FIRST DOWN – The NBA needs to make an unprecedented change. Yes, I’m advocating for something that’s never been done in the history of professional sports (at least in the modern era). It’s time to completely shake up the way the league formats its playoffs. What I advocate is the elimination of conferences when it comes to seeding. After seeing the Western Conference increase its strength on draft night with the Timberwolves acquisition of Jimmy Butler, enough is enough. The West as a whole is much stronger than the Eastern Conference and somehow the playing field needs to be leveled out. So here is what I would do:
- The top 16 records qualify for the playoffs no matter which conference.
- Seed them 1-16 based on record – no preference is given to division winners (i.e. divisions are in place just for scheduling purposes during the regular season).
- Play each round as a 7 game series as is the case currently.
- Let the best team win.
If we get a Spurs-Warriors NBA Finals, so be it. I think fan excitement would be off the charts; Golden State vs. Cleveland / Boston wouldn’t be a given for the 2018 NBA Finals. Would it solve the problem of super teams? Maybe not entirely…but in this case it’s all about leveling the playing field.
SECOND DOWN – Whose coaching hot seat is warmer in the state of Arizona, Rich Rodriguez or Todd Graham? This is a tough one to answer but surprisingly for most UofA fans, I’ll say Graham. His team got destroyed by a BAD Arizona team last November…you know, the game where Arizona threw ZERO passes in the second half and yet still scored 28 points. Oh yeah…and the Wildcats were 0-8 in conference going into the game. If I were ASU’s Athletic Director, I would’ve been calling my big donors during the game to see who wanted to ante up for Graham’s large buyout. His used car salesman act isn’t working anymore.
In Tucson, the downfall of RichRod has been recruiting. Time and time again Arizona loses out on players it should’ve gotten…and the recruits that are coming in simply aren’t Pac-12 worthy. I don’t have a problem with his on-field coaching for the most part…but when the talent-level is a problem, it’s likely a change will need to be made sooner than later.
I’d say there’s a better than 50/50 chance that both coaches will be let go after the Territorial Cup game in late-November. The ceiling for both teams is likely 7-5 but I’m not sure either team has the talent to get there this season.
Given that there is more football tradition in Tempe, I would expect a higher profile coaching name to replace Graham…such as Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) or Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) who both might be looking for jobs sooner than later. To see who I predict replaces RichRod at Arizona, click here.
THIRD DOWN – It’s almost fantasy football season so I’ll give you my top-12 (PPR scoring format).
1. David Johnson (RB, Arizona) – the workload is so heavy that a 1,000-1,000 rushing-receiving yardage season is entirely possible if he stays healthy.
2. Le’Veon Bell (RB, Pittsburgh) – The most patient runner in the game who also possesses superior receiving skills. Playing for a long term deal in 2017.
3. Antonio Brown (WR, Pittsburgh) – He ONLY had 1,284 receiving yards and 12 TDs last year. With Pittsburgh getting the dynamic Martavis Bryant back from suspension, Brown might find less double coverages his way this season.
4. Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Dallas) – I only worry slightly about a sophomore slump. Should come close to last year’s 16 TD effort.
5. Odell Beckham, Jr. (WR, NY Giants) – The Giants have no running game but did add a few key weapons to their receiving core. I expect Eli Manning to chuck it all over the lot this season and Odell will be the beneficiary.
6. Mike Evans (WR, Tampa Bay) – I’m big on the Bucs this year and it wouldn’t shock me if Evans led the league in receiving yards.
7. Julio Jones (WR, Atlanta) – I worry about Jones staying injury-free this season as he’s been historically dinged up. The upside is HUGE but the downside might be enough for me to avoid in most leagues.
8. A.J. Green (WR, Cincinnati) – There’s quite a drop-off after the top 7 as I see it. Green missed half of last season due to injury but should rebound in 2017 getting a ton of targets on a Bengals team that figures to be in pass mode often in the 2nd halves of games.
9. Melvin Gordon (RB, LA Chargers) – Who is his competition? The Chargers offense should be fun to watch and Gordon should once again be a touchdown machine as there’s no threat to his goal line carries.
10. Jordy Nelson (WR, Green Bay) – Had 14 TDs in his return season after missing 2015 with an ACL tear. No reason to expect any less success in 2017.
11. LeSean McCoy (RB, Buffalo) – Elite fantasy RBs are few and far between this season. Is plenty worthy of a first round pick due to receiving threat and home run threat ability.
12. Rob Gronkowski (TE, New England) – If Gronk stays healthy, a 16 TD+ season may not be unrealistic considering the Patriots should be crushing teams week-in, week-out.
FOURTH DOWN – Given that the first round of fantasy football drafts is so top-heavy, what happens if you draw picks 8-12? Yikes – a nightmare situation for most players. With seven elite fantasy players and a sizable drop-off after that, it’s all about taking a contrarian strategy. When others zig, you might have to zag.
My league rewards QBs with 6 points for a touchdown so that automatically makes players such as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady worth more compared to most leagues. I would certainly consider stacking a Rodgers-Nelson or Gronkowski-Brady duo so that when the receivers score, it’s worth double points for your team.
If you do pass on RBs in the first two rounds, make sure to grab rookies Christian McCaffery (Carolina) or Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville) in Round 4. Both have immense upside yet as rookies though I question whether Fournette will lose value in PPR league because of his lesser receiving skills. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota) might end up in the Round 4 range as well but for now he’s going several rounds lower. With only the oft-injured Latavius Murray as his primary competition, Cook could be a key to fantasy success in the 2nd half of the season.