Fantasy Football Quick Hits

Vegas lines, trend lines and offensive lines

Rob from Fantasy Football Lab joins me to talk some trends in Fantasy Football and highlight some players and teams that interest us and those we want to stay away from. Subscribe on iTunes!

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The Minnesota Twins are surprising everyone

They have the pieces to keep it up

The Minnesota Twins will cap off a stunning regular season when they clinch the playoffs this week. As many waited for them to fade, they have gone from last year’s league-worst record to a wildcard spot. I have picked against them throughout the wildcard homestretch, but they have stayed comfortably in position as the second wildcard and are destined for Yankee Stadium and the American League Wildcard game. For many, that will be the first time they have seen the Twins play this season.

Baseball’s season is notoriously long. Its a 162-game slog where moments struggle to break through until late in the season and the post-season. It’s hard for any Cinderella Story to really jump out when there are more games than characters in a tweet. This is especially true when the slipper is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Yet, the Twin Cities have seen a team do what very few have done before. They have gone from 59-103 to a wildcard spot and are only the 13th team to go from 100 losses to a winning record. FiveThrityEight had them with just a 7% chance to make the playoffs before the season and virtually no one saw them coming. That may include the Twins, who were sellers at the trade deadline.

Paul Molitor’s squad is a unique combination of established stars overachieving and a young core coming into its own. Joe Mauer has been around long enough to see the Twins’ last run to the postseason and his uptick in performance has helped spur this team on. His batting average climbed from last year’s .261 to over .300 this season, and his adjusted OPS has climbed from 104 to 116. Brian Dozier is one of the only Twins who was better last year, but a slight decline from his 42 home run season still has him leading the team in dingers, while being second in adjusted OPS. Then there is Ervin Santana. He pitched well last season (he actually had a lower ERA and FIP last year), but maintaining that another season while the team has improved in the lineup and behind him on the mound, has led to an ace-caliber W-L record for him. The Twins’ established players have done enough to allow a young core to lift them to the postseason.

That young core is headlined in the lineup by Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario. All aged 25 or younger, each of these players has a WAR greater than 1 and Buxton leads the team at 5.1. Buxton’s bat has not been as hot as the Twins would like, but the 2012 second overall pick is far and away the team’s best fielder and gives them an asset in center field that few can match. He has also stolen 23 bases in a row without being caught. Meanwhile, Polanco and Rosario are near the top of the team in Offensive WAR and help give the Twins a lineup that can be dangerous 1-9.

On the mound, the youth revolution is led by 23-year old Jose Berrios. He leads the rotation in FIP and averages almost a strikeout per inning. He has been so impressive, there are some calls for Berrios to get the start against the Yankees.That will probably be Santana, but Berrios could be the Twins top pitching weapon if they can get to the ALDS.

Meanwhile, the bullpen is another case of youth and experience combining to elevate the Twins. Veteran closer Brandon Kintzler picked up 28 saves before going to the Nationals in a deadline deal and paving the way for youth to step up in the pen. While 37 year old Matt Belise has gotten the bulk of save opportunities since Kintzler’s departure, a young three-headed monster is emerging. Taylor Rogers, Alan Busenitz and Trevor Hildenberger are maturing when needed most. All three are just 26 and give the Twins different strengths. Rogers is deadly as a lefty specialist and has been called on more than any reliever in Molitor’s pen. Busenitz is emerging as a setup man late in the season with a sub-1.5 ERA. The best of the trio may be Hildenberger who has the team’s best FIP and averages 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings. The Twins should feel good about their relievers as the season wraps up and should feel great about next year’s bullpen.

The Twins have flown under the radar all season because there’s no dramatic explanation for this team’s success. They have just improved up and down the roster from one year to the next and that wide-scale incremental improvement has been just enough to earn a date with the Yankees. The Yankees are the Twins’ polar opposite–nothing they do flys under the radar. A perfect microcosm: the Home Run Derby is remembered for Aaron Judge’s fireworks display, but you know who took second? Miguel Sano of the Twins. In fact, Sano is currently injured, but may be a factor for the Twins postseason hopes if he can get healthy.

This team has the pieces to make a run. The starting pitching is good, the lineup is deep and the bullpen has multiple weapons. They even have the presence of Bartolo Colon. They went 2-4 against New York in the regular season and 6-10 against their likely ALDS opponent–and division rivals–the Cleveland Indians. Few will believe in the Twins, but few have all season. The Twins will wrap up one shocking result this week and all attention will turn to their next opportunity: the October 3rd match-up with Aaron Judge and the Yankees.

I’m picking the Yankees.

Podcast: Power 5 Conference Landscape

Analyzing the top teams and potential surprises for each major conference

Ryan and I dive into each of college football’s power conferences to talk who we think will win, but also the top challengers we see. Also discussed: Different conferences’ playoff chances, early picks we like and conference quality. Subscribe on iTunes!

Football Weekend Recap: What I thought I knew

Several teams reshaped my expectations

Much of the football weekend was not about football (Some of my early thoughts are on Twitter, but more to come on that in a podcast later this week), but the on-the field entertainment was as high as its been over a Saturday and Sunday as it’s been in a while. Apart from close games, much of the thrill came from teams defying or surpassing our expectations. Just when I think I have a read on the season, I’m reminded how little I know for certain. Let’s look at eight things I thought heading into the weekend and how they held up.

Oklahoma State’s offense can’t be stopped
TCU showed you may not be able to shut the Cowboys down, but you can contain them enough to get a win–even in Stillwater. The Pokes still racked up just under 500 yards, but they were only on the field for 21 minutes and were out-rushed by 140 yards, while averaging just 3.3 yards per rush. The meek effort on the ground (by their standards) combined with 4 turnovers was their undoing. Turn them over and hold their running game down and Oklahoma State is beatable.

Weird things happen in Iowa City
This one proved true. Penn State broke Hawkeye hearts on the last play of the game, but Kinnick Stadium still provided the drama akin to what it has seen in the past.

The SEC East is hapless
This one got complicated. Vanderbilt got spanked by Alabama, Kentucky found a way to lose to a less than impressive Florida squad. Tennessee and South Carolina edged out wins against sub par competition and Missouri was embarrassed by Auburn. However, Georgia dominated Mississippi State and looks like maybe the only SEC team that can challenge for Alabama’s throne. The division as a whole may be in trouble, but Georgia may be enough to flip the script.

It’s hard to come back after a hurricane-induced layoff
Tested across the collegiate and professional ranks, the results were mixed. Florida State looked lost, but NC State is a tough match up and the Seminoles were starting a new quarterback. Miami let Toledo hang around, but pulled away while UCF blitzed Maryland to the tune of an easy 38-10 victory. In the NFL, The Buccaneers and Dolphins looked good in their first game back, but it’s possible the crazy travel schedule and emotional roller coaster took its toll as both teams laid an egg this past Sunday. It will take more games to properly contextualize the hurricane’s layoff, but one can’t help but root for all these teams as they represent embattled areas of the nation.

Thursday games are a dud
My distaste for Thursday games has been documented. Yet, last week’s expected dud between the Rams and 49ers yielded a thrilling 41-39 contest featuring plenty of offense, an onside kick recovery and interested viewers. We’ll see if this was the anomaly it seems to be or the start of a run of entertaining Thursday contests.

Roethlisberger struggles on the road
The loss to the Bears may have more to do with an underrated Chicago defense holding down the Steelers rushing attack, but Big Ben’s road struggles did rear their ugly head.

The Raiders are Super Bowl contenders
Pump the brakes. Maybe Washington is better than expected and this was a West Coast team playing in the East. Still, this was a night game so body clocks shouldn’t enter the equation and Derek Carr had his worst game in a long time–held under 120 yards and tossing two interceptions. This team may not even be the best in its division. It will be fighting for second place next weekend at Mile High.

The Jets won’t win a game
So maybe no one truly expected 0-16, but it seemed shockingly possible. That was until the Jets controlled the game against the Dolphins and looked convincing in a 20-6 win. Time will tell, if they can duplicate the effort or how much a win over the Dolphins means, but a win has got to feel good for Todd Bowles and co.

Double Take: NFL Debates

The Rams, AFC v. NFC, Thursday and London Games, Fantasy Trades

The following is a lightly edited extract from a back and forth I had with Nick Yusko. We like to challenge each others ideas as we figure out what we think. Here, we went in on some NFL topics.

Rams

Coming of a surprisingly entertaining 41-39 victory to move to 2-1…

Josh: Are the Rams a playoff team?

Nick: No I can’t see that happening. The Rams, granted their offense has looked much much better than a year ago, but they’ve beaten the Colts and 49ers. And lost to the Redskins. None of those teams are playoff teams in my mind and none of those teams play much defense either, which I think attributes some to the offense looking better.

Josh: I went back and forth on this team before the season, and eventually settled on the under for their wins. But a couple things have changed my mind. One, while I agree the teams they’ve beaten aren’t juggernauts, they did manhandle the Colts and the 49ers might be an underrated challenge. Plus, their schedule doesn’t get too much tougher as Jaguars, Giants and Saints all look like winnable games. The biggest thing though is how bad the Cardinals look. That really could be 2 wins (certainly 1) I didn’t see coming. Plus, the Seahawks are struggling and the Rams have had their number anyway. I think they are going to be right there for a playoff spot.

Nick: Just remember, this was a team that started 3-1 last year with wins over Seattle, Tampa, and Arizona. Then lost 11 of their last 12 (only beating the Jets) the rest of the season. The offense is better, but they still like to turn the ball over. Gurley has 4 fumbles (lucky to have only lost 1 in 3 games) and Goff threw a bad pick in against the Skins in their only truly big pressure possession. Even worse question marks are on the defense. The Rams rush defense has been absolutely shredded the past 2 weeks by a Redskins team that can’t run the ball and by a 49ers team that hadn’t scored a touchdown yet before last night. The next 2 weeks will be telling of their playoff potential in my mind as they travel to Dallas and host Seattle (2 playoff teams). You mentioned some winnable games but the 2nd half of their schedule looks pretty rough down the stretch with a 6 game stretch of @Minnesota, vs Saints, @Arizona, vs Eagles, @Seattle, @Titans.

Josh: You’re right, they need to stockpile some wins early. The Goff pick is concerning, but y’know what helps? Not having Jeff Fisher–that guy was just out of touch and really held this team back (this is a fun video). I think they get to 7-2 or 6-3 and then grind to 9 or 10 wins. That might be good enough

Nick: Ah, well Jeff Fisher–tied for the most losses in NFL history–certainly wasn’t helping. I think their ceiling is probably an 8-8 team, but even if they somehow eclipsed that with 9 wins… you mentioned 10 which I think is a stretch… I don’t see them winning that division still with the Seahawks and Cardinals. Over the last 5 years the average NFC wild card team has averaged 10.6 wins, including 3 teams that have been left out with 10-6 records. With a number of competitive teams in other divisions – ATL, TB, CAR, DAL, PHI, GB, MIN – I don’t see them eclipsing that number.

Josh: Imma say they go 9-7, second in their division and will need help from two of Carolina, Minnesota and Detroit to get a wildcard. Playoff caliber–may come up short.

Nick: I’m gonna say they go 7-9, still a year away from being a real contender.

AFC vs. NFC

Josh: So you kind of hinted at another thing I want to get into in talking the depth of the NFC. I think the AFC is the stronger conference this season, what’s the NFC’s case?

Nick: Right now if you just look at records, the AFC does seem stronger, especially the AFC West, plus the Patriots and Steelers looming. But honestly how strong is this conference? I’d like to point out I am basing my thoughts on projected growth over the year and then potential in the playoffs. Between the AFC South and East, you have the Patriots and maybe the Titans; I don’t think you are very high on them but someone has to win that dreadful division. The other 6 teams are trash. In the North, the Steelers look legit and the Ravens defense is scary but is anyone actually going to be afraid of Joe Flacco over the course of the year? And in the West, I see the Raiders as legit SB contenders but regular season stud QB Alex Smith (he wins a lot of games somehow) and Trevor Simian doesn’t strike fear into me come playoff time. Overall I’ll cede that the top 3 teams are very very good, but the lack of overall depth and absolute garbage at the bottom – Jets, Bills, Browns, Colts, Jags and even the Bengals and Texans – make me believe that the NFC is stronger.

Josh: To stay with listing negatives: The NFC has maybe one good looking division. The NFC West’s contenders have looked like a mess. The East was supposed to be good, but Dallas just got rolled, Eagles/Redskins have a lot of questions and the Giants look awful. In the North, there may be 3 good teams, but there’s a lot of injuries for Vikings and Packers and I don’t trust the Lions. I like the Buccs and Falcons down south, but am worried about the Panthers. So, I see falcons and Buccs with Packers and Seahawks maybe hanging around. Gonna have to see a lot of progression to believe they can put forward even 4 legit playoff squads.

Nick: I think overall though you have greater depth in the NFC. I’m a believer that the Seahawks will figure out their offensive line and I think Arizona will figure out how to regroup without David Johnson. I think in the East, at least 2 of those 4 teams will be playoff caliber. The Cowboys are still my favorite but I think Wentz could make a 2nd year jump like Mariota and Carr did. And if the Giants figure out their line they still have a very good defense that they rode to an 11-5 record last year. The North has the Packers, who everyone knows and respects, and the Lions have looked pretty solid so far. We’ll have a better idea about them maybe after this week. The Vikings have a solid defense and their offense looks more promising if Bradford can stay healthy. And down South you have the Falcons and Bucs, who are both very good teams, and the Panthers defense seems healthy and ready to dominate again this year. If Newton shakes off the cobwebs and gets fully healthy I think they are a dangerous team like a few years ago. My point being, while the NFC does not have a team that stands out as elite, like I think the top 3 in the AFC, they have better overall depth. Once the 6 teams are set in the AFC playoffs, people will pick the Pats and then a few die hard fans will pick their Steelers or Raiders to reach the Super Bowl. In the NFC playoffs, I think a case could possibly be made for any of the 6 teams that make it have a chance to make a run and reach the Super Bowl.

Josh: A lot of ifs in the NFC. Sounds like we agree the top of the AFC holds up, but I would argue the AFC has depth too. Out West, I think the Chiefs are Super Bowl contenders and Broncos are playoff threats (Chargers would be if they can find the snake venom antidote). Pittsburgh and Baltimore should capitalize on the Bengals and Browns’ woes and use their strengths (Steelers O, Ravens D) to coast to the playoffs. In the East, Miami can be a playoff caliber team and Buffalo and the Jets have not been as terrible as thought. The South is trash, but Watson and Mariota are exciting QBs who might can pull an upset if they make the playoffs. The depth is right there with the NFC and I’d take Chiefs, Raiders, Steelers, Patriots before all but Falcons and maybe Packers Super Bowl wise.

Thursday and London

Josh: So, which is worse, London Games or Thursday games?

Nick: Ahaha that’s actually a pretty hard one in my opinion. I don’t like either, but Thursday’s are worse… barely

Josh: I think both are brutal, London usually gets sub-par teams and Thursday is just too short of a turn around. I like the London idea–but its execution is a bit off

Nick: The only redeeming factor about London is that since both teams are bad the games are usually fairly close. There are exceptions, i.e. the Patriots have been there 2x and slaughtered both opponents. But there’s also last year’s joke, a tie between the Redskins and Bengals. I don’t like the London idea at all.
Thursday nights aren’t fun for anyone. It messes around with the resting period between games and usually are of an inferior quality. The majority of people who tune in are fantasy football fans. No one else gets excited to tune in and watch the Bengals vs Texans, Rams vs 49ers, Jets vs Bills, etc. The only Thursday that is acceptable is Thanksgiving.

Josh: We agree on Thursday–bad all around, Thanksgiving only please. London I get. You want international fans and they give teams the option to take the next week off. So, I get what they’re going for and I think it means a lot across the pond

Nick: I think the NFL wants to eventually move a franchise over there though. And I don’t like the thought of that. If you wanna have a few games a year over there, especially to expand the audience (and in the Jags case actually make more profit from a home game there than in Jacksonville), I guess it’s alright. The bye week afterwards isn’t that much of a reward still. The Ravens requested to have a later bye week because a week 4 bye is very early and means you have to play 13 straight to end the year. The NFL was like “sure no problem guys, we’ll give you a home game against your bitter rivals the Steelers the following week and then have you go to Oakland the week after that.”

Josh: Haha, i guess it worked out better for the Jags…who get the Jets. I’m with you that I can’t see a franchise there with current technology, but it’s good to try and make the game more international. That’s pretty brutal for the Ravens though…

Nick: I read that they are debating using games like that in London or Mexico City (or China for the Rams and 49ers next year) as a punishment for teams that are relocating. It seems the globalization is inevitable but that’s considered a “punishment” because it forces them to give up a true home game as well as the effects on the players body clocks.

Josh: Well…that’s interesting. Shocking to see the NFL with such vindictive management tactics...

Fantasy Trades

Josh: Fantasy football has been a huge reason the game has grown like it has–and is one reason guys like us watch as many games as we can. But, you have some things to say on Fantasy Trades, right?

Nick: I don’t even want to get started on this lol. Some people just are absolutely clueless when it comes to a player’s value. If that’s the case, you should just keep to the waiver wire and your own team. I hear you’ve had some pretty fun offers made to you this past week?

Josh: Yea, i got offered Rex Burkhead for Mike Evans…. so that was cool. I will say, people don’t wanna look stupid when the trade goes through so they are overly cautious. I mean i made what i think was a pretty fair trade: gave Demaryius Thomas, Jordan Howard, Devante parker; got OBJ, Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr.. And you still get questions and you still worry. So everyone wants to dominate trades and thus offer some lame ones.

Nick: Yeah the jury is still out on that one but it seems pretty even on the surface. I also don’t understand why the guy who has scored the 2nd most points so far would be looking to trade. Obviously his team is pretty solid; I would expect that people seek him out for trades and not the other way around. I also hate trades where people basically try to buy a player from you so they offer 2 for 1 or 3 for 2. Cause most leagues, but ours in particular, people carry a full roster so you immediately have to drop one of the guys you’re receiving in the trade or someone else on your roster. Which if they’re on your roster you must feel something about them.
I’m also pretty against trades in general too. Just my style of fantasy,

Josh: Yeah, both of us are more waiver wire centric. So I have enjoyed at least attempting to bring the negotiation dynamic into play. But yeah, it’s tough when your not on the same page or people clearly don’t have valuations correct. In general, with unlimited waivers you are probably better off just looking there. Less hassle and can get similar value. If you limit waivers, trades become more crucial.

Nick: I enjoy the prospect of talking about trades and proposing deals. But then never actually following through on them.

Josh: Classic.

College Football Picks

Best bets and other thoughts

I broke down the big games of the week on the pod, but wanted to post my best bets after combing through those games and many more. As for the big games I’m not picking, here are my final quick takes:

Alabama -19 @ Vandy
I like the Commodores this season, but think Alabama shows its head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. Vandy will rally in the next few weeks, but ‘Bama covers here.

TCU @ Oklahoma State -14
I think the Cowboys are top-5 caliber, but 14 is a lot of points against an offense like the Horned Frogs’. I think the Cowboys cover, but garbage time scares me.

Penn State -13 @ Iowa
Penn State’s offense is a lot better than anything the Hawkeyes can offer in all 3 phases. I’m staying away because weird things happen in Iowa City, but the Nittany Lions should cover.

Best Bets:

NC State +13
Tough spot for Florida State breaking in a new QB after three weeks off. They may win, but it will be close

Maryland -4
Maryland’s offense has looked potent through three weeks and UCF is another team that could struggle after an Irma-forced layoff. This should be a shootout, but the Terps pull away at home.

Wake Forest -5.5
Wake Forest has been as explosive as any team in the nation (against less than formidable foes, but still). Appalachian State is a name that scares bettors, but this team won’t hang with a Demon Deacons squad that may be a player in the ACC title race.

Mississippi St +4.5
I have not seen enough from Georgia to think they can move the ball if Mississippi State shuts down the run. I like Nick Fitzgerald much more than Jake Fromm and think Mississippi State wins this battle of the bulldogs

Colorado +11.5
I can’t shake how rough the Huskies looked against Rutgers and Colorado has looked formidable in their first 3 games. In Boulder, I think the Buffaloes push the Huskies and even if they lose it will be a one-possession game

Last Week: 3-2
Season: 7-2-1