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Fantasy Football Trimester Review: AFC, NFC West

By Matt Graber


Who’s been getting it done out West? Part 3 of our trimester review. 

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals

Stud: Andre Ellington is finally healthy, and he’s beginning to really produce for fantasy owners. He’s getting the vast majority of the team’s carries, including in the red zone, and his involvement in the passing game makes him a deadly dual-threat, especially in PPR leagues.

Dud: In what’s becoming a theme in these reviews, Larry Fitzgerald is yet another former stud receiver who seems to be on a bit of a decline. He finally had a strong outing last week against the Redskins (another theme), but he’s more of a WR3 or flex at this point, and the emergence of Ellington means the Cardinals will likely throw a bit less than before.

Sleeper: John Brown has cooled off after a solid start, but he still has more fantasy points then Fitzgerald so far, and the return of Carson Palmer should improve the team’s passing attack.

Seattle Seahawks

Stud: Marshawn Lynch has been getting it done in the receiving game as of late, with 3 TDs in his last four games, adding another facet to his game to complement his typically solid rushing stats. He’s by far the Seahawks’ most reliable producer.

Dud: Percy Harvin hasn’t been the versatile weapons that the Seahawks were hoping for, and his fantasy value has plummeted despite solid efforts to get him the ball. The big plays just aren’t happening.

Sleeper: Ricardo Lockette won’t get a lot of targets in this offense, but he does have a couple of touchdowns, and he’s arguably been the teams best deep threat so far, with big plays in wins against the Packers and Seahawks.

San Francisco 49ers

Stud: Colin Kaepernick isn’t the most consistent fantasy option at QB, but his 343-yard, 3-TD performance against the Rams was yet another example of his tantalizing potential. He has weapons in Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd, and he’s one of the best dual-threats at his position.

Dud: Vernon Davis has been a non-factor aside from a two-TD performance in the team’s opener. With questionable health and inconsistent production, he’s a risky tight end option at this point.

Sleeper: Carlos Hyde is behind Frank Gore on the depth chart, but Gore is hardly injury-proof. Hyde has been solid when given carries and is one of the better handcuffs at RB.

St. Louis Rams

Stud: Brian Quick has quietly put together a productive season, with 22 catches and 3 TDs in five games. He’s Austin Davis’ favorite receiver, so the targets will be there.

Dud: Zac Stacy is ceding a lot of carries to Benny Cunningham and has struggled with nagging injuries throughout the season. With Tre Mason starting to emerge in the backfield, he’s not in a great fantasy situation.

Sleeper: Mason looked like the Rams’ best back against the 49ers, with 62 yards on 7 touches in only 9 snaps. The former Heisman finalist has the talent to surpass Stacy and Cunningham eventually.

 

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

Stud: Julius Thomas has been historically great this season, and he’s on pace to shatter Randy Moss’ single-season receiving TD record. Whether he’ll get there or not remains to be seen, but as Peyton Manning’s go-to guy in the red zone, he’s one of the best players in fantasy football, regardless of position.

Dud: Montee Ball was disappointing even before his groin injury forced him out for a few weeks, as he didn’t look like the top-5 fantasy back owners were hoping he could become.

Sleeper: The Broncos like Juwan Thompson a lot, and he’s a good fit for their offense. Look for him to get more work alongside Ronnie Hilman with Ball Out.

San Diego Chargers

Stud: Philip Rivers is orchestrating the Chargers passing attack to perfection, spreading the ball around and playing with a rare blend of production and efficiency. He’s proven to be a top-5 QB regardless of the matchup, as evidenced by his performance against the vaunted Seahawks secondary.

Dud: Keenan Allen has failed to build on his Rookie of the Year campaign, as he’s only had one great game so far. He isn’t getting as many targets as last year and he’s been bothered by a bum quad, but there’s a good chance he can turn things around.

Sleeper: A popular preseason breakout candidate, Ladarius Green hasn’t really gotten his shot with Antonio Gates playing so well, but he has freakish speed and athleticism for his position, and with the way Rivers is playing, anyone on the team seems capable of a breakout.

Kansas City Chiefs

Stud: Now that he’s healthy, Jamaal Charles is staring to remind fans of the ridiculous talent that made him a top-5 fantasy pick. He has legitimate big-play ability, he’s a big factor in the passing game, and it doesn’t look like Knile Davis will cut into his carries.

Dud: Dwayne Bowe is getting targets, he’s just not getting any big plays or touchdowns. He’ll get you a few catches but not much else, and he doesn’t seem a likely breakout candidate due to the  Chiefs’ conservative passing game.

Sleeper: DeAnthony Thomas won’t get more than a couple of touches in any given game, but if your league gives points for kick or punt returns, then this dangerous return man is worth consideration for desperate owners.

Oakland Raiders

Stud: Derek Carr has probably been the most impressive rookie signal caller this season, and he’s coming off a four-TD performance. He seems more confident now, and more importantly, the team seems more confident in him, so he should have plenty of opportunities to air it out.

Dud: Maurice Jones-Drew has been virtually nonexistent so far and is well behind Darren McFadden in terms of carries and production. He’s not worth owning at this point.

Sleeper: He may not qualify as a true sleeper at this point, but if Andre Holmes is still out their in your league, he’s definitely worth a look. His size and big-play ability give him massive upside.


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and Air Alamo and an editor at Wizards 101. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber

 

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Fantasy Football Trimester Review: AFC, NFC East

By Matt Graber


We head East for part two of our Fantasy Football Trimester Review. 

AFC EAST

New England Patriots

Stud: It appears that reports of Tom Brady’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Back-to-back strong performances against the Bengals and Bills have pushed Brady back into fantasy relevancy. The Patriots offense is still a question mark, but Brady has proven in the past that he doesn’t need top-shelf receivers to produce.

Dud: It’s not entirely his fault, but Shane Vereen hasn’t produced like his owners have hoped he would this season. He’ll get more carries with Stevan Ridley injured, but don’t expect him to be a 20-carries-a-game bell cow all of the sudden.

Sleeper: Brian Tyms has one reception this season, but it was an impressive 43-yard touchdown grab. He has the speed to become the team’s premier deep threat.

Buffalo Bills

Stud: Fred Jackson has outperformed backfield mate C.J Spiller and has been the best and most consistent fantasy performer for the Bills this season. His reliability and receiving skills make him a solid RB2.

Dud: E.J Manuel has gone from fantasy sleeper to benchwarmer, replaced by Kyle Orton despite the team’s strong start. He has talent but he just hasn’t looked like a starting NFL QB. If he doesn’t start for his NFL team, there’s no way he can start for your fantasy team.

Sleeper: Robert Woods had a strong outing against the Pats last week, with 78 yards and a touchdown. He’s a good route runner and could develop into a nice complement to Sammy Watkins.

Miami Dolphins

Stud: Lamar Miller has impressed after a disappointing start to his career. He’s averaging over 5 yards per carry, and with Knowshon Moreno out for the year, he seems to have the starting running back job locked up.

Dud: Charles Clay has been seemingly nonexistent this season after a strong 2013 campaign where he caught 69 balls. With zero touchdowns and no 50-yard games so far, he’s no longer a starting option, and he’s really not even a great backup.

Sleeper: Jarvis Landry is a playmaker, and after last week’s performance he could surpass Brian Hartline in the pecking order. He’s worth keeping an eye on.

New York Jets

Stud: There isn’t really a fantasy stud on this roster, but Jace Amaro had a nice breakout game last week, and if he keeps getting targets, he could quickly become a starting option at a thin position.

Dud: Chris Johnson has seen his carries steadily decline in recent weeks, to the point where he’s no longer a significant factor in the Jets running came. He’s a far cry from the player that once had a 2,000-yard season.

Sleeper: Again, hard to find a true sleeper on this team. If Johnson keeps losing carries and Chris Ivory continues to underwhelm, Bilal Powell could start getting more carries.

NFC EAST

Philadephia Eagles

Stud: This may seem like a weird pick on a team with so much offensive talent, but the Eagles D/ST has been the rare defense that can actually swing a fantasy game. They keep finding ways to score touchdowns, and their pass rush looked great against the Giants, so they should provide plenty of sacks.

Dud: McCoy finally broke out against the Giants, but he’s not forgiven for the preceding weeks. He did have to work with a patchwork offensive line, but weeks with 1, 2 and 6 points are hard to stomach from a top-5 fantasy pick.

Sleeper: Jordan Matthews has cooled down since his two-TD performance against the Redskins, but he does have at least 4 catches in his last 4 games. He gets targets and he has the size to become a red-zone threat.

Dallas Cowboys

Stud: This one is a no-brainer. DeMarco Murray has been dominant this season, with at least 100 yards in every game he’s played, plus 6 TDs. He’s running behind a monster offensive line in an offense that seems committed to the run. The only concern is that he may wear down from so many carries.

Dud: With Tony Romo throwing less, and with Dez Bryant and Terrence Williams entrenched as his top two receivers, Jason Witten doesn’t see a lot of targets these days, and he’s no longer a good source of touchdowns.

Sleeper: Murray probably can’t run the ball 25 times a game all year, and if Joesph Randle falls out of favor due to his arrest, Lance Dunbar could be used to spell Murray when needed. He can also contribute in the passing game.

New York Giants

Stud: Outside of duds in Weeks 1 and 6, Eli Manning has been solid, with at least two touchdowns in the other four games, including a 5-TD performance against the Redskins. He looks more comfortable in Ben McAdoo’s offense, and even without Victor Cruz, he has weapons.

Dud: It seems unfair to givethis to a guy who just suffered a serious injury, but Cruz wasn’t having a great season before his injury, with four games of 6 or less fantasy points. Here’s hoping he has a full and speedy recovery, as he’s one of the game’s most exciting players.

Sleeper: Everyone knows about Reuben Randle and Odell Beckham at this point, but don’t sleep on Corey Washington. The 6’4″ receiver caught four touchdowns this preseason.

Washington Redskins

Stud: The Redskins brought in DeSean Jackson to make big plays, and he’s done just that, with three games of 100 receiving yards and a TD. He’s a bit hit-or-miss, but his big-play potential is undeniable. He only needs one touch to change the complexion of a game.

Dud: Pierre Garcon hasn’t exactly been a dud, but he hasn’t come close to replicating last year’s numbers. There’s a lot of variance in the Redskins’ passing attack, so he’s not as reliable as he once was. He could catch 10 passes or 2 passes any given week.

Sleeper: Roy Helu isn’t going to replace Alfred Morris as the team’s go-to back barring injury, but he’s a skilled receiver out of the backfield, and he’s made some big plays this season. He’s worth consideration in PPR leagues.


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and Air Alamo and an editor at Wizards 101. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber

Fantasy Football Trimester Review: AFC, NFC South

By Matt Graber


Week 6 is in the books, and now that each NFL team has played at least 5 games, it’s as good a time as any to take a look at the fantasy football landscape. Here’s a breakdown of each team’s fantasy producers, including who’s hot, who’s not, and who’s poised for a breakout. We begin in the South.

AFC SOUTH

Indianapolis Colts

Stud: Andrew Luck has made the transformation from breakout candidate to full-fledged fantasy god. He’s thrown for 370 yards and three touchdowns three times already this season, and the Colts passing attack seems unstoppable right now. He’s the clear-cut fantasy MVP so far, and he could easily throw for 5,000 yards and close to 50 touchdowns this year.

Dud: It’s time to accept that Trent Richardson just isn’t a very good football player. He’s getting plenty of carries, but he’s averaging a measly 3.2 yards per carry, and he’s been clearly outperformed by Ahmad Bradshaw.

Sleeper: Dwayne Allen has very quietly posted solid numbers this season, with 4 touchdowns and about 40 yards per game. He won’t get a ton of catches or yards, but he’s one of Luck’s favorite red-zone targets.

Houston Texans

Stud: Arian Foster is once again a top-5 fantasy back, and he’s coming off two monster games. The Texans will lean on their running game in their conservative offense, and, so as long as he stays healthy, Foster will put up big numbers.

Dud: Andre Johnson had a breakout game last week, but he only has one touchdown on the year, and he seems to be falling behind DeAndre Hopkins in the pecking order. He’s solid, but no loner spectacular.

Sleeper: Alfred Blue is clearly behind Arian Foster on the depth chart, but he’s been decent when given substantial carries. If Foster goes down, or the Texans are forced to run even more, he could surprise some people.

Tennessee Titans

Stud: Delanie Walker has become a top-10 tight end and the Titans’ top offensive weapon. The Titans QB situation isn’t great, but regardless, he’s a strong producer at a thin position.

Dud: Jake Locker looked like he was finally coming in to his own after Week 1 but he can’t seem to stay healthy, and even when he’s on the field, he tends to make a lot of mistakes.

Sleeper: Bishop Sankey looks like he’ll be the starter at RB going forward, and the second-round pick could become a potential flex option based on opportunity alone.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Stud: It’s a bit generous to call Blake Bortles a fantasy stud at this point, but with the Jaguars likely to be trailing in every game they play, he’ll get the chance to throw a lot, and he should cut down on the picks as he gains experience.

Dud: Drafted as a potential RB2, Toby Gerhart has severely underwhelmed this season, and he’s now dealing with injuries. Even when healthy, he lacks the speed, vision and shiftiness to be the lead back on an NFL team.

Sleeper: Clay Harbor has posted two nice games in the last three weeks, and he seems to have the starting tight end job locked up for the time being. He’s becoming a weapon for Bortles.

NFC SOUTH

Carolina Panthers

Stud: The perpetually underrated Greg Olsen is once again having a monster season, with five touchdowns and four 6-catch games. He’s Cam Newton’s favorite target and an elite option at TE for the rest of the season.

Dud: The Panther’s running backs share this one, as no one can stay healthy and no one has been a consistent producer. Newton will likely receive the bulk of the Panther’s carries for the foreseeable future.

Sleeper: Darrin Reaves hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this season, but at least he’s healthy. He should get carries by default, which could make him a serviceable option for desperate teams.

Atlanta Falcons

Stud: While Matt Ryan has been very productive, Julio Jones gets the nod for his consistency. He’s clearly Ryan’s top target, and besides Sunday’s 68-yard performance, he’s had either a touchdown or at least 80 receiving yards in every game this year.

Dud: Roddy White looks like he’s done as an elite receiver, as he’s failed to eclipse 5 catches or 75 yards this season. He isn’t getting the targets needed to put up big numbers, and it seems like he always has a nagging injury.

Sleeper: Antone Smith has been electric this season, averaging 52.5 yards on his four touchdown. He’s proven that he doesn’t need a lot of touches to be productive.

New Orleans Saints

Stud: He’s injured right now, but when healthy, Jimmy Graham is an absolute stud and the best tight end in the league. He’ll get more yards and receptions than anyone else at the position, along with plenty of touchdowns.

Dud: Former fantasy stalwart Marques Colston isn’t ranked among the top 50 of his position right now, and it seems like he’s behind Graham and Brandin Cooks on the WR depth chart. With the way Drew Brees likes to spread the ball around, it doesn’t seem like he’s due for a big game any time soon.

Sleeper: Cooks hasn’t provided the big plays that his owners were hoping for, but he’s on pace for over 100 catches this season, and the Saints are determined to get the ball into his hands. There’s too much potential to give up on him now.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Stud: It’s slim pickings with the Bucs, but Mike Glennon has actually played pretty well since taking over for Josh McCown, averaging 288 yards and 2 TDs in his three starts. The Bucs will air it out, so if you need a backup or a spot starter, you could do a lot worse than Glennon.

Dud: Doug Martin is looking more and more like a one-hit wonder, as he’s not come close to replicating the success of his rookie year. Even with 10+ carries the last three games, he’s failed to eclipse 50 yards.

Sleeper: Louis Murphy has scored at least 9 points in his three games since signing with the Bucs, and he seems to be carving out a nice little role in their passing attack.


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and Air Alamo and an editor at Wizards 101. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber

A History of the Wizards-Cavs Rivalry

By Matt Graber


The Washington Wizards begin their regular season October 29th against the Miami Heat. But November 21st, a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, is the date that Wizards fans have circled on their calenders. Because, in case you missed it, the Wizards-Cavs rivalry is back on.

On Monday, at Wizards Media Day, Bradley Beal claimed that the tandem of he and John Wall are “definitely the best backcourt in the NBA”. A bold claim, sure, but hardly unreasonable, especially for media day. However, Cavs guard Dion Waiters took offense. From ESPN.com:

“That’s nonsense,” Waiters said after practice Tuesday. “(Beal is) supposed to say that, but I know deep down, he’s not messing with me and Ky (Kyrie Irving). I think me and Ky are the best backcourt, young backcourt. That’s all.”

John Wall disagreed, and he let Waiters know it:

“Why he say that? They haven’t seen a playoff game yet so when they make one they can start talking,” Wall said after the Wizards completed their first training camp practice of the season. “But if you’re going to be the best back court, you have to start. This is the year he’s probably starting so let’s see who got to best back court. You got to be a starting back court to be the best back court.”

Shots fired. The back-and-forth continued on Twitter until this instant classic from Waiters:

Yeah, it’s on. And it’s about time, because the Wizards and Cavs have the talent, relevancy, personalities, individual matchups and history to once again be one of the most entertaining rivalries in the NBA. In case you forgot about Round 1 of the rivalry, here’s a recap of their engaging and volatile trilogy of first-round matchups.

2006: The first of three consecutive Wizards-Cavs playoff meetings came in 2006 and featured a close and highly entertaining duel between Gilbert Arenas and a 22-year-old LeBron James, who was making his playoff debut.

That sentence may not make sense today, but you must remember that Gilbert Arenas used to be an All-Star and one of the NBA’s best scorers. The series has highly competitive, and Arenas and James put up some ridiculous numbers.

The two led their respective teams in scoring each game, highlighted by LeBron edging Arenas 45 points to 44 in Game 5. Unfortunately, the Cavs prevailed 4-2, including three heartbreaking 1 point victories, two coming via game-winning LeBron layups:

(He totally traveled on the second one, but I digress)

2007: 2006 was a fun, competitive and intriguing series featuring stellar individual performances and down-to-the-wire contests. 2007, not so much. The Wizards didn’t have Arenas or Caron Butler, LeBron had a year of playoff experience under his belt, and the Cavs eviscerated the Wizards 4-0 en route to the Finals. The less said about this, the better. Let’s just move on, okay?

2008: Now here is were it gets interesting, mainly due the Wizards guard and instigator DeShawn Stevenson. Stevenson felt it would be wise to call LeBron ‘overrated’. Because LeBron, coming off a devastating loss in the Finals and desperate to cement his greatness, needed even more motivation against a rival team.  The Wizards were much more competitive this time around, even winning Game 3 by 36. But a fired-up LeBron led the Cavs to a third straight series victory, dropping 27, 13 and 13 in a series-clinching Game 6.

Unlike the previous two years, this series featured plenty of off-court drama. James refused to comment on Stevenson’s taunt, likening it to Jay-Z responding to a diss from Soulja Boy. This led to both rappers inserting themselves into the feud. Soulja Boy attended game three at the Verizon Center and had his music played over the PA, while Jay-Z dropped this:

So yeah, the Cavs won the first round, but it wasn’t a total loss for Wizards fans. The team actually made the playoffs three years in a row, and we got to see a prime Gilbert Arenas do his thing. And DeShawn Stevenson certainly enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame.

Now, after years of ineptitude and mediocrity from both sides, the rivalry is back on. Both teams are packed with real talent, and both are positioned to be Eastern Conference contenders for years to come. Wall vs. Irving. Beal vs. Waiters. Pierce vs. James. It’s gonna be a good one, and it’s gonna have real championship implications. Get excited.


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and Air Alamo and an editor at Wizards 101. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber

Fantasy Football Sunday Takeaways: Week 3

By Matt Graber


1) Tom Brady is done as an strong fantasy option

Brady used to be a virtual lock for 4,000 plus yards and at least 30 touchdowns, including a record-setting season of 4,806 yards and 50 TDs in 2007. But those days are gone, and the reality is that Brady has become a below-average starting fantasy quarterback. Through three games, Brady has only 3 touchdowns and has yet to throw for 250 yards in a game. Right now he has less fantasy points than guys like Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill, EJ Manual and even Derek Carr. He’s just not getting it done.

This isn’t entirely Brady’s fault. He just doesn’t have the weapons to put  up big numbers in this offense. Julian Edelman is a great posession receiver and will likely catch well over 100 passes this year, but he’s hardly a big-play guy. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Tompkins never panned out, the injury-plagued Rob Gronkowski is of to a slow start, and the running game is inconsistent. Brady is still a great NFL quarterback and will likely lead the Pats to the playoffs once again. But for fantasy purposes, you can do a lot better.

2) Don’t worry about LeSean McCoy

As a McCoy owner, I hope this is more than just wishful thinking, but I really do believe McCoy will still emerge as an elite, top-tier running back this year. I know, 22 yards on 19 carries is pretty pitiful, but he didn’t look the same after taking that hit from David Amerson, and the Redskins were committed to shutting him down. The result was Nick Foles torching them for over 300 yards and 3 TDs. Committing to stopping McCoy just opens up the Eagles’ deadly passing game even more, so teams will likely take a more balanced approach to stopping their offense, meaning better running lanes for Shady.

Chip Kelly is committed to the run, and McCoy will get plenty of looks, as he’s averaging 20 carries a game so far. And while Darren Sproles has been the more impressive and impactful player so far, he won’t cut into McCoy’s carries. There’s plenty of room for both in the Eagles’ high-powered offense. McCoy has the talent, big-play ability, and opportunity to put up monster numbers in this offense, which he demonstrated last season. The breakout may not come next week against the 49ers, but it will come.

3) Defenses don’t really matter

If you wasted a mid-round pick on the Seahawks D, you may be regretting that choice after watching them get picked apart by the Chargers and give up some late scores to the Broncos yesterday. Likewise, you may be pleased with yourself if you waited until your last pick and grabbed somebody like the Patriots or the Lions. This is all just away of saying that defenses don’t matter and that you shouldn’t really value any one more than the other.

The Washington Redskins, of all teams, were the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL before getting torched by Nick Foles and the Eagles yesterday. The Panthers were looking like an elite unit, then the Steelers dropped 37 on them last night. With the way NFL offenses are playing nowadays, their aren’t any defenses you can rely on to provide consistent value week after week. You’re much better off streaming defenses or picking based on matchups rather than marrying yourself to one unit.


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and Air Alamo and an editor at Wizards 101. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber.

Let’s Pump the Brakes on Kirk Cousins

By Matt Graber


As a Redskins fan, I was gutted when RGIII went down with yet another leg injury yesterday. No matter what you think about him as a quarterback, seeing a talent like that suffer what looks like another serious injury is awful. Whether it’s totally fair or not, he’s gone from being viewed as a franchise savior and one-of-a-kind talent to a bust with a questionable future.

It looks like the Kirk Cousins era has begun in Washington, at least for the time being, and fans and pundits are already going crazy. It seems like Cousins has gone from backup to superstar over four quarters of football.

Look, I get it. Cousins looked fantastic yesterday, picking the Jaguars defense apart and finishing 22-33 with 250 yards and 2 TDs. But look at the opponent again; he did this against the Jaguars. I like Gus Bradley as a defensive coach, but the Jaguars may be the least talented team in the NFL, and their defense just gave up 34 second-half points against the Eagles last week. This wasn’t a close game against a tough opponent, or a thrilling comeback. It was a blowout win against a porous defense.

Cousins played in five games last season, and he didn’t exactly set the world on fire. His stats: 854 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 7 picks, 52.3 completion percentage, 26.5 QBR. Granted, five games isn’t a very big sample size, and the Skins were a mess last year, but it’s not like Cousins played so well he forced himself into the lineup. There’s a reason the team didn’t trade him last year; he didn’t blow anyone away in his stint as a starter, and he didn’t show anybody that he was a surefire franchise quarterback.

Cousins should be much better this year. He’s a solid NFL quarterback. He’s not a physical specimen, and he doesn’t have an incredible arm, but he’s smart, he can manage an offense, he’s good at working through his reads and he can make some accurate throws.

He’s a good fit for Jay Gruden’s offense (probably a better fit than RGIII, honestly) and he’s surrounded by weapons like DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed, Andre Roberts and Niles Paul. But fans expecting him to lead the Redskins on a deep playoff run or save their fantasy team should temper their expectations.

Let’s see how he does against a good defense, or on the road, or when he has to protect a lead or lead a comeback. Even if you choose not to evaluate him on his play last season, don’t make any assumptions based on one game against the Jaguars. As a fan I hope he proves me wrong and turns the Redskins into an offensive juggernaut, but I’m not counting on that happening anytime soon, and neither should you.


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and Air Alamo and an editor at Wizards 101. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber

US Open Men’s Final Preview: Nishikori vs. Cilic

By Matt Graber


(10) Kei Nishikori vs. (14) Marin Cilic

Pretty sure no one saw this one coming. Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic will meet in what is probably the most unlikely U.S. Open final in history today. It’s the first U.S. Open final featuring two players with double-digit seedings and the first major final not featuring Federer, Djokovic or Nadal since 2005. It should be an entertaining clash of styles, and it will signal a huge breakthrough for one of the game’s top young talents.

It’s hard to quantify the value of a professional tennis coach, but Michael Chang and Goran Ivanisevic have clearly made huge impacts on Nishikori and Cilic, respectively. Chang has Nishikori playing with surprising physical and mental toughness, while Ivanisevic has honed Cilic’s already formidable serve into an even bigger weapon. If these two can carry this kind of form into the future, they have a shot to match their coaches’ career successes.

Nishikori has become one of the most dangerous baseliners in the game. He’s fast, he can dictate and move opponents around with his forehand, and his two-handed backhand is one of the most lethal in the game. His stamina and fitness have improved greatly, as evidenced by his five set wins over Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic, and he is playing with a lot of confidence and aggression, taking the ball early and hitting his spots with deadly accuracy.

The 6’6″ Cilic has a massive serve, which he used to overwhelm Federer in their semifinal match. His groundstrokes are powerful and consistent, he’s a solid mover for his size, and he has a vastly underrated return game, as he’s broken his opponent’s serve 23 times in six matches.

If Cilic can maintain his serving level, he’ll be hard to beat, and he’ll put a lot of pressure on Nishikori to hold his own serve. Nishikori has already faced down two huge servers in Raonic and Wawrinka, but neither was serving with as much confidence and consistency as Cilic. Cilic will win a big majority of his serving points, making a break hard to come by.

If Nishikori has even one bad serving game, a set could slip away from him in the blink of an eye. However, Nishikori should have the advantage the longer the rallies go. As well as Cilic has been playing from the baseline, Nishikori is the better mover and has a better backhand. He demonstrated some remarkable ball-striking in his win over Djokovic.

The unexpectedness of this matchup and their limited history against one another makes this match difficult to predict. Nishikori leads their head to head 5-2, but Cilic won their other U.S. Open match in 2012, and he had a losing record against Gilles Simon and Federer before beating both of them.

If Cilic plays as well as he did against Federer, he’s virtually unbeatable, and he should defeat Nishikori. But Nishikori has been so impressive that its impossible to count him out. Both players are in great form, but Nishikori’s extensive time on court has to catch up to him eventually, and Cilic was so dominant against Federer and Tomas Berdych in his last two matches that it’s hard to bet against him. Nishikori will battle to the end, but another dominant serving performance will carry Cilic to his first U.S Open title in a five-set classic. Winner: Cilic


 

Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and Air Alamo and an editor at Wizards 101. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber.

Fantasy Football Sunday Takeaways: Week 1

By Matt Graber


1) Matty Ice is Back

Matt Ryan eliminated any remaining doubts about him or the Falcons offense yesterday, as he shredded a solid Saints secondary for 448 yards and three touchdowns. Injuries hamstrung the Falcons’ offense last season as the team limped to a 4-12 record, and as a result, Ryan plummeted down fantasy draft boards. Owners that waited to take a quarterback and grabbed Ryan in the middle rounds are about to reap the benefits, as their patience could be rewarded with a monster season.

Ryan has averaged 4,279 yards and 29 touchdowns over the last four seasons, and he seems poised to improve on those numbers now that he has a healthy supporting cast. Ryan has a deep and talented arsenal of weapons at his disposal, even without Tony Gonzalez. Julio Jones and Roddy White are one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league. Harry Douglas had over 80 catches and 1,000 yard last year serving as one of Ryan’s go-to guys, and Devin Hester looks like he’ll be a factor in the passing game, with five catches for 99 yards yesterday. The 6’8″, 265 lb. tight end Levine Toilolo could become a strong red-zone target. And Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonte Freeman and Antone Smith should form a nice trio of playmakers to complement Steven Jackson in the backfield. Ryan will be throwing a lot thanks to a suspect Falcons defense, so he has the talent, supporting cast, and opportunity to post big numbers. He has a legitimate chance to finish as a top-5 fantasy QB.

2) Running back is a crapshoot

You shouldn’t be surprised that Marshawn Lynch was tied for first among running backs with 24 points, and you shouldn’t be too surprised that Le’Veon Bell is the back he tied with. But some of the names that follow them on the leaderboard may catch you off guard. Knowshon, Moreno, Mark Ingram, Isaiah Crowell, Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles and Chris Johnson all finished as top-10 running backs yesterday, ahead of names like Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, and Arian Foster. Meanwhile, Jamaal Charles got seven carries, Zac Stacy was outscored by teammate Benny Cunningham, and Doug Martin posted the same number of fantasy points that I did.

If you have a stud like Peterson, McCoy, Lynch, Charles (he wont have another game that bad) or Matt Forte, your in good shape. The next tier of backs, guys like Eddie Lacy, Gio Bernard and Montee Ball, are solid starters. But after that it’s an ever-changing landscape of positional battles and running back platoons. There are maybe 10-12 solid, every-down backs that will reliably get the majority of their team’s carries. But it’s hard to predict what a lot of teams will do in the backfield. Is Terrance West the Browns’ starter now, or will it be Crowell or Ben Tate? Who will be the Saint’s primary back? Will Reggie Bush or Joique Bell get more carries? Is Carlos Hyde going to take over for Frank Gore soon? Was Doug Martin’s rookie year a fluke? These are questions that may not be easily answered.

3) The Broncos offense is still an unstoppable death machine

Don’t be alarmed that Peyton Manning only threw for three touchdowns, or that Demaryius Thomas only caught four passes; this is still the best offense in the league. The Broncos put this one away at halftime after a trio of Manning-to-Julius Thomas touchdown strikes. The fact that they almost let their lead slip away isn’t a big deal either, at least for fantasy purposes (but it is pretty disconcerting for actual NFL football reasons). One, it’s impossible to beat Andrew Luck by more than one touchdown, and two, it just means Manning will need to throw even more.

Demaryius is a dominant receiver who already got his worst game out of the way. Julius is a matchup nightmare who can’t be guarded one-on-one, especially in the red zone. The passing game didn’t miss a beat with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders, who had an impressive debut and could easily catch 100 balls this year. And while Montee Ball was hardly impressive, he and C.J Anderson did enough to move the chains. Plus, Manning will get Wes Welker back pretty soon. This is still a dominant offense, and they’ll score a lot of points this year. Probably enough to swing a few fantasy football championships.


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and Air Alamo and an editor at Wizards 101. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber

US Open Women’s Final Preview: Williams vs Wozniacki

By Matt Graber


It’s weird that the women’s side, which is known for parity and upsets, features a 17-time major champion in Williams and a top-10 player and former U.S. Open finalist in Wozniacki in the championship, while the men’s final is a matchup of two surprise finalists rather than some combination of the Big 4. But more on that tommorow.

There isn’t much more to be said about these two’s games that I haven’t already said this week. Williams will rely on her serve and forehand to overwhelm Wozniacki, while Wozniacki will rely on her speed and defense to wear down Serena and force errors.

Williams will try to end points quickly by playing aggressively and attacking any short balls she sees, because she he knows that longer rallies will favor Wozniacki. Wozniacki moves extremely well and will return a lot of balls, and while her groundstrokes aren’t as powerful as Serena’s, they are less likely to break down. She’ll want to prolong rallies for as long as possible and hope that she can frustrate Williams into making mistakes.

Wozniacki is 1-8 in her career against Williams, but she nearly beat Williams twice in the tournaments leading up to the Open, so Wozniacki can take confidence in the fact that she’s getting closer to making a breakthrough there. Williams, meanwhile, has had her confidence shaken after a string of disappointing results at the year’s previous majors. If Wozniacki can get off to a good start, she could instantly have a big mental edge.

As good as Wozniacki is, Williams has more weapons and is the more powerful player. If Williams is serving well and hitting her spots with her groundstrokes, she’ll be in complete control and have the match on her racket. Wozniacki needs to take advantage of any openings Williams gives her and hope that a stretch of poor play can give her the chance to break Williams’ serve and take the advantage.

This will likely be a long, three-set match with a couple of service breaks. Williams is the better player and can dominate the match if she’s on her game, but lately she’s been to unreliable to count on a dominant performance. Wozniacki will frustrate Williams and will make her work for everything in this match, but Williams will pull it out and become an 18-time major champion. Winner: Williams


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley, an editor for Wizards 101 and a contributor for Air Alamo. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber.

US Open Women’s Semifinals Preview

By Matt Graber


(10) Caroline Wozniacki vs. Shuai Peng

Peng is by far the most surprising semifinalist of the tournament. The 28-year-old veteran is playing the best tennis of her lengthy career, navigating through a tough draw by beating three seeded players.  She has a strong backhand and an unorthodox but effective two-handed forehand, she moves well, and she’s comfortable at net.

Wozniacki is displaying the kind of tennis that took her all the way to the No. 1 ranking. She’s arguably the best defensive player in the women’s game, relying on speed and consistency to wear down opponents and force them to make errors. The difference has been her aggression, as she’s used her excellent backhand and improved forehand to take control of points and go for winners rather than just react.

This is a toss-up between two in-form players, but Wozniacki has more experience playing on this stage, and she looked very impressive in her quarterfinal victory over Sara Errani. She’ll weather Peng’s offense and force enough errors to win a tight match. Winner: Wozniacki

 

(1) Serena Williams vs. (17) Ekaterina Makarova

Serena has faced little opposition so far, cruising into the semifinals without dropping a set. She’s serving well, playing aggressively and putting away short balls. When she’s on her game, she’s clearly the top player in women’s tennis.

Makarova should provide a much tougher opponent. She has a big lefty serve and a strong baseline game, and she has to be full of confidence coming off her upset victories over Eugenie Bouchard and Victoria Azarenka. She’s finally made her breakthrough after several quarterfinals appearances, and she’s beaten Serena at a major before.

Serena will finally be challenged, but she should still advance. She’s simply playing too well right now, and she looks determined to redeem her season with another U.S Open title.  Winner: Williams


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley, an editor for Wizards 101 and a contributor for Air Alamo. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber.