We have a history at The Shop on the Monday after the final week of the season to get together for a year-end holiday party. We flip the sign on the front door over to “Closed” after the lunch crowd has come through and hand out the league money, enjoy holiday libations and make it like our dysfunctional family Christmas party. We exchange gifts, which are often pretty expensive because you would be surprised how much guys will spend to give a gift that will embarrass the recipient. We hand out league money won, barring the championship game if that hasn’t been decided, and the coveted league championship is awarded.
A few years back, one of the fellas got his hands on – I wouldn’t necessarily say he purchased it, so no names will be used – on one of those big gold wrestling belts like Ric Flair used to wear and say, “Who-o-o-o-o-o!!” It’s actually pretty impressive. Since that became the trophy for winning, I have won it three times. I have the physique to make it look good, so I would make a point to slip it on whenever one of the league boys was in The Shop as a gentle reminder as to who their fantasy football daddy was. Unfortunately, this year, Fat G won it and it doesn’t fit around his waist, so he has to wear over his shoulder like pageant queen sash. The fact my team that dropped a deuce last week would have crushed either of the finalists remains a bitter point with me, but that’s another story for another day.
I look forward to these holiday get-togethers because one of our traditions is to chat up our seasons, talking about who we loved and who we hated on our teams. Always the tactician, I make a point to remember who burned who and use it to my advantage. But one of the things we do is make our picks for who we think will be the next big thing in fantasy football. Last year, one of the guys mentioned that if Denver could ever get an athletic tight end, he could be huge. That explains why Julius Thomas was drafted in our league and a waiver-wire pickup in most.
As the adult beverages go down at this particular Christmas party, we all talk about the guys we think are going to make the biggest jump from the current year’s draft to the next year’s draft. This was who we came up with.
Eddie Lacy. He went from being a mid-round running back to one that, if the feeding frenzy on running backs stays in place, will be gone by the end of the first round.
Giovani Bernard. The boys from The Shop all believe that Bernard is going to be the next version of Ray Rice (the pre-2013 Ray-Ray). He may not be a first-round pick next year, but he isn’t going to last long once the guys who didn’t take a running back on the first round start hitting them hard.
Alshon Jeffery. He was a known commodity, but he was like Brandon Marshall’s little brother. He’d get some, but Marshall was the top dog. Now they’re 1A and 1B and his stock is going to jump next year.
Josh Gordon. If he ever gets a restaurant quality quarterback, he’s going to be even bigger than he is now. He’s going to getting himself a lot of paper next year.
Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers and top fantasy running backs fit like a cold hand in a warm glove. Give Bell 16 games and he’s going to be a first-round commodity.
Zac Stacy. If Jeff Fisher and his ‘70s style ‘stache are willing to stick with Stacy, he could be a 20-25 carry guy who is a little bowling ball that is nothing but muscle that can wear out defenses.
Keenan Allen. A couple of the guys pointed out what he has done on a week to week to week basis. Anyone can have 100 yards and a couple of TDs in one game, but, for a guy available for pennies on the dollar, his production was consistent and he became Philip Rivers favorite red zone receiver. He’s pushing his way up the charts.
Andre Ellington. Nobody in The Shop league has much faith in Rashard Mendenhall and Ellington has the potential to be a three-down back. He may still be viewed as a value pick next year, but interest will be high.
Percy Harvin. With a year away from the game, his value will drop. He could be the biggest value pick of next year’s fantasy draft.
Ryan Tannehill. He’s a winner on a team that lost the left side of his offensive line at midseason. When he has a full complement of blockers in front of him, he could be an ideal No. 2 fantasy quarterback who pushes to be a starter.
Cordarrelle Patterson. Every time he touches the ball, the potential for something big is there. Minnesota is going to have a new quarterback next year and Patterson could be ready to explode as an offensive threat.
Montee Ball. Knowshon Moreno is the bomb and works as hard as anyone (at least since Peyton arrived) and John Fox is loyal to veteran running backs. That’s his history. But, Ball has more speed and, once he learns how to block, will take Moreno’s place.
Marlon Brown. The Ravens needed someone to replace Anquan Boldin and nobody thought it would be Brown. He hasn’t put up the kind of numbers that will make him a hot commodity on draft day, but he will go earlier in our league than most.
T.Y. Hilton. He isn’t doing much now, but he is gaining a ton of experience with Andy Luck and, whether Reggie Wayne comes back 100 percent or not, Hilton is primed to blow up next year.
Marcus Lattimore. Keep it under your hat.
As we close up The Shop for the fantasy season, all of us want to wish all of you a happy holiday season surrounded by those who you love and who make you laugh and may you have a league championship title in 2014. Hopefully, it will be a repeat (except for Fat G).
- I remember wondering when Carolina drafted Luke Kuechly if maybe they reached a little too high for him. I’ve since stood corrected. The boy can play and makes plays to both sidelines. His 24 tackles against the Saints Sunday was one of the most dominating defensive performances of the last few years. Rumble, young man, rumble.
- Don’t sleep on the Colts. There are four teams who have 11 or more wins this season and the Colts have beaten all of them (Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and Kansas City). They also won in San Fran and K.C., which is never easy.
- Speaking of the Colts, they are the only team in the NFL that hasn’t lost a division game. But, considering they’re playing Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston, that isn’t as big an achievement as it might seem.
- Four teams have currently losing streaks of five games or more. Oakland has lost five in a row, Cleveland has lost six straight, Washington has lost seven in a row and, after a 2-0 start, Houston has lost 13 in a row.
- Nobody wants to play the Bengals in Cincinnati next month. Not only are the Bengals one of just three teams that hasn’t lost at home this year (along with New Orleans and New England), but they’ve scored 41 or more points in each of their last four home games.
- Only four teams went undefeated this year in non-conference games. Most people could probably guess that Denver and Kansas City were two of them, but would have guessed the other two were Chicago and Arizona?
- Arizona is making things interesting in the NFC. Following a 3-4 start, Bruce Arians and his boys have run seven wins in their last eight games with the only loss coming in a 24-21 loss at Philadelphia. If they get into the playoffs, they will be as hot as anyone heading in because they will need to win Sunday, which would make them 8-1 in their last nine.
THE RAZOR’S EDGE
10. Hey, 12th Man! Shut Up! – Seattle was viewed as invincible at home. Why not? They hadn’t lost at home and had home field all but locked up for the playoffs. If you’re going to beat Seattle in the postseason, it’s going to be in their house. Arizona proved it could be done on Sunday. If both the wild card teams come from the AFC West, Seattle’s first game after their bye would likely be against either the Cardinals or the 49ers and neither of them are scared about going in there, because the Niners were the last team to be Seattle at home prior to the Cards doing it Sunday. What seemed like a ticket punched to the Super Bowl now doesn’t seem quite so automatic. If St. Louis comes up big, it could send a message heard around the NFL.
9. Minnes-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-ta (and a tie) – When the Vikings made the playoffs last year, they did so by winning a pair of road games in late December, going into St. Louis and Houston and pulling off a couple of upsets. Since losing to Green Bay in the wild card round of the playoffs, Minnesota hasn’t won away from home since that win more than a year ago in Houston. Coaches preach that if you play .500 on the road and dominate at home, you’ll be a playoff team. Minnesota was the only team that didn’t win a single game on the road after getting smacked down by the Bengals 42-14 Sunday. They went 0-7-1, with the tie coming against Green Bay in which the Vikings had a 16-point lead and the ball in the fourth quarter. In the spirit of giving, Minnesota sends the road fans home happy more than anyone in the league.
8. Washington D.Ceased – As if his benching of RG3 wasn’t enough to get Mike Shanahan fired in Washington or never winning more than one game in a row or losing seven in a row, the Redskins haven’t been able to close out games they had won. They’ve lost their last two games by two points. Blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead that could have killed hated rival Dallas may have been the final straw, as if there was any doubt that Not-So-Iron Mike was on the way out. St. Louis fans cheer every week that the Redskins lose, because that sweet blue-chip pick at or near the top of the 2014 draft is theirs, thanks to the RG3 trade.
7. At Least He Won’t Lose Another Elimination Game – Shop favorite butt of jokes Tony Romo made Pops Watson spray his coffee with a mist so profound it briefly created a rainbow. Pops was going on about how the Eagles were to spank Romo like a small, petulant child when Ashy Larry burst in with the news the Romo has a herniated disc and will be out. I’m not sure who felt worse: Romo because his big-game futility streak will continue because he didn’t get the chance to put a big game in the win column or Pops because he didn’t get to watch him throw four picks against the Eagles and get beat up bad.
6. Ravens Left to Picking Bones Off of Roadkill – Baltimore had a chance to really shake things up in the AFC. The Ravens were at home against the Patriots and, if they won, it didn’t matter what Cincinnati did, this Sunday’s game would have been for the AFC North title. Instead, Cincinnati could eliminate the Ravens and potentially land the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a home win against a Baltimore team whose offense gave up more points (14) than it scored (7) after committing four turnovers in a blowout 41-7 loss to New England.
5. Tomahawk Chopped – The Chiefs were the last undefeated team in the league, but, since then, they’ve lost four of their last six games and their only two wins came against Washington and Oakland, teams that can’t beat anyone these days. The Chiefs still have the second-best record in the league, but the only playoff team they have a win over is going to be the eventual winner of the NFC East. What makes the backward turn more troubling for Chiefs fans is that they haven’t won a home game since before Halloween. Maybe it’s for the best that they’re going to be on the road in the playoffs.
4. The Saints Go Marching Out – The best thing the New Orleans Saints had going for them was nobody wants to go to their house in January. Unfortunately for them, it’s looking more and more like nobody will have to. After losing their last three road games, the Saints are still going to make the playoffs, but, barring a Carolina collapse at Atlanta on Sunday, the Saints will have to prove they can win on the road. We already know they can’t win in Seattle and Carolina (and St. Louis). Now we have to find out if they can win at somewhere like Chicago, Green Bay, Philly or Dallas. If they won any of those three games, they’d force teams to come into the Superdome and face them when they’re rested. Now it looks like the Saints season is going in the tank fast. Who Dat? Dey Dat!
3. Lake Erie Ain’t Dolphin-Safe – People didn’t believe in Miami when the Dolphins got off to a 3-0 start, including a pair of road games. When they lost their next four, the bandwagon emptied in a hurry. But, after posting wins against Indianapolis, Cincinnati, San Diego, Pittsburgh and New England, all Miami had to do was hold serve against the nondescript Bills and Jets, two squads legitimate playoff teams have used to pad their post-season resume. To get swept by Buffalo should bring about a commissioner’s rule that teams can’t make the 2013 playoffs if they’ve lost to Buffalo twice.
2. The Plunder Games II: Mocking Jay – As a general rule, players don’t waste time scoreboard watching. At most stadiums, if a team needs someone else to lose, they won’t post the scores in the stadium so it won’t be a distraction. Sunday night, the Bears had the table set for them. A win over Philadelphia and they win the NFC North. In the big picture, the game meant nothing to Philly. They knew they would have to beat Dallas next Sunday anyway. The Bears could clinch. Not only did they lose, they got crushed and humiliated. Even if they make the playoffs on Sunday, they’ll likely have to play either San Francisco or New Orleans if things stay as they are. Good luck with that.
1. Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty – Wino Carl has something against the Detroit Lions. I think he lost a chick to Herman Moore back in the day. He is always quick to point out that the Lions hold an annual holiday shutdown that derails what looks to be a promising season. Even when they made the playoffs a couple of years ago, they gave up almost 100 points in their final regular season game and their embarrassing playoff exit at New Orleans. When Detroit was 6-3, the guys in The Shop were giving the needle to Wino Carl, but he never lost faith that Detroit would find a way to board up the building and implode itself. With their fifth loss in the last six games, Detroit went from having the division title by the throat to being eliminated with a week to play, despite having a 3-1 record against the Bears and Packers. Jim Schwartz may have yelled at the home fans for the last time.