Great Piece at Football Outsiders

Great Thanks goes out to fellow NFL writer Mike Tanier of the website Football Outsiders for writing a top-level feature piece on the History of the African American Quarterback called “The Matriculation of the Black Quarterback“, which I was extremely appreciative to be part of.

Please checkout the piece and all of the great writing over at this comprehensive football “junkie” website.

Taking It to the House 2008 Fantasy Football Guide

(Philadelphia, Pa) – It is that time of the year again for everyone from the grocery store bag boy to celebrities like Jerry O’Connell — best known for playing “Ryan Leaf” wannabe quarterback Frank Cushman in Jerry Maguire — to ask the eternal questions “who should I take with my first pick of my fantasy football draft?” and “Has anyone seen the injury report for this week?” 

What started out as a wacky rotisserie league concept for football by former Oakland Raiders part owner Bill Winkenbach and his friends Scott Stirling and Bill Tunnell in the 1962 has grown into its own subculture and is the passion of football fans and casual fans everywhere.  Fantasy football is now part of the fabric that ties everyone together and gets people watching the NFL, (well at least the stat ticker at the bottom of the screen) which is by far the number one sports league in the world.  Fantasy football leagues are all about one upping your buddies, having fun watching games (every game counts now or at least the stats), trash talking, and allows fans to experience the highs and lows of “legalized gambling”.  The number of people involved in leagues are staggering with an estimated 15 million people participating in fantasy football leagues last season.  Of that group the majority are males in the marketing bonanza demographic of between the ages of 25 and 54, but we are also seeing more women competing with the men for stat superiority. And when you talk about the dollars involved in fantasy football (approximately $250 million dollars spent on gaming services around fantasy sports), sponsors and advertisers start drooling. 

In a recent interview Chris Nicholas, who heads the fantasy sports group at ESPN said “They’re a great target for sponsors,” and “These are folks who are comfortable online. From autos to credit card companies to shoe companies, they want to get in front of these people.” The growth of fantasy football is so immense that now every major sports news outlet and website including NFL.com have their own section and analysts dedicated to covering and analyzing America’s new past time.  I believe the best website that keeps fantasy football economical and easy to run for your league and commissioner is CBS Sportsline.com (site has everything from breaking news, injuries, scoring, etc all tailored to your league).  Football related television and sports marketing professionals now know that to generate dollars from average to non-watching people that fantasy football is paramount. 

“How big is fantasy football”, you ask.  Well it is big enough that every Sunday entire shows like “Fantasy Fix” on Comcast Sportsnet or large segments on national NFL shows like CBS’ “NFL Today” emphasize every aspect of fantasy football from who to play or not play to injuries to inside tips.  “It started as a niche activity, and now it’s moved on to a mainstream passion,” said Chris Russo, senior vice president of new media and publishing for the National Football League in a recent article. He added, “It’s a community activity, where friends from college, from work or any walk of life get together and compete and keep in touch.”

Now that we know some history and tidbits around fantasy football, lets get to the Do’s and Don’ts of being a successful fantasy football player.  I am not saying I am the ultimate fantasy football guru, but I know enough to help you get through your draft and be competitive in your league.  BTW: That Cincinnati Wide Receiver’s name is pronounced hoosh-mand-zaa-deh as in TJ Houshmandzadeh.

Fantasy Football Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s

  • Pick your league’s commissioner wisely – This is of extreme importance as this is the individual that can make or break your league and fantasy football experience. Nothing is worse than a little “dictator” that has strange rules and has an agenda. Go with a person that you believe is fair, can take care of $$$, and knows the rules.
  • Know your league’s rules – This is the most cumbersome part of being in a FF league. We all know rules are a pain in the a__, but they can also save you too. Knowing how much yardage kicks in a particular bonus, how much a missed field is worth, lineup restrictions, floaters (extra WR or RB in your lineup), etc is invaluable to staying on top.
  • Agree upon the ground rules of your draft early – Where are you holding the draft (Some people like bars and others like a quiet basement), Draft Order, League fees and dues for the year, What are we eating and drinking (This is the most important, because you need to be relaxed – I vote for beer and pizza), The League Trophies/Prizes, How many rounds the draft will be, How much time between picks, Number of required players at each position, etc. Once the ground rules are set, stick to them or be prepared to be “busted on” the entire draft.
  • Have a Good Attitude (This could be your year) – I always hear naysayers talk about their draft is coming up, but they have no chance. Just because you are a rookie or an 11-year veteran of fantasy football who has never won or won it 10 times, it doesn’t matter. Every year starts fresh for your entire league (unless you are in a keeper league, which I hate) and everyone has a chance to be the “big cheese” for the year.
  • Arrive early for your draft – By doing this, you can pick your seat, have all of your notes, cheat sheets, pizza, beer, and everything else you need in place for a good selection process. Nothing is worse for a group of people to wait for a “Johnny Come Lately” who is unprepared or even worse someone calling in their picks on a cell phone.
  • Make a “wish list” with rankings – Once you know your draft spot, a “wish list” will be your best friend. By knowing where you think a player will be targeted and scratching off their availability, as your draft progresses, you will be able to quickly find and select the player you want. Some magazines and websites now have foldouts that you can have right at your fingertips (no reading though, See Don’ts).
  • Know who is injured – This is extremely important, because every year there is a FF player that has no idea who was put on I\R for the year and selects them to the delight of all of their buddies. Make sure that you check the injury list and roster cut down list right before the draft. This same rule definitely applies during the season when setting your roster for the week. Nothing is worse than finding out at game time that you have a player in your lineup that won’t be playing on game day.
  • Know your “Bye” weeks – Just like injuries having conflicting players on your roster can kill your team. When you make your draft wish list make sure that you know when your players are off, so you don’t pick players that will both be out at the same time. This same rule definitely applies during the season when setting your roster for the week. Nothing is worse than finding out at game time that you don’t have a position covered in your lineup, because of a bye week.
  • Get your stud early in the draft – I recommend looking for a running back to build your team around early (maybe two), then quarterback, and wide receivers should be your last first pick option in the draft. Running backs are fantasy football scoring machines with their ability to run, catch, gain yards after the catch, score touchdowns, and their big play potential. For example in 2006, LaDainan Tomlinson was like two or three players in one by scoring 31 total touchdowns (receiving, running, and even throwing).
  • Remember rookies when drafting – More than ever rookies are having a higher impact in the NFL (35 rookies offensively and defensively started in 2006 not counting kickers and punters). FF owners were very happy from 2007 impact rookie NFL Rookie of the Year Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (1,341 yards – first in NFC – with a 5.6 yards per carry average, 12 rushing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown). Plus let’s not forget his mind boggling NFL record 296 rushing yards and 3 TD’s in week 9 versus the Chargers.
  • Be willing to talk trade – There is nothing worse than a league participant that holds onto all of their players like little pieces of platinum and doesn’t talk trade or even return emails or phone call offers. If a player offers a “reasonable” trade in your opinion take it and keep going forward. However be smart in your trade offers, know your player’s value, status, and your trading partner’s history (some guys are known to try and fleece new players, so beware).
  • Use the waiver wire – Usually after the first 6 weeks or so pending on your league’s rules, you will have the opportunity to grab players that were not selected in your draft (beware some leagues charge for waiver wire picks). The waiver wire can help you fix mistakes and replace non-producers/injured players. Every year some grabs a stud player off the waiver wire and it will always be a feather in their cap. I still remember in 1998, quarterback Brad Johnson was slated to be the Vikings starter and he got hurt early in the season opening the door for Randall Cunningham, who I happily grabbed off the waiver wire and he went on to have a huge year including 34 passing touchdowns.
  • Have Fun!!! – This is the most important part of fantasy football!! FF Leagues offer you a chance to talk, have bragging rights for the year, bond, trash talk, and hangout with your friends. It also gives you the fan the chance to be the Head Coach and General Manager. You will win or lose based on your decisions who to play, who not to play, injuries, game time decisions, trades, etc. But also remember that most champions are built on the luck of the draw (draft position and player health).

Don’ts

  • Don’t panic at the draft – If the player that you want to select was taken right before you pick, don’t sulk, just follow your wish list. It happens to everyone, but you have to pull the trigger when the player you want on the board is available. 
  • Don’t sit at the table reading a Fantasy Football magazine – If it was up to me I would recommend that you leave the Fantasy Football magazine at home, but make sure that you know your material. Nothing is worse than sitting at the draft waiting for someone to find a player for a position that needs to be filled on his or her roster.
  • Don’t drink too much at the draft – This is a good rule of thumb for any activity, but especially when you are building your team for the upcoming season you don’t want your judgment clouded by too many brews. I was at a draft once where a guy drank too much whiskey and wanted to quit the next day when he saw his roster.
  • Don’t get catch in a position run situation at the draft – I have seen it too many times where one team makes a splash for a particular player at a position that doesn’t warrant another guy from that same position being selected afterward (Think TE Tony Gonzalez being taken in the 3rd Round and someone reaching to grab Denver TE Daniel Graham – 6th round value). I always like to say, “Trust your list”, you know where a guy “should” go and you should stick to your plan. A basic plan is in Rounds 1-3 think RB first then QB, then WR; Rounds 3-6 Continue with the aforementioned strategy and add in TE’s; After Round 6 fill in your roster needs, but don’t forget Defensive Teams and Kickers.
  • Don’t forget about defensive units and kickers – These two areas are must areas, but are often overlooked because they are not the “pinball” machine numbers creators like quarterbacks or running backs. However having a solid defensive unit and a kicker that can put up points adds up is essential to having a championship FF team. You never know when you will need a point here or there to get you over the top. On defense look for a team that gets turnovers, defensive touchdowns, and sacks (Bears or Ravens in 2006). I have to admit that I am not a “kicker guy”, but an accurate kicker that can put it in from long range (40 yards or more), can help carry a team during a slow week. Also factor in dome and non-dome kickers in your selection or non-selection.
  • Don’t become too focused on teammates – When I first started playing FF back in the day, a veteran said that the key was to get a receiver and quarterback on the same team. That works fine if you have the best quarterback and receiver for that particular season (Think Manning and Harrison, 2004), but I like to have a diversified roster of guys in different divisions and team, so I can guard against when a particular NFL team has a bad couple of weeks. I have also seen where a FF player reaches to grab second tier wide receiver just because they have that WR’s quarterback.
  • Don’t cry over last year – Every year I hear people in my league complain that so and so always wins and that they have no chance. Well if you don’t want to compete then do us all a favor and quit. As I stated earlier every year is new and everyone in a league has an equal chance based on the luck of the draw (good drafting and roster health are pluses).
  • Don’t be a quitter – I have seen it year after year, where someone has a bad draft or gets behind after a couple of weeks and packs it in. I know most leagues try to guard against this by having playoffs, rules, and other incentives, but quitting should not be an option. Always submit your lineup and try to do you best till the end of the season, you never know through waiver pickups and trade you could get back into the game.

 

Now that you have the basics, I have included a teaser list of my top 10 fantasy football picks for 2008 below.

 

2008 Fantasy Football Top Ten List 

1. San Diego Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson – 1,474 rushing yds and 15 TDs in ‘07

2. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady – NFL record 50 TD passes in ‘07

3. Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning – 4,040 yards passing and 31 TDs

4. Philadelphia Eagles RB Brian Westbrook – Over 1,200 yards rushing and 90 catches

5. Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson – 1,341 rushing yds w/ 12 rushing TDs

6. New England Patriots WR Randy Moss – NFL Record 23 RD catches in ‘07

7. Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo – Over 4,000 passing yds w/ team record 33 TDs

8. Indianapolis Colts QB Joseph Addai – 1,072 rushing yards and 15 Total TDs

9. Washington Redskins RB Clinton Portis – 1,262 rushing yards w/ 11 TDs and 47 rec

10. KC Chiefs RB Larry Johnson – Comeback season after 559 rushing yds w/ 3 TDs

 

Best of the Rest

St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson (holdout), New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush, San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore, Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith, Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Dallas Cowboys WR Terrell Owens, Green Packers RB Ryan Grant (unsigned) and Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Eagles Training Camp Blues

(Philadelphia, Pa) — A loyal reader of mine and someone that I would consider an astute Birds fan sent me a link from a Philadelphia Weekly blog entitled “Why Eagles Training Camp Sucks“.

You can read my response to him below

______________________________________________________________________

I like the writer’s thought pattern that Eagles training camp news is overblown, but we all know there is a market (blogs, WIP, 950, Inquirer, Daily News, etc) for it.    There are probably a million Eagles fans out there and trust me,  that group plus the blog writer are watching/listening to every little morsel to see “how” the Eagles ’08 season pans out. 

However the overriding thought to me regarding the 2008 Eagles Training Camp is that people are not “juiced” about this team.   The Phillies are playing well and the environment around the Eagles is too unsettled for their elusive Super Bowl title to come to fruition and fans know it.  I see a 9-7 or 10-6 season at best.  

Sure a lot of people will point out that the Giants went from 10-6 in the regular season to the Super Bowl title in ’07.  But to everyone that subscribes to that example, I have to be the bad guy and burst your bubble by saying, “The ’08 Eagles so far are not even close to last year’s G-Men”.   

The factors include:

  • No Strahan type leadership (Perception that McNabb is more about himself and how healthy are other leadership veterans Brian Dawkins and Tra Thomas)
  • A defensive scheme that is stale (Spagnuolo’s scheme was fresh producing an NFL high 53 regular season sacks while Jim Johnson seems to have lost his fastball)
  • LB’s that are average at best (only 3 sacks and 2 interceptions by the whole group in ’07)
  • Injuries already (Samuel, Abiamiri, Jackson, Boiman, etc)
  • Contract squabbles w/ key players i.e. Brian Westbrook
  • The “crazy” Shawn Andrews situation (pardon the pun), when will this guy ever show and what can be done to fix his issues
  • A franchise quarterback that is on the way out the door
  • A ownership group willing to “settle” for mostly second-tier off-season aquisitions
  • No Plaxico Burress type receiver (where is the WR that scares defenses)
  • Rookies that will probably spend the whole year “learning” the system (Giants played 7 plus contributing rookies in the post seasson).  

Maybe I am being my usual overly “pessimistic” scorned Philadelphian self.  But for now the Birds are looking up at their division from the 3rd spot.  Of course I do reserve the right to change my opinion after my visit to Lehigh next week :)

Favre Drama Continues

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Well Taking It To The House is back on the air after a much-needed week of relaxation and recharging at the Jersey Shore.  One thing is for certain, one off-week didn’t amount to a hill of beans when it comes to lucid Brett Favre “Showdown” Soap Opera.

Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson the man that for sure is the legendary quarterback’s nemesis in this whole soap opera has yet to blink and I don’t see it happening anytime soon.  The surprising thing is that Favre continues to say that he is coming back, but he has not chosen to file his re-instatement letter with the NFL Commissioner’s office.  Favre said in a recent phone interview about the situation, “Ted asked me to let the guys report and let’s try to resolve this over the next two or three days.”  Resolving the situation probably means shipping Favre out of town to the consternation of fans (Tampa Bay Bucs and New York Jets are the highest two on the list right now).

The quote makes Favre look like he is taking the high road, but we all know that #4 has stroked this fiery situation over and over.  In unretiring Favre definitely wants to either be the starting quarterback for the Packers without competing or be released so he can then sign with old buddy Darrell Bevell and the division rival Minnesota Vikings.  Boy that  leaves a lot  of options for Thompson, not !!  But the GM, who has not grown up worshiping Favre in Green Bay may very well have all of the cards, even though he definitely will look like the “Grinch” no matter how this situation ends.

First and foremost Favre has not filed his papers (no word as of 5:00 PM EST 7/28/08) and even if he does the Packers can simply make him come to camp as a 2nd stringer (we all know this will never happen as Favre is due $12.8 Million in ’08).  Another couple of alternatives is for the Packers to trade the legend wherever they chose (my choice is San Francisco…They can win now, yea right) causing Favre to instantly re-retire or the Packers could simply wait Favre out.

Whatever happens (Favre gets a ticket out of town, comes back, or walks away for good), I thoroughly believe that Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to let the Packers and Favre work it out on their own — Hey Roger isn’t there the little matter of the CBA coming up soon.  Favre created this situation and now it is time for him and his enabling team to clean it up.  The Packers have clearly moved on with Aaron Rodgers as their starter.  To his credit Rodgers steered clear of the big pile of you know what by saying as he reported to camp, “I feel like this is really between Brett and the organization, and I’m just trying to stay focused on the things I can control”.

Here’s hoping by Friday August 1st that the Favre melodrama will be in the books and everyone around the NFL can get back to the multitude of other training camp storylines.

 

  

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Favre Unretirement Soap Opera Continues

(Getty Images)

Hey Favre, Like Denzel says in the movie Training Day, “Make a Decision”

(Philadelphia, Pa) — With everyone from Colts head coach Tony Dungy to Newt Gingrich to Brett Favre’s Brother-In Law to every Wisconsin grandmother that just happens to be a Green Bay Packers shareholder/fan chiming in on the whole Favre fiasco, this story just will not go away.  Even though Favre has yet to officially entered his un-retirement papers with the NFL and the Green Bay Packers, speculation is everywhere.

All indications are that Favre will indeed file his papers – has not done so as of the morning of July 18th — to return to the NFL and thus putting the Packers on the proverbial “hot seat” at a cost of $12.8 Million (cap figure for 2008).  But I have one question to ask #4, “Why in the world did you need to take your fight to the court of public opinion?”  Favre needs to understand no matter how much that Packers GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy say they have moved on and that Aaron Rodgers is their man, that the future Hall of Fame passer overall still has the hammer in his hand.    C’mon the Packers were wearing the “black hat” immediately as the bad guy – How dare they question the deity of Favre???, the Packers won 13 games last year with the legend, Rodgers has no career starts, etc — with generally fans and media in the old gunslinger’s corner.

However by not quietly negotiating via his agent (Bus Cook), Favre is slowly getting on everyone’s nerves including his loyal subjects (fans).  Some of his quotes from his hissy-fit on Fox News (Part 1 and Part 2 courtesy of our friends at EMQB.com) are just a bit too much of Favre lamenting that he is the victim to stomach.  Here is a snippet from Part1 that I believe shows what I am talking about with Favre saying of his treatment by Thompson and McCarthy, “just say, ‘We’ve moved on. We’ll work with Brett on whatever it is.’ Don’t make up a lot of stuff or give half of the truth and say we want to let you be the backup and he’s got to understand and all this. I mean it’s ridiculous. It really is”.

Unfortunately this soap opera will only get worse as now the Packers have filed tampering allegations versus the Vikings for Favre talking to a former coach on their staff and this weekend’s most uncomfortable event definitely will be the number retirement ceremony for Favre’s friend and former center Frank Winters.  Favre is scheduled to be at the event in Green Bay and so are Thompson and McCarthy.

With Packers’ training camp set to open on July 27th at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisconsin there are still a few days to clean this mess up, but who knows what kind of firestorm is on the horizon if Favre sends in his unretirement papers.  Hopefully Favre, Cook, Thompson, and McCarthy can get together at Winters’ event, so the public can know once and for all “If Favre is indeed coming back” as a Packer in ’08.   My gutt feeling is “Yes”.  But who knows maybe everyone will have to endure Favre in a Carolina Panthers or any other jersey, looking like a creaky and old Joe Namath in a LA Rams uniform.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Jets Open First 2008 NFL Training Camp

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Even though everyone knows how much I loathe exhibition football games, Today (July 16th) is a special day on the NFL Calendar.  Why is July 16th so special, you may ask??  The  New York Jets officially open their training camp on July 16th at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY (40th year, but will move to their new headquarters in Florham Park, New Jersey next year) by welcoming their rookie players.  The event officially ends the long draught of non-NFL on the field action — we all know about the overly reported man off-the-field NFL player incidents with the law — since OTA’s ended for most teams way back in June. 

Now fans can turn away from baseball’s borefest — BTW: Did anyone watch all 15 inings from last night’s snooze-worthy All-Star game — and start planning on how to spend their Sundays from September to Super Bowl Sunday in February.  The rest of the league will soon have all of their playes in the fold as this weekend the Washington Redskins (July 19), Houston Texans (July 20) and San Diego Chargers (July 20) report for duty with every team in camp by  July 27th.

Recent trends in the NFL point to teams no longer utilizing dorm life on college campuses and training at their own facilities. In fact, almost half the teams in the NFL (14 of 32) will be at their own place — that number is up compared to just 4 teams doing so ten years ago. The Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams  will camp train at new sites this summer, while the Green Bay Packers — right in the middle of Brett Favre fiasco — will return to St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisconsin, for the 51st consecutive year. Click here for the complete 2008 NFL training camp schedule.

The pre-season is not my favorite time on the NFL Calendar  and the “real” games don’t start for a couple of months.  But NFL fans everywhere can rejoice in knowing that NFL teams now have pads on and there are so many great storylines to follow (Favre retiring/unretiring, Can the Giants get back to the Super Bowl w/o Strahan, Which coach will be fired first, Can the Patriots overcome the loss of the perfect season and spygate, Can Donovan McNabb lead the Eagles to the playoffs, and much more). The real fun will start the weekend of August 2nd in Canton, Ohio at the Hall of Fame inductions and first pre-season game — Pro Football Hall of Fame Game with the Indianapolis Colts vs. the Washington Redskins on Sunday, August 3 (NBC, 8 PM ET).

So let Summer GTraining Camp Phase of the NFL Calendar  Begin !!!!

Taking It to the House: Top 10 Greatest Centers

T.I.T.T.H Top 10 Greatest Centers

  1. Mike Webster – Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs (HOF)
  2. Dwight Stephenson – Miami Dolphins (HOF)
  3. Dermotti Dawson – Pittsburgh Steelers
  4. Jim Otto – Oakland Raiders (HOF)
  5. Mick Tingelhoff – Minnesota Vikings
  6. Ray Donaldson – Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys
  7. Jim Ringo – Green Bay Packers (HOF)
  8. Chuck Bednarik – Philadelphia Eagles (HOF Two-Way C/MLB)
  9. Kevin Mawae – Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans*
  10. Jim Langer – Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings (HOF)

Honorable Mention: Randy Cross – San Francisco 49ers, Frank Gatski (HOF), Mark Stepnoski, Jeff Van Note, Dave Rimington, Jeff Saturday*, Olin Kreutz*, Casey Wiegmann, Raleigh McKenzie, Mel Hein (HOF), Matt Birk*, Bill Curry