I have the three drafts coming up over the next three weeks that I consider my most important drafts. They start this Thursday with the Stopa Law Firm League. It consists of 12 writers from both Yahoo! and RotoWire competing for $8,000 in prize money. This money is generously put up by my colleague Mark Stopa and his law firm who fight the good fight at StayInMyHome.com. You should also read his NFL column, "Run 'N Shoot", every week.
Next week on Wednesday, August 21 at 8PM EST, I'll be drafting a team in the NFFC RotoWire Online Challenge that will pay one winner $100,000. Since I'm already participating in the NFBC, I can personally vouch that the NFFC is the best place to play high stakes fantasy. The last time I checked, there were still spots available if you want to go against me in that league. Don't wait; the draft is next Wednesday.
Lastly, my hometown league drafts at almost the last minute of the preseason on Monday, September 2. It's an interesting 24-team, full-point PPR format. The league uses team quarterbacks and starts a lineup consisting of two running backs and three wide receivers/tight ends. Needless to say, it's a pretty deep league. With this league being so unique, it makes me wonder if any of you have a league you do that is a little outside of the box. I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
Now, let's get into this week's column, where I make my five crazy predictions for the upcoming season.
5. The Buffalo Bills will make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Before you think this isn't too crazy, keep in mind that the Bills have been in last place (or tied in last place) in their division for the last five years. However, with a new quarterback with a ton of upside in EJ Manuel, and what appears to be their best head coach hire since Marv Levy, there are more than enough reasons to be optimistic. They have some talent on the defensive side of the ball; the offensive line is still underrated; and they should have a solid running attack again. Their schedule is filled with teams who are expected to be poor defensively, meaning the Bills should be able to put up points. And yes, full disclosure; this is a pretty big homer pick on my part.
4. Vernon Davis will top Rob Gronkowski's record-setting 2011 season, finishing with 1,400 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. The injury to Michael Crabtree will be a blessing in disguise for Davis' owners as he gets over 130 targets from Colin Kaepernick. Over the final eight games of last season (including the playoffs), Crabtree averaged over 10 targets. There's not only plenty of targets now available, but Kaepernick also heavily uses his favorite receiver. Davis had two 100-yard games to end the season, displaying that he may have been developing a good rapport with Kaepernick. With an impressive 6-3, 250 frame and possessing sub-4.40 speed, Davis is easily one of the most athletic players in the league.
3. The St. Louis Rams will finish ahead of either the Seattle Seahawks or the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West. Regarded as one of the best divisions in football, this prediction is more about the Rams' improvement rather than any type of regression for Seattle or San Francisco. I already wrote about Sam Bradford as a sleeper in the Rotowire Fantasy Football magazine, and he might have the best set of receivers he's had in his brief NFL career with the addition of Tavon Austin and Jared Cook to a young corps of receivers. I wouldn't bet against head coach Jeff Fisher, and while some would be quick to point out the loss of Steven Jackson (4.1 ypc), Daryl Richardson (4.8 ypc) was better from an efficiency standpoint last season. Bradford had respectable games against the toughest defenses in the division and should have more time to throw with Jake Long on the roster. In divisional play, the Rams surprisingly went 4-1-1, losing only in Seattle where the Seahawks went undefeated. If I had any pause here with this prediction it was in the fact that the Rams have a tough schedule on paper, and some questions remain on the defensive side of the ball, specifically in the secondary.
2. The reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens will go 6-10, or worse, and miss the playoffs. Vegas currently has their win total set at 8.5 games only a season after they went 10-6. The loss of Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Ray Lewis, Cary Williams, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta outweighs the players brought in, even when accounting for Elvis Dumervil. The AFC North has three strong teams, with the Browns looking improved and the Bengals and Steelers already very competitive. They also have the NFC North and AFC East on their schedule in addition to Denver and Houston, two of the top teams in the AFC.
1. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be the 2013-14 Super Bowl champions. Let's start off with some Vegas odds on this one to show that this is pretty far-fetched. It shouldn't bee too tough to find odds on this straight-up that are somewhere around 50:1. In fact, looking at the odds to win their own division, they have the worst:
Odds to win the NFC South
Atlanta Falcons +140
New Orleans Saints +160
Carolina Panthers +450
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +500
First off, the Bucs obviously don't need to win the division to make the playoffs, and I'd be really surprised if one of the wild cards didn't come out of the NFC South. Speaking of the NFC South, outside of Tampa Bay, do any of the other three defenses seem that imposing? The Bucs went 3-3 in the division last season and should have the best defense of the four teams, something I discussed here with all of their offseason moves. Darrelle Revis should go back to being a dominant corner, and the free-agent signing of Dashon Goldson has strengthened the defense.
Josh Freeman still has the potential to take another step, and Doug Martin is one of the better young running backs in the league. The Bucs have one of the better tandems of wide receivers in Vincent Jackson (1,384 receiving yards, eight touchdowns) and Mike Williams (996 receiving yards, nine touchdowns), and they brought in Derek Hagan and Kevin Ogletree to compete with Tiquan Underwood for the third wide receiver spot. In the end, if this prediction comes through, the Bucs' defense will be the reason why.
So, those are my five crazy predictions for the upcoming season. Do you have any predictions for this season? Share them in the comments section, and do your best to tell me why your premonition will come true.