What’s up fans of American Football!? It’s your good buddy Honcho back to walk you through the AFC North. Yuck. That was my first reaction when I was assigned this division. I mean, can you think of four teams that deserve each other more than this group of franchise swapping, Super Bowl gloating, bad chili pushing tough-guy wannabees? Yeah, me either. This division is tough to love. I mean truly it is. But I’m here to give you the tour so let’s proceed.
Our first objective is to identify the participants. Let’s start with the Cleveland Browns. Okay, cool. So you’re feeling good about the NBA season, but guess what LeBron’s not under center…..And that’s probably a bad thing. They hired a baseball analytics specialist to ruin – errrrr I mean run things. The Dodgers thought so little of him they ran him out-of-town. What could possibly go wrong? So here’s the thing…I think they’re on the right track, accumulating draft picks and athletes – but this isn’t the year. Heading south, but still staying in Ohio we find the Cincinnati Bengals who have a better than average team, but just can’t win a playoff game. They’ll give it another shot this season and will probably challenge the Steelers for the top spot in the division. Speaking of the Steelers….Is there a more insufferable fan base in football? I’ve been to Pittsburgh more than a few times and you know what? Every Steelers’ fan looks the same. How is that possible? The jorts say it’s summer, the tucked in jersey says it’s football season, but the waistline says you gave up a long time ago. Ha! Just kidding Pittsburgh, I love your city! Mostly due to Primanti Brothers but hey, gotta start somewhere, right? This year you’re the team to beat in the North. Don’t mess this up. Finally we have the Ravens. Flacco’s back. That’s good. They signed Trent Richardson and then proceeded to release him shortly after. He didn’t even stick around to try Ray-Ray’s famous “Deer-Antler” spray. That was rude. Anyway, the Ravens are staring 8-8 right in the face, but if any team can luck box their way into the playoffs it’s this bunch.
So, with all that said the fantasy relevant information awaits. Per usual, I’ll list the teams in order of predicted finish. Here we go!
Note: For the following tables, Rank = Overall Fantasy Points Ranking for All Players (including IDP Players). GP = Games Played. FP = Total Fantasy Points. FPPG = Fantasy Points Per Game Averaged. All values were from the 2015 Season.
There’s no question the Steelers will be one of the top scoring offenses in the league this season. The frustrating part is they could’ve been the best. If Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant would’ve somehow found a way to keep their bong rips at a moderate level – they would have put up video game numbers. Instead we’ll have to wait three games to see Bell back on the field. Hopefully his knee will be fully healed because at his best he’s the most talented back in the league. Just two years ago he was the top fantasy RB in the game and last season he was the NO.4 RB in per-game PPR scoring. The good news here is that DeAngelo Williams is more than capable of carrying the load while Bell is out. Williams’ was the top PPR back over the final two months of 2015 and the NO.2 RB in standard scoring while handling a healthy workload through the ground and air.
Even in his age 34 season, Ben Roethlisberger is a lock to finish well inside the top 10 QB’s this season. He has the luxury of throwing to the best receiver in football each week and can be a vital fantasy asset if he can avoid injury. That’s a big if….In 2015 Roethlisberger missed four games and his health clearly affected his efficiency as his 16 INTs were his most since the 2008 season where he was picked 15 times. Even through his struggles last year, Big Ben was able to produce a respectable 68% completion percentage along with an impressive 8.4 YPA.
As we mentioned earlier, his receiving corp, while not at full strength is one of the better units in football. There’s not much we can add to Antonio Brown’s resume – he topped 187 yards receiving four times in 2015 and managed 8 catches of 40 yards or more. Brown saw 24 red-zone targets which ranked 4th in the league, while his 11 targets inside the ten ranked 6th. Markus Wheaton will operate on the outside – opposite of Brown which should make for a dynamic combination. Wheaton is the clear NO.2 WR in this offense and had 50 or more yards in 5 of his last 6 games and scored in four of those contests. Sammie Coates has a chance to take over the No.3 WR duties with Bryant out for 2016. Coates’ had two catches for 61 yards in the Steelers’ playoff loss to the Broncos and will look to build off that performance this season. Unless your league counts”Drops” as a category, or it’s a 16 teamer, you’re better off leaving Darrius Heyward-Bey on the waiver wire. So there’s that. Also, pay attention to the Ladarius Green situation as we get closer to Week 1. If he indeed needs to miss time, back-up Jesse James could be a useful piece to own, especially in the red-zone. That is of course when he’s not hosting below average reality TV shows.
Guess who’s back in the emm-effin house?? It’s Marvin Lewis time y’all. He’s back for his 14th season. Yep, that’s right…fourteen. Stability goes a long way in the NFL so the Bengals have that going for them. Andy Dalton was headed towards a career season in 2015 before he was sidelined in Week 14 with a broken thumb. How good was 2015 for Dalton? Well, he was on pace for career bests in completion percentage, TD percentage, INT percentage and Quarterback Rating and was making a run towards the overall QB1 ranking before being felled by injury. Dalton was also only one of three QBs in 2015 to post a rating of at least 100 on both short routes (15 yards or less) and longer passes. He’s the real deal and he’ll be just fine with his third Offensive Coordinator in the last four years.
The running game will be Cincinnati’s strong suit as the talented tandem of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard will look to exploit defenses with their defined roles. Hill will serve as the “between the tackles” runner and see the bulk of goal line carries, while Bernard will be the primary receiver out of the backfield while seeing his share of carries as well. Bernard saw his workload drop to just 10 carries per game last season, but his YPC jumped to 9.6. He was able to finish inside the top 20 last year in PPR formats. At first glance you might have been disappointed in Jeremy Hill’s 2015 campaign, but a look inside the numbers might suggest otherwise. Hill finished first in rushing touchdowns, tied for tenth in rushing attempts and most importantly – played 16 games for the second straight year. His lack of involvement in the passing game might be a slight turnoff, but he saw 40 red-zone carries, 13 of which came at the goal-line.
AJ Green will be the workhorse in the passing game, that’s a given. Green averaged 9.8 Yards Per Target in 2015 which ranked 3rd in the league and he hauled in 19 catches of twenty yards or more. I’d suspect his usage will jump through the roof this season as the Bengals lost 152 targets with the departures of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. Brandon LaFell will bring his 6-3 frame to the Queen City and will assume the No.2 WR role if he can stave off talented rookie Tyler Boyd. Speaking of Boyd, he was the 55th pick in this years draft and in my opinion – landed in an ideal spot. He has decent size at 6-2, 200 lbs and will absorb some of the available targets while Tyler Eifert is out. Eifert is likely out until Week 4 so keep an eye on him in drafts in the event he’s forgotten about late. Tyler Kroft will serve as his fill-in, that is unless his knee sprain keeps him out of Week 1. In that event CJ Uzomah might have some sneaky value – if you’re streaming TEs this year.
|52||Steve Smith Sr.||WR||7||85.00||12.14|
Whenever there’s a Harbaugh on the sidelines you have the makings for a football party. In this case it’s John and he’s entering his 9th season at the helm for the Ravens. The reason I’m not ready to write Baltimore off just yet is Harbaugh’s ability to motivate. The Ravens have finished above .500 six times in the last eight seasons and there’s no reason to believe they can’t make a run at that mark in 2016. Joe Flacco returns from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 11 last year and while he wasn’t particularly sharp at times, he was on pace for 4,400 yards – which would’ve been a career high. Remember that Marc Trestman is back for his second year as the Ravens’ OC and in 2015, even after losing Flacco for six games, Baltimore led the NFL in passing attempts. So as a late round grab or 2QB candidate, Flacco fits the bill.
The backfield is a bit murky as Justin Forsett looks to head up this bunch, but don’t count out Terrance West as he looks to carve out a healthy share of the workload. Forsett is living off of his career year in 2014. A season that saw him finish as the 8th ranked RB in standard formats. I’m not buying it. He averaged 4.2 YPC last year along with a meager 4.9 YPC, he can and will most likely be replaced before long. Kenneth Dixon was supposed to be the next man up, but he suffered an MCL tear and will be out until at least Week 4. So that leaves us staring at our old friend Mr. West. He’d like you to forget about his past and invest in the future. West will play a role as the primary rusher once he passes old man Forsett on the depth chart and he’ll give way to Javorius Allen on passing downs. Both can be had very late in drafts and might serve you well in deeper leagues.
Is Breshad Perriman even real? He missed all of 2015 after tearing his PCL and then in June he partially tore his ACL. But……he received stem-cell treatment and plans to play this season. Suuuuure. It’s okay Baltimore, you don’t have to lie to be our friends. This sounds like me making an excuse as to why my “girlfriend” I met at Niagara Falls when I was 14 never called me. Hmmm, she must be busy – either that or completely made up! Anyway, Steve Smith’s still around and he just celebrated his 57th birthday. And guess what?? He’s recovering from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon last season. Lol, you can’t make this up. So it’s up to you Kamar Aiken, you’re our only hope in the Baltimore passing game. Aiken certainly didn’t disappoint last year as he caught 75 balls on 127 targets. That would be impressive in itself, but factor in his QBs were Matt Schaub, Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Clausen for six games and he looks like freaking Jerry Rice all of a sudden. We can’t forget about Mike Wallace, he’s occupying a locker in Baltimore and will factor into the passing game. He may not carry the star status he did in Pittsburgh, but remember, he still runs a 4.3 40. Pretty impressive.
Ben Watson will be the prim Let’s try this again. Crockett Gillmore will assume starting TE duties as Maxx Williams and Dennis Pitta continue to battle injuries. Watson of course suffered a torn Achilles in the 3rd preseason game and will be out for the year. This is a pretty unimpressive group of tight ends (phrasing) and I’m probably steering clear for fantasy purposes.
Knock knock? Hue’s there! Get it? Hue Jackson takes over one of the most soul-crushing teams of the modern-era. But hey, it’s still relatively early in the 21st century so let’s get to it. The interesting thing about Cleveland is they’re stocked with exciting play makers. Seriously, if they get this going the right direction, Cleveland could be a force as soon as next season. Unfortunately we’re here to talk about 2016. So back to the blues. Did you hear about the new Quarterback in town? Well, I’m not sure about his ability to read the defense, but he’s shish kabobing a Florida State track star and she’s an absolute smoke show. Robert Griffin III is looking to restore his image and career and he might just be in the right situation. He’s made a few nice deep throws and has somewhat built a thing with Terrelle Pryor, but he’s only relevant in 2QB leagues.
I’m kinda fired up about the Cleveland ground game this year. During the last four years when he was both a head coach and offensive coordinator at different stops, Jackson’s teams have never finished lower than 7th in the league in rushing attempts. So if you’re looking at either Duke Johnson and/or Isaiah Crowell that qualifies as good news. Johnson will handle the passing duties – he finished as the No. 18 RB for PPR over the last 11 games. He saw 74 targets, catching 61 of them as a rookie in 2015. Crowell will be the primary ground warrior as he projects out as just a guy, but he did log 31 attempts inside the red-zone so there is some value to be found here.
The star power resides within the receivers room in Cleveland for sure. Josh Gordon is back, although he’ll serve a four game suspension before he can return. He just turned 25, possesses elite athleticism (4.5 40) and size (6-3, 225) and lest we forget was the best receiver in the league in 2013 while enduring some of the worst QB imaginable. His ADP (Early 7th rd) is rising rapidly so use good judgement when drafting. He will after all miss one-third of the fantasy season. Corey Coleman, who was the first receiver selected this year stands just 5-11, but ran an electric 4.37 40 and should start immediately in Week 1. Making the transition to WR is 6-6 former QB Terelle Pryor. He’ll comfortably make this team and Jackson is already devising ways to get him the ball in space. Pryor could have a solid year as a WR4. Andrew Hawkins is also an interesting name to stash for deep PPR leagues as he’s a reliable slot receiver for Griffin to lean on. As far as the TE position is concerned it’s the Gary Barnidge show. Who knows if 2015 was real, but it might cost you an 8th round pick to find out. If he can come close to his 23 red-zone targets and 8 TDs from last year, the price just might happen to be right, Bob.
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