Fantasy Football: NFC North

Fantasy Football: NFC North

Green Bay Packers (15-1, 560 Points For, lost in Divisional Playoffs): The Packers looked so sluggish in their playoff loss to the Giants, it's easy to forget just how dominant this offense was in the regular season. Aaron Rodgers has established himself as the best quarterback in the league, and fantasy owners appreciate that he'll run for a handful of yards and touchdowns every year, too. Perhaps a few of those cheapies at the goal will fade away with Cedric Benson in the fold, but make no mistake, Rodgers can pass his way to another MVP award either way. Although Greg Jennings is the de-facto No. 1 receiver here, he didn't even see 100 targets in 2011 - that's how much the Packers spread things around. No one thinks Jordy Nelson can score 15 times again, but his crisp routes and breakaway speed should give him a strong chance at 9-11 spikes. James Jones and Randall Cobb will struggle to get significant looks; Cobb has a big upside but didn't do much this summer. Jermichael Finley would be a star at tight end if he found a way to fix his ongoing drop problem. Look for another division title in Wisconsin, and at least 450 points. Bang the drum all day.

Detroit Lions (10-6, 474 PF, lost in Wild Card Round): Everything broke right for Matthew Stafford as a fantasy play last year: he stayed healthy and the Lions couldn't run the ball or stop anyone else from the scoring. Detroit wound up throwing the ball 66 percent of the time, the highest clip in the league. Head coach Jim Schwartz would like more balance in the offense (as anyone would), but the Lions don't have any special backs between Kevin Smith (ordinary vet), Mikel Leshoure (injury issues, drug suspension) and Jahvid Best (concussion problems, may not play again). Okay then, let Stafford line up in the shotgun and let it rip. Calvin Johnson is an uncoverable freak at receiver and a justifiable fantasy pick in the overall Top 5, and he'll get more help from Titus Young this year (try to snag Young as your fourth or fifth receiver). Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a solid volume play, but he's not a dominator in the red zone.

Chicago Bears (8-8, 353 PF): The Bears were on the short list of Super Bowl contenders before Jay Cutler busted his thumb in November. A 1-5 crash landing followed, as a nation grimaced at the sight of backup QB Caleb Hanie. The front office did all it could to help Cutler for 2012, adding his old running mate Brandon Marshall in addition to RB Michael Bush and rookie WR Alshon Jeffery. Marshall should be a force between the 20s, but he never had big touchdown counts back in the Denver days with Cutler. He's a strong fantasy play but not a Top 10 wideout. Bush probably can poach 6-8 rushing touchdowns from tailback Matt Forte, but Forte will get his 1500-1800 total yards anyway, even behind a pedestrian offensive line. If you're looking for a safe back in the late-first or early-second round, Forte is a smart play. TE Kellen Davis has a some sleeper value in deeper leagues.

Minnesota Vikings (3-13, 340 PF): It's notable to see 340 points tied to a team that just won three games; the Vikings outscored 13 clubs last year. There's offensive talent here, and second-year starter Christian Ponder might be the most improved quarterback in the league. Percy Harvin is a Top 10 wideout if the migraines leave him alone, and TE Kyle Rudolph has breakout written all over him. No. 2 wideout Jerome Simpson can jump out of the dome, but he's on a drug suspension to open the year. No one knows what to expect from RB Adrian Peterson after his holiday knee blowout last year. He didn't take contact or play in any preseason games. You need a lot of nerve to select AP in the Top 25 - we'll pass on that option, thanks. Backup Toby Gerhart will be underrated in many leagues; he went for 4.9 YPC last year and caught 23 passes (three for touchdowns). Even if Peterson is able to start most of the season, Gerhart might be good enough to see 8-12 touches a week.

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Major hurdle to clear for Bradley Beal en route to becoming max player

Major hurdle to clear for Bradley Beal en route to becoming max player

A small but significant part of the long-term commitment between the Wizards and Bradley Beal hinges on his ability to create offense when his shot isn't going in.

Beal may have had stress reactions in his lower right leg in each of his four seasons, but they’ve never progressed to fractures or required surgeries. When he is on the court and fully healthy, he still goes through long stretches without trips to the foul line

Beal has never averaged 20 points a game or more. If he can consistently get to the stripe more often, he can raise his average 22-24 range. That puts him along with an elite category of scorers.

When comparing Beal to better scorers at his position, such as James Harden (Rockets) and DeMar DeRozan (Raptors), it’s easy to see how striking the differences are when it comes to free throws.

The dividing line is attempting at least seven foul shots in a game with the number of games with double figure free throw attempts over an 82-game regular season in parentheses. Next to that is number of games played with 0 foul shot attempts:  

 

               Beal                             Harden                                  DeRozan

2012-13: 5 times (1); 16               62 times (42); 1                       29 times (9); 6

2013-14: 2 times (1); 19               50 times (32); 0                       50 times (27); 0

2014-15: 5 times (2); 19                55 times (40); 1                      *33 times (19); 0

2015-16: 4 times (0); 9                  65 times (44); 0                       52 times (24); 0

Totals: 16 times (4); 63                232 times (158); 2                    164 times (79); 9

*Missed 22 games

When DeRozan shot seven or more foul shots this most, he averaged a career-high 23.5 points per game. Harden’s best scoring season was this year (29 ppg), too, which not coincidentally was when he got to the foul line the most. The least he has average in the last four seasons is 25.4.

Both players get to the rim, initiate contact to get whistles and are good at selling that contact. This is the next level for Beal, who has a contract worth $128 million pushing him to get there.

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Lutz, Nembot expected to be among four roster cuts Tuesday

Lutz, Nembot expected to be among four roster cuts Tuesday

OWINGS MILLS – Backup kicker Wil Lutz and offensive lineman Stephane Nembot are likely two of the four players the Ravens will release to reach the 75-player limit by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. Neither Lutz nor Nembot were at practice Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, the Ravens continued to deal with injuries as they prepared for Thursday’s preseason finale against the Saints in New Orleans. Left guard John Urschel was not at practice, along with running backs Kenneth Dixon and Lorenzo Taliaferro, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams, defensive backs Kendrick Lewis, Shareece Wright, and Jerraud Powers, linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Za’Darius Smith, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams. Wright and Dumervil were new absences.

The Ravens hope to have Pitta (fractured finger) and Maxx Williams (undisclosed injury) back at practice next week, as they prepare for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the Bills. The Ravens lost tight end Ben Watson to a season-ending Achilles injury on Saturday, and backup tight ends Darren Waller and Nick Boyle will both begin the regular season on the suspended list.

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Kris Dunn over Ben Simmons as NBA Rookie of the Year?

Kris Dunn over Ben Simmons as NBA Rookie of the Year?

NBA.com just released thir annual rookie survey poll, which is great because there really isn't much happening these days worth writing. Training camps will open next month, but until then, snooze.

However, don't sleep on some of the incoming players. In fact, the rookies were asked which members of the 2016 class will rise above the rest and win Rookie of the Year. And the winner is...Minnesota point guard Kris Dunn.

Interesting pick and perhaps the proper one seeing as Dunn enters the NBA with ample playing experience, unlike many of his peers. The two-time Big East Player of the Year received 29 percent of the vote. Lakers forward Brandon Ingram received 25.8% with Philadelphia's Ben Simmons third at 19.4. 

What's interesting here is that Simmons was the No. 1 overall pick, followed by Ingram. The Timberwolves took Dunn fifth.

Dunn is a gifted athlete and passer who is often compared to John Wall coming out of college. Wall finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Blake Griffin.

I interviewed Dunn during the Las Vegas NBA Summer League about his game and the upcoming challenges.

"I know it's going to be a roller coaster ride throughout the season. I'm going to have some good games and some bad games," Dunn said. "You just have to improve. I understand I'm just a rookie. I still have a lot more to learn about the game." He added, "I think once you learn the game, things start to slow down."

By the way, even though the Wizards didn't make a selection in the 2016 NBA Draft, they'll have at least one eligible rookie thanks to the arrival of 2012 pick Tomas Satoransky.

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