Category Archives: NFL

For heel lovers, Super Bowl is a dream matchup

Sunday’s Super Bowl offers tough choices for the average, American sports fan.

In one corner are the big, bad Seattle Seahawks. They’re brash, led by motormouth cornerback Richard Sherman – a rare athlete who talks the talk but follows up by walking the walk.

In last year’s NFC championship, Sherman offered this post-game gem, arguably the most polarizing moment in recent NFL history:

Love the look on Erin Andrews face there. It’s like she’s saying, “Don’t you realize I’m hot? I don’t know whether I’m offended by what you’re saying or that you’re not fawning over me.”

In addition to brash, the Seahawks are big and bad. They bludgeon opponents.

And they boast a crouch-grabbing, interview-hating, Skittles-eating force.

In the other corner are the New England Patriots.

They’re cerebral, always around late in the postseason. Oh, and they’ve been accused of cheating a time or two.

Take away the Deflategate and Spygate scandals, and NFL teams don’t get more boring than New England, even if the Patriots have a history of taking on at-risk players like LeGarrette Blount (anyone else believe Blount orchestrated his exit from the Steelers?), Aaron Hernandez, Randy Moss and that Molly-poppin’ Wes Welker.

Yep, for many, there’s not much to root for this Sunday – take up sides with a bandwagon fan base from the Northwest with a coach who derailed USC football or a cheating franchise with a decades worth of bad sound clips.

But …

For those of us who grew up cheering for the heel, who booed Tito Santana with every ounce of energy when his whack in-ring skills were on public display or proudly displayed the Four Horsemen sign as yinzers at the War Memorial Arena in Johnstown threw garbage, it’s a dream matchup.

In this corner, we have the Seattle Seahawks, the Arn Andersons of the NFL.

Arn Anderson was mean, nasty and did anything to win. HIs four fingers extended are like Lynch’s crouch grab.

In this corner, we have the New England Patriots, the Curt Hennigs of the NFL.

Like Hennig, the Patriots pride themselves on execution, perfection and technical ability. Hennig provided far better sound clips than Tom Brady or Belichick ever could, but there;s no denying the orchestration both display.

Really, it’s a dream matchup. Imagine Arn vs. Mr. Perfect in their primes. We’re talking 60-minute, falls count anywhere, tons of outside interference and a title change.

Speaking of title changes, the Patriots have too much to prove after Deflategate.

Patriots 37, Seahawks 19.

Bye to a Roody Poo candy ass

Farewell, old friend. You will be missed.

This goodbye isn’t meant for a person, or even a faithful canine companion.

It’s for a fantasy football league named after the premier pro wrestler at the time – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

For the past 16 years, basically my entire post-collegiate life, the Roody Poo Fantasy Football League filled the fall with competitive fervor, smack talk, companionship and the occasional riches of a high-payout.

The Roody Poo wasn’t the typical fantasy league. In its early (and in this writer’s mind better) years, points were hard to come by. The league was a scoring league. Touchdowns, like real football, meant more than yards. Quarterbacks, the most important players in the game, were the most vital to Roody Poo success. Passing touchdowns counted the same as rushing, receiving or defensive touchdowns. Throw an interception that was returned for a score? Well, that was six points off the quarterback’s point total.

The league was quirky. Owners had to reach the championship to earn a share of the pot. The champion usually won around a grand.

And the trash talk. Oh my, did it fly fast and furious.

Like everything else, things change. Over time, owners wanted more points awarded for yards and the third-place team to earn a share of the pot. As commissioner, I permitted such changes, but the original intent of the league was bastardized. It still owned its quirks, but the Roody Poo slowly became like the majority of other fantasy football leagues.

Drafts, which always took place at my apartment, started occurring online. The trash talk dwindled to a murmur, then grew silent.

Yet, the league remained highly competitive as the payouts proved fruitful – a nice bonus after the holidays.

But then, about six weeks ago, a realization hit me.

Even if the Roody Poo was no longer what I wanted it to be, I still took fantasy football seriously. Too seriously.

On this fateful Sunday, my Roody Poo team – Hadji’s Skeleton Achers – rolled with Matthew Stafford at quarterback and kept Joe Flacco on the bench. Just about noon, I was ready to insert Flacco into my starting lineup. My daughter, Anna, called upstairs to me.

“Dad, it’s time to go to church.”

I thought to myself, “Stafford’s been in your lineup all week, don’t second-guess yourself. Keep him in there.”

Flacco threw five touchdowns – in the first half.

Stafford, as he had done for much of the 2014 season, sucked.

I simmered over the decision the rest of the day. Seriously. It dominated my thought process.

That’s when the realization came to me … it was time to give it up. The Roody Poo needed retired, and I’m contemplating leaving fantasy football entirely.

And I’m OK with that.

As today’s 1 p.m. kickoffs near halftime, my Roody Poo run is about 90 minutes from being over. No starters Monday, or in Sunday’s late games. No playoffs this year. No adding to my league record number of championship game appearances. Over. 16 years. Just like that. I’m a little sentimental today, thinking back to the early years of the league and how much fun we all had competing. Moments from those in-person drafts that still make me smile. It was a great run, but everything, even fantasy football leagues, has an ending.

Fantasy stud, dud and pickup

Some years, every decision made is the wrong one.

About 11:30 a.m. last Sunday, I opened the home laptop and cued up the home page to the Roody Poo Fantasy Football League, founded in 1999 by yours truly and running strong in its 16th season. The league is an homage to quirky fantasy football. It favors scoring, and is the only league I know of to dock a quarterback six points for throwing a pick six.

It’s been a rough few weeks for Hadji’s Skeleton Achers, making strong lineup decisions essential. And I faced a dilemma at the quarterback position.

Matt Stafford or Joe Flacco.

Seems like a no-brainer most weeks. Stafford is one of the better quarterbacks in fantasy, a point-producing, throw-first quarterback capable of rushing for a touchdown every week. Flacco is in the midst of a bounce-back season. Still, we’re talking about a guy that couldn’t beat out Tyler Palko at Pitt (#PalkoFacts).

It wasn’t a no-brainer last Sunday. Stafford was missing Calvin Johnson and Flacco was facing the Buccaneers. Still, when I went to my team page, Stafford was in his usual starting spot. The temptation to insert Flacco was strong.

“Daddy, we have to go to church.”

Anna beckoned. I had to go. Stafford stayed in the lineup. Flacco threw five touchdowns. He outscored my entire starting lineup. Hadji’s lost.

Last week, Branden Oliver was the stud selection. The Chargers tailback delivered with 101 rushing yards, four receptions and a touchdown. Terrence Williams was the dud, and, despite a a highlight-reel catch on a third-and-20 to help Dallas beat Seattle, he had just two catches for 70 yards. Brian Quick was the pickup and, well, let’s hope the young man has better games than what he had Monday against San Francisco.

On to this week’s selections.

Stud – Ben Tate, Cleveland. Love the Browns offense. Really love the Browns running game, and Tate is a big reason why. He had two touchdowns last week against Pittsburgh. The guess here is he finds the endzone at least once and tops 100 yards against Jacksonville.

Dud – Zac Stacy, St. Louis. Seattle’s defense is going to be angry, and they’re going to take it out on a bad team in the Rams. Stacy didn’t look good against San Francisco. Avoid.

Pickup – Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville. Sure, the Jaguars stink. But chances are they’ll be throwing a lot against Cleveland, and the Browns are primed for a letdown after beating the Steelers. Shorts is finally healthy and worth owning.

Fantasy stud, dud and pickup

The No. 1 factor to fantasy success? It’s probably luck. If not, it’s being alert.

My defense of a championship in one highly competitive league I’m part of got off to a miserable start. Aaron Rodgers struggled. Eddie Lacy did nothing. Ben Tate was injured. So was Jordan Cameron. Zach Ertz fizzled. It goes on and on from there.

How bad was the first month? Try an 0-4 record and the low point total in the league. But, following the third week, fortunes began to change even if it didn’t show up in the win column in Week 4.

That’s when some poor sap of an owner cut T.Y. Hilton. Yep, the same Hilton who went for 1,000-plus yards in his second season and caught seven touchdowns as a rookie. Sure, Hilton hadn’t scored a touchdown, but had this owner watched the Colts? Andrew Luck throws it 40 times per game, if not more. Hilton’s too good to cut.

Yet, there he was. The Florida International product sitting on the waiver wire.

Surely, with the eighth waiver pick in a 12-team league, there was no way my sorry, winless bunch would get Hilton. No matter. I made the waiver claim. To my surprise, he landed on my roster and was quickly inserted into my starting lineup.

My team nearly won Week 4 with Hilton in. Finally, Revis Christ broke through the win column in Week 5 and, this Thursday, Hilton put together a game to remember – 9 catches, 223 yards (one shy of a team record) and his first touchdown of the season. His 39.3 points certainly gives me a chance to get to 2-4.

One game at a time.

Why tell the story? Well, for one, it’s not wise to give up on Pro Bowl-caliber talent. Two, fantasy leagues aren’t won in September.

Stud – Branden Oliver, San Diego. Chances are most owners in your league didn’t know who Oliver was before he gashed the Jets’ tough run defense for 119 yards and was a key figure in the passing game. Chances are he’s no longer available in your league. San Diego is physically imposing and the best team I’ve seen to date this season. Oakland stinks and the Chargers are riddled with injures in the backfield.

Dud – Terrance Williams, Dallas. Williams is a touchdown machine and a big reason why the Cowboys are the surprise of the NFC. The problem? Well he’s produced an awfully high percentage of touchdowns on a low number of targets. Against Seattle this week, expect Williams’ touchdown streak to stop and his low number of targets to continue.

Pickup – Brian Quick, St. Louis. Quick has quietly and consistently produced top 15 numbers at the position. He’s had nine targets in three of four games, and already has career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Sure, the Rams have an unproven quarterback in Austin Davis and a tough opponent in San Francisco, but Quick is a must own.

Last week, Eli Manning was the choice for stud and he finished with 200 yards and two touchdowns. Hardly, studly numbers but enough to get a win if you started the right people. Larry Fitzgerald finished with three catches for 57 yards and no touchdowns, a worthy dud selection. No touchdowns for Fitz through four games. Travis Kelce was the suggested pickup and the big tight end found the end zone last week.

Fantasy stud, dud and pickup

Let’s revisit last week’s stud (Knile Davis), dud (Jay Cutler) and pickup (Khiry Robinson) before jumping into this week’s choices.

Full disclosure: one hit, one miss and one draw.

Davis was a definitive hit. The Chiefs backup rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown at Miami. The lone drawback – no receptions in a passing game that is anything but vertical. Cutler was a miss, though he did have his worst outing of the year by a decent margin. He still managed 225 yards and two scores at the Jets and avoid costly interceptions. Robinson was a draw. He rushed for 69 yards but was held out of the end zone and failed to catch a pass, though Pierre Thomas is the primary pass catcher out of the New Orleans backfield.

On to this week’s picks:

Stud – Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore. Motivation. Motivation. Motivation. No longer wanted in Carolina, Smith landed in Baltimore to add a veteran presence in the passing game. To date, he’s delivered. Smith has 32 targets, nearly 300 yards receiving and two double-digit games. Plus, he’s emerged as Joe Flacco’s favorite target in a passing attack Steelers fans in Western Pennsylvania don’t want to admit is as potent as it is. Smith scores one touchdown, maybe more.

Dud – Jason Witten, Dallas. Wasn’t that long ago when Witten was seemingly targeted 15 times per game as Tony Romo’s favorite safety valve. Through three games, Witten is averaging six targets per game with only 10 catches. The matchup against the Saints is attractive, but Dallas is going to need to run the football effectively (very effectively) to keep Drew Brees on the sidelines as much as possible.

Pickup – LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh. Tampa Bay stinks. The Steelers’ offense is good. And Blount rushed for 118 yards and a TD in garbage time Sunday night at Carolina. He’s nowhere near as good as Le’Veon Bell, but he’s as good a backup as there is the NFL. There’s an outstanding chance he adds to his two rushing touchdowns on the season.

What I learned last week

Every September, the family drives to the Outer Banks. Not the over-populated areas of Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores, Nags Head, etc., but the off-road beaches north of Corolla. The area is called Swan Beach. Four-wheel drive is needed to traverse the 3.5 miles from the end of pavement to Idle Time, which is owned by the in-laws.

So, every year during high school football season, I work a Friday night shift, which always lasts longer this time of year. From there, it’s a 45-mile drive home, wake up the wife and child and get loaded into a sports-utility vehicle for the 9-hour drive from Western Pennsylvania to our destination. (It should be noted that after crossing the sound into the Outer Banks, we turn left toward Southern Shores and drive and drive and drive. Takes about an hour of retracking.)

It’s a brutal drive, even if I only last until 4 to 4:30 a.m. most years. It’s also a stark reminder that tired driving should be avoided.

I employ every trick in the book I can imagine to continue the trek.  I give myself 15-minute goals. Maybe a 30-minute goal. I’ll slap myself in the face. I sit up in the seat and perch over the steering wheel. It’s a test of endurance as taxing as the runs I put myself through on a near-daily basis.

In 2013, I made it one exit past Winchester, Va., on Interstate 81. This year, I made it all the way to Route 17, near Warrenton, Va. From there, my wife takes over driving duties until we stop for breakfast.

Next year, the family needs to plan better. No more tired driving.

  • The Outer Banks is a wonderful place, particularly during the early portions of the offseason, but the place sucks when it comes to pumpkin beer selection. The annual September trip to Swan Beach has sadly yielded little despite stops at multiple beer sources.
  • Pitt football taught us long ago not to get too involved, to avoid having hope. Yet, those of us who follow the program can’t help ourselves. That hope bubbled over the surface as the Panthers steamrolled to a 3-0 start, which included a thrashing of a Boston College team that beat USC. So, Pitt reminded us in an all-so-Pitt fashion with Saturday’s loss to Iowa. Pitt gained nearly 450 yards, held a 10-point lead and found a way to lose. Let’s remember people, Pitt is Pitt is Pitt.
  • Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount can smoke all the weed they want. It doesn’t change the fact the pair are the Steelers’ most dynamic running back duo in 20 years.
  • Playing a September for the ages, the Pirates (twice considered dead this season after an 18-26 start and a summer swoon where they dropped to two games above .500) have a tenuous hold on the top wild-card spot in the National League. What the Pirates are accomplishing this season ranks as more impressive than the magical 2013 campaign. Consider all the injuries (McCutchen, Cole, Walker), Pedro’s follies, the bullpen’s woes and the need to rely on Josh Harrison and Russell Martin. Amazing stuff. Clint Hurdle should be the NL Manager of the Year.
  • Some Penn State fans just don’t get it. After the NCAA lifted sanctions, which included reinstating bowl-eligibilty and lifting scholarship restrictions, it isn’t enough for some Nittany Lions followers. Oh no, it’s now time to restore all of Joe Paterno’s wins, put the statue back, have the man canonized for Sainthood and make sure everyone realizes Penn State football is better than anything else in the civilized world. So, congratulations to all the Penn State football fans who participated in the “Joe-Out” last Saturday at Beaver Stadium. You’re blatant disregard for what transpired in leading to the NCAA sanctions and Paterno’s firing added further proof to the belief that it’s all about football in Happy Valley.

Fantasy stud, dud and pickup

Welcome to a new feature here at Kovak’s Corner. It’s called fantasy stud, dud and pickup.

Rather than offer a giant lost of studs, duds and pickups – often done by the major fantasy writers so they can all go back and say they got some correct – I’m offering one for each category. It won’t be obvious picks either. Anyone can tell you to start Matthew Stafford, LeSean McCoy and Antonio Brown.

Fantasy stud – Knile Davis, Kansas City

Assuming Jamal Charles doesn’t play today, Davis is a must-start and a likely top eight back. When Davis gets a chance to play, he usually lands in the top 10, like last week when he scored two touchdowns against Denver. Expect more big numbers against Miami.

Fantasy dud – Jay Cutler, Chicago

Despite a bad rap, Cutler is a good to very good fantasy quarterback with top-shelf Brandon Marshall and another good receiver in Alshon Jeffery. And the Jets give up yards in the passing game. So why bench Cutler? Well, the Jets are strong against the run, playing at home and they will intercept Cutler a couple of times in this one. If you have a decent backup, get him in your lineup.

Fantasy pickup – Khiry Robinson, New Orleans

The waiver wire was filled with running back options this week thanks to injuries and other actions (see Adrian Peterson). Davis is a sexy pickup, so is Robinson, whose workload should increase greatly with the absence of Mark Ingram. Given the potency of the Saints offense, and the fact they’re smarting from losing two close games, Robinson should enjoy a big day.

Trust this fantasy football expert

Aaron Rodgers missed several weeks of the 2013 season with a broken collarbone. For many, it spelled the end of their fantasy football seasons. After all, Rodgers is an elite fantasy quarterback – the head of a pass-first offense that takes multiple shots downfield and a player capable of rushing for a touchdown on any play inside the red zone. Rodgers may not put up the same numbers as Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, but he’s not far off.

While such an injury may doom many owners’ championship dreams, smart owners know answers are out there.

In the 2013 season, one such answer was a redhead named Andy Dalton.

Dalton may not own a playoff victory as quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, but the TCU product is more than capable of winning fantasy championships. Don’t believe me? You should, he helped me win a title last year after Rodgers went down.

I picked up Dalton in a long-standing league run by a good friend. Dalton played well enough to help get my team (Revis Christ) into the postseason. When the playoffs began, Dalton was magnificent., and I trusted my gut and kept him in the lineup after Rodgers returned. He was the best player on a championship team and he led Revis Christ to a league-record fourth title, two more than any other owner in the league.

When it comes to fantasy football, guess you could say I’ve always had the touch. Besides owning twice as many championships as any owner in my friend’s PPR league, I’ve reached the championship game a league-record seven times (with a league-record three titles) in a quirky, touchdown-based league I run. I also won another league so frequently, it closed its doors.

Why the success?

Well, some of it has to do with luck. Some of it has to do with following the game from an unbiased eye (i.e. not being a Steelers fan can be a blessing). There’s following draft strategies and keeping a close eye on the waiver wire, and not always for the player coming off a splash week.

So, here’s some tips to follow for fantasy success. Hopefully, we can make this a regular segment here. Feel free to ask me for any fantasy football tips. I’ll be happy to assist you on your way to a championship.

1. Get two stud running backs. Employ a wishbone if possible. The point differential between an elite running back and an average one is greater than any other position. That’s why it’s important to get a Shady McCoy, Eddie Lacy or even Le’Veon Bell is available. Look at your league champion. Chances are great the owner has at least one top-eight running back. My goal every draft is to land a pair of top-12 backs. If not top 12, top 15.

2. Don’t be afraid to make tough decisions. It’s tough to bench top running backs or a first-round pick, but a bad matchup is a bad matchup. This is especially true for quarterbacks and running backs. Trust your first instinct and try to stick with it.

3. Don’t be loyal. Loyalty will burn you at least twice every regular season. It’s about winning that week, not about keeping Larry Fitzgerald in your lineup just because you were at Pitt the same time he was.

4. Please don’t draft average quarterbacks early. There’s a distinct pecking order for quarterbacks, and while the top few are worth early selections, the No. 6 quarterback isn’t much different from the No. 13 quarterback. Basically, there’s not much gap between Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger, or a starting Brian Hoyer for that matter.

5. Stay away from defenses and kickers until the last three rounds. Dumb. Just dumb. Grab a third receiver first.

6. Don’t be afraid to snag injury reclamations. Football injuries can be devastating, but there are mini-miracles out there in the worlds of science and medicine. If there’s a former fantasy stud one year removed from injury in Round 10, take a flier. Good late-round picks win championships.

7. Use reference, but don’t base decisions on it. There are tons of fantasy football gurus out there in the online universe, and while I find the fellas at CBS sports to be the best in the business, I don’t base lineup decisions solely on them. Remember, these guys are fantasy football writers, they aren’t beat writers. Don’t be afraid to bookmark the major papers in football towns for sound news. Beat writers know. They are there. Fantasy writers are going mostly off hunches.

Good luck this week.