (16) — I’m not saying I saw the Robert Griffin injury coming, but when he rounded the corner I braced myself for a collision from my couch. And when he got hit, I knew he wouldn’t be getting up and returning to the game. You can’t keep playing with a reckless abandon and live to see the next week. There’s a reason Michael Vick has played just ONE full season in his 9-year career. Slide. Run out of bounds. Throw it away. Do something other than get KTFO.

18.) Indianapolis Colts (2-2) (21) — You wanna know why I love sports? For moments like what happened in the second half of the Colts/Packers game. Indy had no business being in that game on Sunday. Down 21-3 at halftime. That baby was over. But strange things happen when other forces are at work. You think the Raiders winning last year a couple days after Al Davis died as a coincidence? Brett Favre going ape balls the day after his dad passed away. Sports are crazy man. I love them. #ChuckStrong

17.) St. Louis Rams (3-2) (20) — Wow, that was some defensive performance last week. Now, I probably could’ve probably went all Reggie White against that Arizona offensive line but still, I was impressed. Tough break for Wes Welker Lite 2.0, Danny Amendola, who was killing it in PPR fantasy leagues. Some guys are just injury prone, that’s a cruel reality of football.

16.) Seattle Seahawks (3-2) (18) — I was about to call Sunday’s victory over the Panthers an “impressive road win” before I remembered they beat Carolina, which sucks. Seriously, it’s terrible. We’ll find out how good this team really is this weekend when the Patriots visit. In fact, did you know it’s Tom Brady’s first-ever game against the Seahawks? AND, I have a little wager on the line with the creator of the FX hit comedy “The League,” Jeff Schaffer, who’s a big Seattle fan. Fast forward to the 50:09 mark of this week’s Rich Eisen Podcast and take a listen.

15.) Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) (9) — I played quarterback in high school and my coach used always tell me the same thing over and over: make sure we come back to the huddle after each play with the ball. Meaning, don’t turn it over. He had to say this often, because, well, I had a knack for giving it away to the other team. This is the problem with Michael Vick. One week after saying he knows what to do with the ball, etc., he turns it over twice on fumbles, raising his giveaway total to 11 on the season. I guess, if there’s good news here, he hasn’t thrown an INT since Week 2. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

14.) Arizona Cardinals (4-1) (7) — How much do the Cardinals actually like Kevin Kolb? Based on how they tried to get him killed with their offensive line play last Thursday, I’d say not much. Kolb is the most-sacked QB in the league at 22 take downs, and with upcoming games against Buffalo, Minnesota and San Francisco coming up, that number doesn’t appear to be doing anything but going up. Good luck (Taken voice).

13.) Denver Broncos (2-3) (11) — Has there been a team with more white skill players than these Broncos? Seriously, Peyton Manning, Eric Decker, Joel Dreeson, Brandon Stokley. That’s half a fantasy team right there. They need to trade for Peyton Hillis and Danny Woodhead, pull Jason Sehorn away from retirement and living off Angie Harmon’s TNT money and make this official. They’re like the NFL’s BYU or Utah Jazz. And seriously, WTF is that red blotch on Manning’s head? He’s played football for the last 20 years and he still hasn’t found a helmet that fits him?

12.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) (5) — You know how on Wall St. there is such a thing as a Market Correction? Well, this was a Man Correction on the Bengals. What in the hell was that against the Dolphins? So maybe these cats aren’t as good as we think, but man, can A.J. Green play some football, huh? He’s the top-rated WR in my fantasy league and the guy who has him would rather start Donald Brown and Kendall Hunter at running back rather than trade me Green for MJD. That tells you all you need to know.

11.) New York Giants (3-2) (15) — Allow me to channel Chuck Klosterman for a minute: Victor Cruz has some above average football skills. He’s able to make plays that differentiate him from 95% of the receivers currently playing the game of football. But what are the chances the general public, not specific to the American Football viewing segment of the populous  has vastly overrated the person Victor Cruz is due to his seductive salsa dancing?

10.) San Diego Chargers (3-2) (12) — Week 5 was one of those “weird forces are at work in the NFL” weeks with the Colts and then with the Saints. Though New Orleans might’ve been a league-influenced scenario. But did you really think Drew Brees WASN’T going to break Johnny Unitas’ record and they weren’t going to win with Sean Payton, Joe Vitt and Mickey Loomis in the house on special permission? And I still hate how Philip Rivers throws. Shot putting is not throwing.

9.) Green Bay Packers (2-3) (6) — The stories making the rounds this week are how the Packers offense is mediocre, a severely flawed version of the 2011 model, which lit the NFL on fire. Well, since numbers never lie, let’s see what the stats tell us: Total Offense – 21st (338 ypg); Passing – 15th (240.8 ypg); Rushing – 20th (95.6 ypg). Yup, that’s below average. For perspective, that’s less total yards per game than juggernauts Chiefs (4th), Dolphins (13th) and Bills (17th). Yikes.

8.) Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) (14) — Rashard Mendenhall looked pretty good coming back from ACL surgery against the Eagles; 107 total yards and a TD. But does it seem like the Steelers are always bitten by the injury bug? And could this be it for Troy Polamalu?

7.) Minnesota Vikings (4-1) (13) — Christian Ponder is a good dude, but he’s like Ebbie Calvin Laloosh; he needs a nickname. That said, here’s what my Maine buddy Jimmy had to say about his Vikings this week: “4-1 baby, the machine rolls on!!” Wow, the Vikings are a machine now? And can anyone stop Percy Harvin? Dude seems to take a kick back every other week right now.

6.) Baltimore Ravens (4-1) (3) — If you can’t score more than 9 points against the Chiefs, then yes, I don’t care if you win, you are not worthy of being The Man and must drop in rankings of that name. Some teams want it, and some don’t. Right now the Ravens do not want it.

5.) Chicago Bears (4-1) (10) — Remember a couple weeks ago when everyone was skewering Jay Cutler like he was tailgate BBQ? Man, those were fun days, weren’t they? Well, now, ole smoking Jay has thrown for an average of 283 yards and 2 TDs in the last two games, the Bears are in first place and no one remembers how he screamed at his lineman in Week 2.

4.) New England Patriots (3-2) (8) — We all knew the Patriots offense has been on a different level since 2007 but when did they turn into Oregon? I was waiting in the second half for them to come out in matte red helmets with flaming muskets on their neon blue jerseys and fluorescent white cleats. They ran 80-something plays and got 35 first downs against the Broncos. That’s not even video game shh. When you’re No. 1 in total yards (439 ypg) and No. 1 in scoring (33 ppg), that’s like the level above All-Madden.

3.) Houston Texans (5-0) (2) — Had Houston lost on Monday, it would have dropped further than just one slot. But the Texans inability to put away an inferior Jets team slightly discouraged me. They’re still undefeated though, and as long as they have Arian Foster (532 yds, 5 TD) bowing and not knowing who random Dolphins are, they’re going to be near the top of these rankings.

2.) San Francisco 49ers (4-1) (4) — So, lemme get this straight: the game management, Alex Smith led 49ers offense has outscored its last two opponents 79-3? That’s right, right? No big deal, Smith just leads the NFL in Passer Rating (108.7).

1.) Atlanta Falcons (5-0) (1) — Remember when everyone said the Falcons were going to be pass first, pass second, pass third, run fourth? Well, that hasn’t been entirely untrue five games into the season. Sure, Matty Ice (sorry @richeisen, I’m riding with the original nickname over The Mattural) is 3rd in attempts (199) but Michael Turner has run for 250 yards in the last three games. I’m guessing it’ll be another high-flying offensive game for the Falcons this weekend the Raiders.