Peyton Manning – DEN vs. GB
If there was ever a 6-0 start to a season that raised eyebrows, the 2015 Denver Broncos would fit the bill. Denver has ridden its defense to an unblemished record, an accomplishment that has been marred by the whimsical play of Peyton Manning. The arm strength of the future first-ballot Hall of Famer has been palpable with passes fluttering in the air that seemingly take forever to come down. Despite one of the most dynamic wide receiver duos in football with speedster Emmanuel Sanders and behemoth Demaryius Thomas, the passing-game Gary Kubiak envisioned he was inheriting has been a mere mirage. Facing a stout Green Bay defense this week, it will be difficult to lean on Peyton Manning and the Denver pass-game.
Jay Cutler – CHI vs. MIN
Stringing together three consecutive impressive starts vs. mediocre pass defenses (Oak, KC, and DET), Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense faces a tougher task this weekend with the Vikings coming to town. As we’ve yet to see Cutler’s turnover mantra come to fruition this season, I think this is a weekend you’ll begin to see an uptick in the Bears total number of turnovers (currently at eight). Despite coming off the bye with a healthy Alshon Jeffery, a date with the divisional-foe Vikings and their 11th ranked pass-defense poses a larger threat.
Colin Kaepernick – SF @ STL
After posting 20 + fantasy points in weeks 6 and 7, the Seahawks stymied Kaepernick and the 49ers offense holding them to
81passing yards and 142 total yards. It doesn’t get much easier for Kaepernick and the middling 49ers offense as they travel to St. Louis to take on a ferocious Rams front-7 who stifled the Browns offense last week. Unable to rely on Carlos Hyde, who has been playing through a stress fracture in his foot, the Rams defense won’t have to stack the box in anticipation of a run-first offense, effectively closing the passing-lanes for the erratic Kaepernick. In what has been a tumultuous season in San Francisco, don’t expect this offense to get in-sync anytime soon.
Matt Ryan – ATL vs. TB
After allowing the Redskins’ largest comeback in franchise history this past Sunday (24 points), it’s safe to say the days of Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks and company feel like a distant memory. This Buccaneers defense is flat-out atrocious and a visit to Atlanta with Matt Ryan and the 6-1 Falcons isn’t going to stop the bleeding. Playing on the road the previous two weeks and managing only four TDs in Ryan’s last four games, a stop back at the Georgia Dome is just what the doctor ordered. It speaks volumes that over that same four-game span Julio Jones hasn’t topped the 100 yard mark in receiving, which bodes well for the chances of an imminent explosion from this high-powered passing attack. I expect Matty Ice to throw for 250+ yards and multiple scores in what should be a route of the hapless Bucs.
Cam Newton – CAR vs. IND
Coming off a season-worst performance against the Eagles on Sunday Night, Cam Newton and the Panthers look towards an impending matchup against the Colts to get things back on track on Monday night. Despite three Interceptions, Newton still managed to get 17 fantasy points in a lackluster effort. As a run-first oriented offense and Jonathan Stewart on the heels of a 125-yard performance vs. Philly, expect the Colts to try and stop the run-first. Combine that defensive game plan with a Colts secondary allowing 286 yards a game through the air and it’s a safe bet that Cam will improve on his 197 passing yards and one passing touchdown performance from last week.
Eli Manning – NYG @ NO
In what will be a homecoming of sorts for Louisiana natives Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle, Sunday has all of the fixings for a successful reunion in the Bayou. After averaging 22 fantasy points in weeks 2 – 5, Eli scuffled in weeks 6 and 7 against divisional foes Philly and Dallas. This week Eli is primed to right the ship against a New Orleans secondary, which has allowed a whopping 276 passing yards per game. With the Giants running-back carousel still in limbo, and a Saints defense that has allowed at least 20 + points in all seven games this season, fantasy owners can expect fireworks from the Giants passing game this week.
I was one of those people who completely wrote off anything and anyone to do with the Panthers offense in fantasy leagues for this season. Yet, after the first two weeks, I’m starting to sing a different tune with Cam Newton’s newest toy, Rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin. While a lot of NFL scouts were skeptical of the Panthers using a 1st-round pick on Benjamin, the 6’5 – 243 lb has certainly proved those individuals, myself included, wrong so far.
Benjamin is looking every bit as legit of a redzone target that he appears to be in stature, as Newton continues to look his way on fade patterns. The former Seminole has already been credited with a few highlight reel catches through the first two weeks and is locked in for double digit targets with the depleted Panthers WR corps complementing him.
Owned in just 45% of ESPN leagues, Benjamin is every bit worth rostering in 10 + team leagues.
It’s no secret that the New Orleans Saints backfield has been nothing more than a complementary-piece to the pass-happy offensive scheme that Sean Payton has implemented. The revolving door of cast characters has seen the likes of Reggie Bush, Chris Ivory, and Darren Sproles all depart in the past handful of years, and while Pierre Thomas has been old reliable, there’s another back in the Saints backfield who possesses big-play ability moving forward: Khiry Robinson.
After wildly-disappointing Mark Ingram finally appeared to grab the reins in the Saints backfield, he sustained a broken hand in the first half of last week’s game vs. the Browns. The injury is expected to shelf the former 1st-round pick for at least a month. With Pierre Thomas seeing limited snaps solely on passing-downs, Robinson, the former UDFA out of West Texas A&M, has a chance to run away with the starting gig.
Robinson’s physical style of down-hill running has drawn comparisons to Chris Ivory and even flashed big-play potential across a few games for the Saints last season. With teams continuing to pump the brakes in the box, in attempts to slow Brees and his high-powered passing attack, look for Payton and the Saints to install a more balanced-attack with Robinson at the head of the table.
When the Dodgers and Red Sox completed their historic trade in 2012, the impact was far-reaching in terms of shaping identities for the respective franchises. Still riding the fumes from the team’s sale to a group led by Magic Johnson, the Dodgers made a bold, but yet simple statement with the acquisitions of hefty contracts in the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett. The statement was that they were ready to spend, spend, and spend some more – and they have.
In an era of Major League Baseball where lucrative $20+ million-a-year contracts are dominating the headlines and payrolls, it is rare that a franchise ever gets a shot to make amends for these monstrosities that often stunt a team’s success for years to come (I.E. Ryan Howard’s $125 million extension signed in 2010). However, the Red Sox pulled off this seemingly impossible feat, shedding a lucrative $250+ million in salary through the 2012 deal with the Dodgers. Since then, the Red Sox have made it evident that they were going to scrap the careless spending that led them to handing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez a near combined $300 million when they signed in 2010 and 2011.
The stark change in thinking netted the Red Sox a historic worst-to-first finish last season. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have continued to add the zeros onto their paychecks, as they made Clayton Kershaw the richest pitcher in MLB history, signing him to a seven year – $215 million deal, earlier this year.
On the heels of the 2013 season that was both cinematic and magical, 2014 has been nothing but dark and stormy for the Boston Red Sox. One of the few bright spots for the defending World Series champs has been Jon Lester. Over 21 starts this season, Lester has carved out a 10-7 record with a 2.52 ERA and 149 strikeouts across 143 frames. The ERA is on pace for a career best, while the strikeouts are on par with his career bests from 2009 and 2010.
The 30-year-old has spent his entire nine-year career in Boston and has been a member of two championship teams. However, combine Lester’s impending expiring contract with the Sox being 12 games out of 1st place in the AL East and it has all the makings for a departure from Boston.
While Lester’s teammates would undoubtedly miss one of the most respected and talented players on the club, there are a few of his former teammates who would welcome Lester with open arms. Those being Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford – the focal points of the historic 2012 deal.
The Los Angeles Dodgers 2014 campaign has been nothing short of spectacular. Clayton Kershaw has turned in one of the most dominant seasons for a SP in MLB history, Yasiel Puig has broken onto the scene as a budding superstar, and Dee Gordon has finally leveraged his lightning speed to ignite the top of the L.A. lineup.
With the Cardinals, Pirates, and Athletics listed as potential suitors to strike a deal with the Red Sox for Lester, the Dodgers are the destination that makes the most sense. In complete win-now mode, the Dodgers have been throwing more money around than Pac Man Jones at a Las Vegas stripclub. 2012 trade history aside, the willingness to overpay (in both money and prospects) is the reason why the Red Sox should look no further than southern California as the location to ship Lester.
An integral element to the Lester trade-saga is the situation with Tampa Bay Rays ace, David Price. The Rays have climbed back into the hunt for the AL East by winning 11 of their last 12 games which naturally makes it a more complicated decision with Price. This makes Lester the bread-winner for the 2014 trade deadline, which comes to fruition at 4 pm EST tomorrow, July 31st.
The Red Sox have made it clear that they will not move Lester for anything less than two elite prospects, and I expect a few teams to pump the brakes. However, L.A. should remain committed in its pursuit of the Boston ace. Despite its deep rotation that includes Lester’s former top-of-the-rotation teammate in Boston, Josh Beckett, the Dodgers are no strangers to crowded talent. Two months before they acquired Crawford in 2012, the team gave OF Andre Ethier an absurd five year – $85 million extension, that has since seen him relegated to the bench with the inevitable emergence of Yasiel Puig over the past two seasons.
However, the situation with Lester is not comparable to the faulty course of action the team took in retaining the services of Andre Ethier. Success in the MLB playoffs are predicated on elite pitching depth: allowing the top two or three pitchers in your rotation to take the mound and silence the other team’s bats. While the Dodgers have two clear-cut candidates in the unworldly Kershaw and fellow NL All-Star Zack Greinke, Lester would provide the team with more dominant stuff than current #3 starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu. While Ryu has pitched at an extremely effective level this season (12-5, 3.44 era), it would give the Dodgers the luxury of having four highly reliable pitchers, while being able to lean on Dan Haren and Josh Beckett in a more situational/potential long-relief role out of the bullpen.
As the Red Sox look to net a couple blue-chip prospects in return for Lester, the Dodgers are an above-average fit. The main reason is the surplus of talent in L.A.’s outfield and the lack of talent in Boston’s. The end-result will depend on what the Red Sox value more: getting an established, but inconsistent (and injury-riddled) OF on the cheap or receiving a couple of high-level prospects. My inclination is that it could be a combination of both, but that propensity will depend on whether or not the Red Sox think a player like Matt Kemp could invigorate his career in Boston. The Dodgers are financially committed to Carl Crawford and it will be nearly impossible to get a team to absorb the remaining $70 million or so that he is owed through 2017. It is a similar situation with Kemp, but it is possible the Red Sox would agree to eat some of his remaining $107 million on his deal.
If the Sox are to pursue the Dodgers farm-system, it all starts with the club’s top prospect, OF Joc Pederson. The 22-year-old has batted .318 with 22 HRs to go along with 25 SBs for Triple-A Albuquerque. Other top prospects include Corey Seager, a 20-year old SS, and Julio Urias, a 17-year old SP.
Despite waiting on the development of outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, the Red Sox have a clear need for an upgrade at OF, as Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava will not be in the plans for the future. Boston could wind up hedging their bets by acquiring a MLB ready OF in Kemp and a top prospect in the minors in Pederson. With an already stacked SS position in the minors (Devin Marrero and Michael Chavis), it would not be pragmatic for the Red Sox to pursue Seager.
With Lester already 30 years-old and set to command $20+ million a season in his new contract, Boston could use their better judgement and acquire valuable, cheaper pieces, while getting something on the open-market for their ace. With the addition of Lester to the Dodgers rotation, they would instantly have the upper-hand in post-season pitching match-ups and would instantly become World Series favorites.