Fantasy Football: AFC North

Fantasy Football: AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (12-4, 378 Points For, lost in AFC Championship Game): Forget everything you thought you knew about the Ravens, the flow is changing. The aging defense is no longer a dominant unit, and sack-master Terrell Suggs could be down for the season. As a result, the games will be more open this year, on both sides. QB Joe Flacco seems ready for more responsibility on offense, and receiver Torrey Smith was an uncoverable monster all summer. You'll land Smith as your third or fourth wideout in most drafts, but he's capable of a Top 15 year at the position. Anquan Boldin can still grab 65-75 passes, but he's not a deep threat and his touchdown upside is limited. Ray Rice is a known commodity, a Top 3 back on anyone's board. If you're in a deeper league and feel the need to handcuff, the backup is Bernard Pierce. That said, Rice has been very durable as a pro.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, 325 PF, lost in Wild Card Round): Todd Haley has his share of detractors, but his offensive methods are well-respected and he should do a fine job with the Steelers offense, in time. But for 2012, we worry about the offensive line and what it will allow Pittsburgh to accomplish. Isaac Redman (groin) is no sure thing in the backfield and Rashard Mendenhall is coming off a major knee injury; with that in mind, earmark summer sleeper Jonathan Dwyer for the late rounds. Ben Roethlisberger is still a Top 12 fantasy quarterback, when he's allowed to stand and fire. Mind you, Big Ben runs into a few sacks himself by holding the ball too long. Antonio Brown could ascend to the No. 1 receiver spot, and he's a good bet for 7-9 scores this year after being touchdown-unlucky last year. Mike Wallace is a dynamite deep threat, though he's unhappy about his contract and blew off most of the summer. Brown's progress (and lucrative contract extension) might wind up bothering Wallace, too. Buyer beware.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7, 344 PF, lost in Wild Card Round): A bunch of things fell right for the surprise Bengals last year, and they were happy to take advantage of a soft schedule. Cincinnati never beat a team with a winning record in 2011, so be careful when you judge this roster. QB Andy Dalton was a quick study and should be a decade-long starter, though he's not a special talent by any means. But so long as he keeps pitching the ball to electric WR A.J. Green (now there's an elite player, a Top 5 pass-catcher), everyone in the Queen City will be happy. There's no solid No. 2 wideout here, which means tight end Jermaine Gresham will be targeted liberally. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a straight-line runner with no lateral agility, but he never fumbles and he's reliable around the goal line. Look for a boring 1,100 yards and 7-9 touchdowns, the type of year Cedric Benson used to give us. Try to secure Green-Ellis as your third back.
Cleveland Browns (4-12, 218 PF): Most NFL clubs viewed Brandon Weeden as a so-so prospect, someone to consider in the third or fourth round of April's draft. Part of the bearish nature was tied to Weeden's age - he's already 28, having spent several years as a baseball prospect. The Browns wrote their own memo on Weeden and pounced in the first round, 22nd overall pick. Obviously they'll give him a chance to play right away, for better or for worse. Weeden's college stats were floated by a wide-open spread offense, but the Browns don't have the personnel to run that here. At least there's second-year receiver Greg Little on the outside, a budding star. Running back Trent Richardson was a respected pick at the No. 5 slot, but he needed a knee scope in early August. If he can heal up quickly, he'll run behind an underrated offensive line; while the Browns don't have an answer at right tackle yet, they do have two blocking stars in LT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack. Montario Hardesty has settled in as the backup tailback, and could be an interesting sleeper if Richardson is slow off the mark. Cleveland's underrated defense should keep things surprisingly competitive, but this will be another losing year by the lake.

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Wizards take stock of good and bad at midpoint of season

Wizards take stock of good and bad at midpoint of season

With their 104-101 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, the Wizards improved to 22-19 overall through 41 games, the exact midpoint of the 2016-17 season. They play again the next night in New York, so there will be little time for reflection of how they got here. But after beating the Grizzlies, head coach Scott Brooks and several of his players took a look back and a look ahead.

After beginning the season 2-8, they are now three games over .500. What have they liked about their season so far, and what do they still believe can be improved?

Brooks went into extensive detail.

“I didn’t like our start; I liked the last part of the first half, where we’ve played a much better since December. The thing I liked about the start [is that] we didn’t give in to a tough start, we kept battling and figuring out ways to get better – we’re tweaking and tinkering with the lineup, the starters mixing with some of the guys coming off of the bench. Some of our younger players have really done a good job of developing and staying with it when they’re not playing. It can be tough on you mentally, but I think our staff has done a good job to keep them engaged and keep them developing.

"I think Kelly [Oubre] has made some strides. He’s taken a few steps forward [and] taken a step back, but the step back he takes, he doesn’t get frustrated and takes another step. He always seems to bounce back and come back. Otto [Porter] has, I think, developed into the most consistent shooter in the league from the three. Every night it seems like he has it. And John [Wall] and Brad [Beal], I like the way they’re playing and leading. March [Marcin Gortat] has done a good job. I think we’re playing much better because we’re really buying into each other, and I think when you do that, teams have trouble beating us. I think at home, we’ve figured that out, but we have to figure out how to do it on the road.”

Guard Bradley Beal agreed with Brooks, that he was most pleased with how the Wizards rebounded from their dreadful start. 

“I like how we fought through adversity. I think we didn't give up on our slow start. We battled back and now we're over .500 now but just imagine if we were playing the way we were supposed to the first couple of games, our record would probably be a lot different. Definitely proud of the way we've been playing, the way we bounced back. We definitely can get better at playing great defense for 48 minutes, being locked in for 48 minutes. Just making sure we continue to respect our opponents and be prepared for every game moving forward.” 

[RELATED: CMills asks why Wall, Beal don't get more national attention]

Otto Porter gave a few reasons why he thinks they are playing better now than before.

“Back then it was early. We were still figuring each other out. New coaches, new players. Right now, we are starting to figure things out. We are confident in ourselves, playing for each other, playing hard and just rolling with it... Just, I guess figuring out things defensively. Everybody is on the same page. Offensively, just letting the game come to us. Moving the ball, and knowing that we want to be a defensive team," he said.

Improving away from the Verizon Center was a common theme in the answers from players. The Wizards are now 18-6 at home, while only the Golden State Warriors have more home wins. On the road, the Wizards are only 4-13 with the Nets the only NBA team featuring less road victories.

That's enough to give them the fifth seed in the East, but they know they still have plenty of work to do.

“We have a lot we can improve on: just closing out games, playing for a full 48-minutes, moving the ball at times when we get stagnant, but I like the effort that we gave," guard John Wall said of the first half of the season. "The way that we started the season, the way we had a great month of December, and we're playing well right now. It's great to take care of home court, just want to for the second half of the season improve on the road. If we can find a way to improve on the road I feel like we could have a better record. To be in the situation we are now, the way that we started the season, you can't ask for more.”

The Wizards were in a reflective mood, but Marcin Gortat put it bluntly where he thinks the Wizards are currently at.

“[The 22-19 record means] nothing. We have to continue to do what we do. We aren’t getting excited. We’ve been in this situation where we’ve been minus-five, under .500. We just have to focus and play and now we have to get some wins on the road," he said.

[RELATED: Grizzlies pay for ignoring Otto Porter]

Last-second layup secures Virginia Tech win over Georgia Tech

Last-second layup secures Virginia Tech win over Georgia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Seth Allen scored the final two of his 17 points on a layup with 15 seconds left to lift Virginia Tech to a 62-61 victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

It was a game the Hokies needed after losing three of their past four games. Allen hit 6 of 9 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and Zach LeDay added 17 points.

Virginia Tech (14-4 overall, 3-3 ACC) led by as many as nine in the second half, but couldn't put away the Yellow Jackets (11-7, 3-3), who had two chances in the final seconds to take the lead. Georgia Tech turned the ball over with :09 left, and then fouled Virginia Tech's Justin Robinson, who missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Quinton Stephens missed a contested jumper at the buzzer that would have won the game for Georgia Tech.

Stephens paced the Yellow Jackets with 18 points.

MORE NCAA: Should Georgetown consider parting ways with John Thompson III?