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...I FALL ON MY FACE AND GET BACK UP, GET ON MY KNEES AND CONFESS, AND KEEP ON TRYING TO LIVE FOR JESUS. AARON RODGERS

THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR

SPORTS SPECTRUM NFL PREVIEW -- SPECIAL FANTASY SECTION INSIDE W W W. S P O R T S S P E C T R U M . C O M

CONTENTS

FANTASY

29-54

CLOSEUP:

NFL Closeup: Tim Shaw (p6); NFL Closeup: Daniel

FOOTBALL

Kilgore (p8)

FEATURES

10

NFL CAPSULES

Rob Tringali / Getty Images

Prepare for the upcoming NFL season with stats, roster breakdowns and predictions about each team BY BRETT HONEYCUTT

20

POWER RANKINGS

Hunter Martin / Getty Images

Grading each team and predicting their 2012 success based on their strengths and weaknesses BY BRYCE JOHNSON

24

OPINION

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Jeff Zelevanski / Getty images

Highlighting the top storylines entering 2012 and the players and media to look for BY BRYCE JOHNSON

2

AIRING IT OUT: Oh, when the Saints...

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Sports Yapp: Chris Maragos

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OLD SCHOOL: College football > NFL

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Delving into biblical leadership in light of New Orleans’ offseason bounty turmoil BY BRETT HONEYCUTT Former University of Wisconsin star and and Seattle Seahawks safety Chris Maragos joins Bryce Johnson on the Sports Yapp podcast BY BRYCE JOHNSON

Why NCAA football is better than the NFL, despite the annual BCS mess and debate BY AARON MAY

ANOTHER ANGLE: The mystery of fantasy Searching for the purpose behind fantasy football in a Seinfeld-esque way BY STEPHEN COPELAND

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OPINION

AIRING IT OUT BY BRETT HONEYCUTT

b h o n e y c u t t @ s p o r t s s p e c t r u m . c o m | F o l l o w @ b re t t _ h o n e y c u t t

Oh, when the Saints go cashing in

“C

AARON MAY / SPORTS SPECTRUM

art-offs” and “knockouts” aren’t terms that normally produce thoughts of leadership and the NFL. If anything, they make me think of the anythinggoes-world of boxing. But that terminology, made infamous this past spring because of the connection to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, or “Bounty Gate” as it’s been dubbed, is actually synonymous with the NFL and a lack of leadership. Despite the proof, there are mixed feelings about the scandal. But there shouldn’t be, especially Chris Graythen / Getty Images when you review the evidence. On one side you have some of the Sean Payton and the Saints are the main storyline entering the 2012 NFL season. players named in the investigation And the evidence against them is indisputable. who deny it even happened. But others, who have viewed the evidence (of charts listing coaches (Williams, head coach Sean Payton, and assistant coach $500 to $1,000 payouts, testimony from players, and audio tape, Joe Vitt) and General Manager Mickey Loomis. The Saints also had especially that of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to pay a $500,000 fine and give up second-round draft picks in telling players to go after a player with a history of concussions), 2012 and 2013. Even after the evidence, the NFLPA still issued a statement saysay there’s no doubt it happened. Most disturbing was a quote by Williams, who admitted to NFL ing the suspensions were unjustified. After putting out that statement, I’m wondering how their leadinvestigators that “he was rolling the dice with player safety and ership can be justified. someone could have been maimed.” I say that because the bounty scandal is more about leadership, Maimed. MAIMED! or a lack of thereof, than it is about the wrongs of injuring other No gray area there. Even more crippling to the naysayers was a document in Wil- players. If Williams, Vilma, the NFLPA and others had just applied what liams’ handwriting that showed player donations to a “QB Out” Philippians 2:4 says (“Each of you should look not only to your pool. The donation total, for knocking a quarterback out of a game, was $35,000, with Saints player Jonathan Vilma contribut- own interests, but also to the interests of others.”), or even Luke 6:31 (“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”), the mere ing $10,000. For a taste of the evidence, google “Sean Pamphilon” and “nin- thought of injuring other players would be unthinkable. And to think that the leadership lesson from Philippians was ersnation” and add “bounty” to your search. Some of the evidence written from prison should cause anyone to pause and think bereleased by the NFL will make your stomach churn. What is clear is this: players admitted that side bets are com- fore they act negatively toward others. Good leadership advice is found through God’s wisdom, not the mon in the NFL, and some have termed this particular incident by the Saints a Pay for Performance, which is against the league’s wisdom of fallen man. collective bargaining agreement. Brett Honeycutt is the But the main focus of this investigation was the Bounty Promanaging editor of Sports gram, slightly different than a Pay for Performance program and Spectrum magazine. His column something that could bring legal action. addresses controversial topics For now the scandal has resulted in the suspension of four playfrom a biblical perspective. ers (Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Scott Fujita), three 2

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

SPORTSSPECTRUM.COM Sports Devotionals and Sports Stories Based on the Book of Proverbs Verses from all 31 chapters of Proverbs are paired with spiritually encouraging stories of well-known athletes and thought-provoking devotionals. You will be inspired as you read each page of this book written by Robert B. Walker.

Available now in the Sports Spectrum store

SPORTS YAPP

OPINION

B Y B RY C E J O H N S O N

bryce.johnson@sportsspectrum.com | Follow @sportsyapp

Every week Bryce Johnson is joined on Sports Spectrum’s official podcast, SPORTS YAPP, by inspiring guests to discuss sports, faith and life. Listen to the full audio of all his interviews on sportsyapp.com. Below are some highlights from Bryce’s interview with Chris Maragos, who is a safety for the Seattle Seahawks. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin.

to see how the Lord just kind of opened up doors and just how you could see his plan unfold despite how bleak it looked. BRYCE JOHNSON: How do you like living out in Seattle? CHRIS MARAGOS: It’s cool, it’s an interesting city. I think it’s one of those places especially in the country that kind of gets lost in the mix just because if you think about somewhere you’re gonna go visit, you think of New York or go down to Florida or maybe Southern California or San Francisco or some of those other cities that might be more appealing. But I think everybody forgets about Seattle because it kind of gets lost in it all, but Seattle is absolutely beautiful especially if you like God’s creation and you’re very into beautiful, natural things. Seattle is unbelievable…you’re surrounded by mountain ranges. There are these huge (mountains)—Mt. Rainer, Mt. St. Helen’s is there. There are so many cool things to see. There’s beautiful waterfalls all around. It’s just a really beautiful city. BRYCE JOHNSON: How did you end up switching positions when you transferred from Western Michigan to Wisconsin? (This switch ended up leading to Chris playing safety in the NFL.) CHRIS MARAGOS: Every day because I was on the team, but I was ineligible (when) I was on the scout team so I was playing wide receiver going against our defense every day. Well, the coaches on the defense began to notice my work ethic and my aggressiveness and my ability to play hard, and they started to see some things. Coach Bielema (head coach) is kind of a defensive minded coach and he kind of liked what he saw and he said, ‘Hey, listen, after the season is over, we really liked what you were doing and we really think you could be a good safety.’ At that point, I was just happy to be on the team and put a helmet on with a ‘W’ on it. I was just proud to do that. So I said, ‘All right, you guys have been doing this for a long time, and you guys can judge talent. So, if you think I can do it, then I’ll do it.’ So my junior year of college, I switched to defense and then ended up starting about halfway through my junior year; and then my senior year I earned a scholarship, my teammates voted me team captain, and (we) went on to have a really good year with the team. It was just a really cool story 4

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012 Source: chrismaragos.com

BRYCE JOHNSON: You went to Wisconsin with your older brother who was actually the mascot. What was that like? CHRIS MARAGOS: It’s really kind of funny because I always tell people I can’t tell what everybody is more excited about: me playing football for the Badgers or him being the mascot for the university. It’s kind of a rigorous process to actually make the mascot; there’s hundreds and hundreds of people that try out, and they have a week-long tryout for the mascot, and they pick the people from that. BRYCE JOHNSON: Wow, that’s crazy. I bet that was fun going to the same college as him. What type of impact did your brother have on your life? CHRIS MARAGOS: My brother is really just an awesome guy. Growing up, he was a guy you always look up to, but it was really cool when the Lord got a hold of me in high school and then when the Lord got a hold of my brother his freshman year of college. It was just so cool to have someone that was older than me as a sibling to look up to in my faith as well. He’s just been somebody that’s been a humongous encouragement to me and to see the way that he walks his life—and it’s just real important to have and surround yourself with the right people that can sharpen you and pick you up when you’re down. I can remember transferring colleges and just being so confused and not knowing what’s gonna go on and all the uncertainty and just to have someone there praying for you and always calling you or texting you a bible verse, whatever it might be, it was extremely huge...He’s actually a pastor now at a church in Chicago. He does their college-age ministry, and so it’s really cool to see, and it’s just awesome to look up to him to see him doing full-time ministry now and just really being used by the Lord. It’s been a big time blessing and encouragement to me in my life, for sure.

BRYCE’S BEST Musical Artist: Ryan Long Ryan Long is a singer/ songwriter who performed during my week at Young Life camp this summer when I was a leader in Colorado. I heard him years ago and was reminded of how talented he truly is. People really connect with his songs as he sings about faith and life. Most of his songs tell stories with great descriptions and imagery. If you have been looking for some great relaxing music, I highly recommend checking out any of Ryan Long’s albums. Movie: “The Dark Knight Rises” I’m not a Mr. Super Hero guy, but I absolutely loved the latest Batman trilogy which ended with The Dark Knight Rises. I went to the midnight showing and it was well worth the two hours of sleep I ended up getting that night. The movie had everything you could have hoped for, and I thought the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the cop whose story ended in a crazy way, was really great. I still give the nod to the Joker being a much better “bad guy” than Bane, but I don’t have too many negative things to say about the latest Dark Knight hit. The heart of Batman is one that wants to save people, and that should be encouraging to us. Tap Drill: Quick thoughts about faith, sports, life, and entertainment • I think USA basketball will do great in the Olympics and win the gold, but I must admit I’m impressed with how well some countries play with only a couple of NBA players on their roster. • Dwight Howard should be forced to sit out the whole year for the hassles he has caused with his mind-changing trade demands. • I was reminded when I went as a leader to a Young Life camp this summer that people, and especially teenagers, are so broken and hurting below the surface that we have to start looking beyond the sin wall they have up and recognize their need for the love of Jesus instead of their need to stop doing certain things. Their sin and behavior will start to change when they experience the Savior.

OLD SCHOOL B Y A A R O N M AY

OPINION

a a ro n @ s p o r t s s p e c t r u m . c o m | F o l l o w @ p p l c a l l m e b l u e

Watch college football instead

T

he pageantry, the rivalries, student sections, fight songs and traditions like running through the “T” at Tennessee or releasing the “War Eagle” at Auburn. Those are some of the traditions that make college football so great. What makes the NFL great? Read on to see what I have to say…

Taking the Field: The script “Ohio” and dotting the “i” at Ohio State, Howard’s Rock at Clemson, the “Sooner Schooner” in Oklahoma, the “Ramblin’ Wreck” at Georgia Tech, the buffalo at Colorado— so many schools have their own unique traditions in how the team is led onto the field—all while their school’s fight song is played by their marching band. In the NFL, teams may have one of those flimsy blow-up tunnels to run through while some AC/DC or Guns ‘N Roses plays over the PA system. Atmosphere: The Oregon Ducks “O” chant is loud throughout four quarters and all their home games. Marching bands entertain during halftime (even when teams are out of the national title picture), school pride is always on the line, and fans and players always want to win. When you attend an NFL game you’ll hear pre-canned music, sit through long television timeouts even though players are ready for the next play, and see a wide range of halftime shows that can either be entertaining or an insult to how much you paid for your ticket. Homecoming: In college football, there will be one game a year where alumni return to the school they graduated from. In the NFL, homecoming might mean a game where the team invites a couple of old players back to do the coin toss. Rooting interest: NFL teams mostly reside in major U.S. cities, so if you don’t live in one of those places you probably don’t have as much rooting interest for a team that is hundreds of miles away. There are 120 teams in the FBS level of college football, and in all types of cities, large and small. Couple that with the rooting interest you have when you attend/attended a school and you’ll find alumni who will watch their college team no matter if they are sports fans or not. Rivalries: The rivalries are so much better in college football. Many schools have been playing each other since the early 1900s. There are in-state rivalries (Stanford-Cal), border-war rivalries (Michigan-Ohio State), and sometimes just plain old hate rivalries (USC-Notre Dame). Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if both teams have winning records (Army-Navy). In the NFL, rivalries seem to change constantly. Too many of the rivalries in the NFL depend on whether or not both teams have winning records, which brings me to my next point... Parity vs. Stability: The NFL is simply too unpredictable. Because of the salary cap, revenue sharing, roster turnover and injuries (Hi

Peyton!), the NFL looks different every week and anyone could be a winner. Beating the Indianapolis Colts one year (2010) is impressive, beating them the next year (2011) is expected. The NFL makes it tough to have depth on a team, retain players, or sustain greatness. Not the case in college football. It will always be impressive when your team beats the USCs, the Alabamas, and the LSUs of the world. Spread Offense vs. Pro Style Offense: I don’t know about you, but I like watching football games that have a lot of scoring. The spread offense has been running wild in college football the past decade score points in the 40s-50s most Saturdays. When is the last time you saw a team score 50 points in the NFL? (To be fair, though, LSU’s offense was pretty horrific in its BCS title game matchup against Alabama, who held the Tigers to 53 yards passing and 39 yards rushing. When was the last time we saw a team fail to score in the Super Bowl? The answer: never.) Pros vs. Joes (Not the TV show that once starred John Rocker and Muggsy Bogues): In the NFL, we are constantly hearing about players holding out during training camp in order to get a million more dollars. In general, people don’t like whiney millionaires. In college football, it’s all about the love of the game, and pride for their school, because players aren’t getting paid (well, not as much). Playoffs vs. BCS: The NFL playoffs include 12 of the 30 teams. The BCS includes two, though it will expand to four at the end of the 2014 season. Only the elite of the elite of the elite can play for a national championship in college, but in the NFL a 9-7 Giants team played in the Super Bowl after beating three teams in the playoffs. Talk about rewarding the mediocre. Bowls: Wait a second, this is rewarding the mediocrity. Uh, let’s keep going. Talent: Hmmm...Maybe I should use a Jedi mind trick on you here. (Waving hand) Eighteen to 22-year-olds with less experience are much better football players than 23 to 35-year-olds (I think that worked). Saturday vs. Sunday: There is nothing better than watching college games all day on Saturday. It only happens once a week in the fall...er...well, I guess it does happen again the next day on Sunday. Hmmm… Aaron May is a staff writer Conclusion: Well, that and videographer for Sports wasn’t as convincing as Spectrum. You can catch his I thought it would be. weekly columns on college I guess we could just football, college basketball, watch both and enjoy and Major League Baseball, this great sport that has captivated young and old depending on the season, each week at SportsSpectrum.com. fans alike. SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

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Tim Shaw

Tim Shaw, tackling New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (right), is a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans.

Q. What book are you reading now? A. Tony Dungy’s “Mentor Leader” Q. What movie have you enjoyed recently? A. Act of Valor Q. What are your top TV shows right now? A. King of Queens and The Voice Q. You were a free agent, but decided to stay with the Titans, why? A. Ultimately my heart was in Tennessee…I really felt the relationships I have in this city and the people I have mentoring me and the position of leadership I have on the team and things like that, God just said hey man this is where I need you.

Q. What did your most recent trip to Haiti teach you? A. This trip was honestly about patience and waiting on the Lord…

sometimes you just gotta sit and wait and sometimes you just gotta love people and that’s all you can do.

Grant Halverson / Getty Images

Hear the full interview here, and listen to his testimony.

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SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

W E B S I T E : w w w. S p o r t s S p e c t r u m . c o m

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Scott Boehm / Getty Images

MLB PROFILE CLOSEUP

Daniel Kilgore Daniel Kilgore is an offensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers.

Q. You enjoy hunting and fishing, but if you had to pick one to spend your Saturday, what one are you picking?

A. Bass Fishing

Q. What was the last movie you saw? A. Act of Valor Q. You have a passion for resorting old cars, what one are you working on now?

A. 1974 Chevy Nova Q. Who is the most amazing player you saw up close last year? A. Justin Smith, the 49ers defensive tackle. There is nobody in the NFL that can stop him.

Q. Who is the biggest 49ers rival from a player’s standpoint? A. Seattle Seahawks

Grant Halverson / Getty Images

Hear the full interview here, and listen to his testimony.

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SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

NCAA BASEBALL PROFILE CLOSEUP

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AFC CAP NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 2011 Finish: 13-3 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 11-5 • Brett’s prediction: 14-2 Most important player: Tom Brady, quarterback – If he goes down, the team will falter. Newcomer to watch: Brandon Lloyd, wide receiver – Expected to put up huge numbers in the Tom Brady-Josh McDaniels offense after thriving in Denver under Daniels (an NFL-best 1,448 yards on 77 catches). Rookie to watch: Chandler Jones, defensive end – Syracuse product could be another great find and has the potential to start sooner rather than later. NEW YORK JETS 2011 Finish: 8-8 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 10-6 • Brett’s prediction: 11-5 Most important player: Mark Sanchez, quarterback –Not the best, but the most important because if he goes down then Tebowmania will begin—again. Newcomer to watch: Tim Tebow, quarterback/fullback – Will be interesting to see how the Jets use Tebow (who led Denver to a miraculous playoff berth and victory) and if fans call for him to start when, or if, Sanchez struggles. Rookie to watch: Demario Davis, linebacker – Blessed with 4.61 speed in the 40, he had 229 tackles and 22.5 tackles for a loss at Arkansas State.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

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2011 Finish: 6-10 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 5-11 • Brett’s prediction: 4-12 Most important player: Matt Moore, quarterback – The most important because how he fares will be the direction the team will take. If he fails, they’ll go with rookie Ryan Tannehill. If Moore flourishes, then the sky is the limit (he led Miami to a 6-3 record last season). Newcomer to watch: David Garrard, quarterback – If Moore or rookie Tannehill struggle, having Garrard will look like one of the best moves the team made (also watch wide receiver Chad Ochocinco). Rookie to watch: Ryan Tannehill, quarterback – Former Texas A&M star could thrive in a system he’s familiar with because he knows new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. BUFFALO BILLS 2011 Finish: 6-10 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 9-7 • Brett’s prediction: 7-9 Most important player: Fred Jackson, running back – Jackson can help spread opposing defenses if he stays healthy (he was on pace for 2,000 all-purpose yards last season before he broke his fibula). Newcomer to watch: Mario Williams, defensive end – One of the best acquisitions this offseason. He can dominate a game and inspire his teammates to do the same. Rookie to watch: Stephon Gilmore, cornerback and Cordy Glenn, left tackle – Both are SEC products (Gilmore from South Carolina and Glenn from Georgia) and both are thought to have a great chance to start, with Gilmore enhancing a defense that has high expectations and Glenn giving much-needed help to the offensive line.

EAST

PSULES BALTIMORE RAVENS 2011 Finish: 12-4 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 8-8 • Brett’s prediction: 10-6 Most important player: Ray Rice, running back – If he gets injured, say goodbye to any chance at the playoffs. Newcomer to watch: Bobbie Williams, offensive line – The 13-year veteran will help shore up a seasoned offensive line after losing Ben Grubbs to free agency. Rookie to watch: Courtney Upshaw, linebacker – The All-American out of Alabama known for his pass-rushing ability, could start after making huge impression during minicamp. PITTSBURGH STEELERS 2011 Finish: 12-4 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 11-5 • Brett’s prediction: 13-3 Most important player: Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback – Hard to call “Big Ben” the most important because the Steelers won games without him last season. But he is at least one of the most important players on a team that has a lot of “most important” players and also has the potential to win it all. Newcomer to watch: Leonard Pope, tight end – He’s 6-foot-8 and 264 pounds, and he has experience. That should get anyone excited about a tight end. Rookie to watch: Mike Adams, offensive tackle – His troubled spring has turned around and the Ohio State product will immediately make the Steelers offensive line better than last season.

CINCINNATI BENGALS 2011 Finish: 9-7 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 10-6 • Brett’s prediction: 12-4 Most important player: Andy Dalton, quarterback – Led Bengals to the playoffs and would have won Rookie of the Year if not for Cam Newton’s amazing, and surprising, season. Newcomer to watch: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, running back – Expected to have a huge year after being underused in a talented New England offense. Rookie to watch: Kevin Zeitler, guard – First-round pick out of Wisconsin could help strengthen the run-blocking. CLEVELAND BROWNS 2011 Finish: 4-12 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 5-11 • Brett’s prediction: 0-16 Most important player: Trent Richardson, running back – Richardson, an All-American at Alabama, is shouldering a lot of the load for helping this franchise pull itself up from the mire. Newcomer to watch: Frostee Rucker, defensive end – Former Cincinnati Bengals player could add even more to the ClevelandCincinnati rivalry. Rookie to watch: Brandon Weeden, quarterback – Weeden, who ran a high-octane offense at Oklahoma State will likely start and could help Browns fans forget the recent demise of a proud franchise.

NORTH

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AFC CAP HOUSTON TEXANS 2011 Finish: 10-6 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 12-4 • Brett’s prediction: 12-4 Most important player: Matt Schaub, quarterback – Some will say this spot should be reserved for Arian Foster, but after watching the Texans struggle to put up big numbers without Schaub, who was injured, it’s easy to say Schaub is the most important player on this team. Newcomers to watch: Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler, offensive line – Both have the potential to start, but injury has plagued Caldwell and Butler only started four times last season. Rookie to watch: Whitney Mercilus, linebacker – Former Illinois star and first-round pick is quick and explosive and could start. TENNESSEE TITANS 2011 Finish: 9-7 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 9-7 • Brett’s prediction: 9-7 Most important player: Chris Johnson, running back – If he has another season like last year, he’s done. Newcomer to watch: Steve Hutchinson, offensive guard – Pro Bowler who will add strength to the Titans line. Rookie to watch: Kendall Wright, wide receiver – The Baylor product’s competitive spirit combined with his athletic ability could open up the field offensively for the Titans.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 2011 Finish: 5-11 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 3-13 • Brett’s prediction: 5-11 Most important player: Maurice Jones-Drew, running back – Led the NFL in rushing last season (1,606 yards), but the Jaguars stumbled to a poor record. Newcomer to watch: Laurent Robinson, wide receiver – Career-highs with Dallas last season (54 catches, 858 yards, 11 TDs) make the Jaguars think Robinson has huge potential. Rookie to watch: Justin Blackmon, wide receiver – If he can get over his offseason troubles, the Oklahoma State star could have a huge season. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 2011 Finish: 2-14 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 3-13 • Brett’s prediction: 1-15 Most important player: Reggie Wayne, wide receiver – If anyone can help rookie quarterback Andrew Luck adjust to the NFL and taking over for Peyton Manning, it will be Wayne. Newcomer to watch: Donnie Avery, wide receiver – After being injured in 2010, Avery has been released by St. Louis and Tennessee and has barely played. Rookie to watch: Andrew Luck, quarterback – Replacing Peyton Manning will be difficult and the pressure could either help or eventually hurt the talented and cerebral Stanford product.

SOUTH

PSULES DENVER BRONCOS 2011 Finish: 8-8 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 10-6 • Brett’s prediction: 9-7 Most important player: Peyton Manning, quarterback - The Broncos traded Tim Tebow, who led them to the playoffs, so everything hinges on whether or not Manning (signed in a much-hyped offseason deal) is healthy and can lead the Broncos like management and fans think he can. Newcomer to watch: Peyton Manning, quarterback – Who else? Rookie to watch: Ronnie Hillman, running back – Could he beat out Willis McGahee eventually? Only time will tell, but some think the San Diego State star could do exactly that. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 2011 Finish: 8-8 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 8-8 • Brett’s prediction: 7-9 Most important player: Phillip Rivers, quarterback – Without him, the Chargers are a 6-10 or 4-12 team (even with Ryan Matthews). But besides Rivers needing a strong season for the Chargers to have a chance, he needs others to continue carrying the load. Newcomer to watch: Ronnie Brown, running back – After the Eagles found him expendable because of the tremendous season by LeSean McCoy, Brown will once again share duties with an outstanding back in Matthews (also watch wide receivers Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem). Rookie to watch: Melvin Ingram, linebacker – First-round pick and All-American out of South Carolina will provide help as a passrusher.

OAKLAND RAIDERS 2011 Finish: 8-8 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 8-8 • Brett’s prediction: 6-10 Most important player: Carson Palmer, quarterback – A full offseason with the team, and a new coaching staff, could help Palmer relax and eventually bring the Raiders back to the glory days. Newcomer to watch: Matt Leinart, quarterback – A lot of people think Leinart could be the quarterback he was in college. With fellow Southern Cal alum Carson Palmer there to tutor him, this could be the perfect team for him to show what he has. Rookie to watch: Miles Burris, linebacker – Burris was a fourthround pick out of San Diego State, but his strengths (being able to play several positions) could earn him more playing time. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 2011 Finish: 7-9 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 7-9 • Brett’s prediction: 8-8 Most important player: Matt Cassell, quarterback – Played only nine games last season, but still passed for 1,713 yards and 10 touchdowns. Newcomer to watch: Peyton Hills, running back – Can he regain the form that he had in 2010 when he rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 TDs? If he stays healthy, he can. Rookie to watch: Dontari Poe, nose tackle and Jeff Allen, guard – Poe, out of Memphis, and Allen, out of Illinois, have the potential to start, but both will go through a bit of a learning curve.

WEST

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NFC CAP NEW YORK GIANTS 2011 Finish: 9-7 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 10-6 • Brett’s prediction: 6-10 Most important player: Eli Manning, quarterback Newcomer to watch: Martellus Bennett, tight end – Backup with Dallas last season, but will start this season. Could put up some impressive numbers. Rookie to watch: David Wilson, running back – Will back up Ahmad Bradshaw, but the Virginia Tech star has explosiveness and quickness that should push Bradshaw for carries. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 2011 Finish: 8-8 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 12-4 • Brett’s prediction: 16-0 Most important player: Michael Vick, quarterback – Sure, this team is loaded, but they don’t have the luxury of big-name and viable backup quarterbacks like they’ve had in the past. If Vick goes down, no chance at a Super Bowl or the playoffs. Newcomer to watch: DeMeco Ryans, linebacker – Two-time Pro Bowler will make this an incredible defense, which is why the Eagles will win the Super Bowl. Rookie to watch: Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle – First-round pick and an All-American out of Mississippi State will make Philly’s defense even more intimidating.

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DALLAS COWBOYS 2011 Finish: 8-8 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 11-5 • Brett’s prediction: 10-6 Most important player: Tony Romo, quarterback – Passed for 4,184 yards and 31 TDs last season. If he can stay away from the injury bug, and if DeMarco Murray shines again at running back, this could be the year owner Jerry Jones has been hoping for. Newcomer to watch: Brandon Carr, cornerback – The Cowboys thought enough of the former Kansas City star to pay him $50.1 million over five years. Rookie to watch: Morris Claiborne, cornerback – If the LSU star can overcome a preseason injury, he will likely start. WASHINGTON REDSKINS 2011 Finish: 5-11 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 6-10 • Brett’s prediction: 5-11 Most important player: Roy Helu, running back – could help keep defenses honest for rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Helu had a breakout season, but must remain healthy to help RGIII. Newcomer to watch: Pierre Garcon, wide receiver – Can Garcon and Robert Griffin III be as lethal as Garcon and Peyton Manning were with the Colts? Likely not, but Garcon should help Griffin’s initiation in the NFL easier. Rookie to watch: Robert Griffin III – After surprising rookie seasons by Carolina’s Cam Newton and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton last year, Griffin (last season’s Heisman winner from Baylor) will carry the weight of lofty expectations on rookie quarterbacks.

EAST

PSULES GREEN BAY PACKERS 2011 Finish: 15-1 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 13-3 • Brett’s prediction: 15-1 Most important player: Aaron Rodgers, quarterback – Threw for 4,643 yards and 45 TDs and posted an NFL record 122.5 passer rating. Oh, and he was also the league MVP. Enough said. Newcomer to watch: Jeff Saturday, center – After getting the ball to future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning for 13 years and only missing six games after becoming a starter, Saturday will be protecting another superstar in Aaron Rodgers. Rookie to watch: Nick Perry, linebacker – Southern Cal star has potential to make immediate impact. DETROIT LIONS 2011 Finish: 10-6 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 11-5 • Brett’s prediction: 10-6 Most important player: Matthew Stafford, quarterback – After passing for 5,038 yards (fifth-best in NFL history) and 41 TDs (seventh-best in NFL history), the Lions’ turnaround season was mainly because Stafford stayed healthy for the first time since entering the league in 2009. Newcomer to watch: Jonathan Scott, offensive tackle – The Lions return 21 of 22 starters, so finding a “newcomer to watch” is pretty difficult. Scott, who was released by the Steelers and played for Detroit in 2006 and 2007, could help fill a need on the offensive line. Rookie to watch: Dwight Bentley, cornerback – Louisiana-Lafayette star could help the Lions immediately in the secondary.

CHICAGO BEARS 2011 Finish: 8-8 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 10-6 • Brett’s prediction: 10-6 Most important player: Matt Forte, running back – rushed for 997 yards and three touchdowns, but averaged 4.9 yards per carry and only played in 12 games. If he can stay healthy, Forte could easily best his career-high of 1,238 yards. Newcomer to watch: Brandon Marshall, wide receiver – After teaming with quarterback Jay Cutler in Denver (in 2007 and 2008) to put up huge seasons (back-to-back 100-plus catches and 1,200plus yard seasons), the two are reunited (also watch quarterback Jason Campbell and running back Michael Bush). Rookie to watch: Shea McClellin, defensive end, and Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver – Both McClellin, who starred at Boise State, and Jeffery, who starred at South Carolina, could eventually start and will likely see time during specific situations. MINNESOTA VIKINGS 2011 Finish: 3-13 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 3-13 • Brett’s prediction: 4-12 Most important player: Adrian Peterson, running back – An injury limited him to 12 games, but he still managed to rush for 970 yards and 12 TDs. Staying healthy may not be enough to help the Vikings, though. Newcomer to watch: John Carlson, tight end – After not playing last season because of a torn labrum, Carlson is trying to regain the form he had when he had 106 catches for 1,201 yards and 12 TDs in his first two seasons with Seattle. Rookie to watch: Matt Kalil, offensive line – Some say he’s already the best offensive lineman on the team. Kalil, an All-American at Southern Cal, was given the Morris Trophy, which recognizes the top offensive lineman in the PAC 12.

NORTH

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NFC CAP NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 2011 Finish: 13-3 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 8-8 • Brett’s prediction: 4-12 Most important player: Drew Brees, quarterback – No question. Led team to a Super Bowl after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and will be asked to help the team overcome the bounty scandal this year. Newcomer to watch: David Hawthorne, linebacker – Known for his blitzing ability in Seattle, he will be looked to provide the same with the Saints. Rookie to watch: Nick Toon, wide receiver – Could break into the receiving corps, but everyone will have to see how this makeshift group of coaches decides to use the former Wisconsin star. ATLANTA FALCONS 2011 Finish: 10-6 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 11-5 • Brett’s prediction: 9-7 Most important player: Matt Ryan, quarterback – some fans have mixed feelings about Ryan, who passed for 4,177 yards and 29 TDs, but without him the Falcons don’t have a flying chance. Pun intended. Newcomer to watch: Asante Samuel, cornerback – Four-time Pro Bowl player and three-time All-Pro has 45 career interceptions. Rookie to watch: Peter Konz, right guard – If the former Wisconsin star meets expectations, he could challenge for a starting role and could help the ground game immensely by opening huge holes.

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CAROLINA PANTHERS 2011 Finish: 6-10 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 10-6 • Brett’s prediction: 13-3 Most important player: Cam Newton, quarterback – After surprising everyone and putting up eye-popping numbers, Newton will be relied on heavily to duplicate that feat this season. Newcomer to watch: Mike Tolbert, fullback – A special teams star and a solid tailback will help enhance an already talented running game led by Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Rookie to watch: Luke Kuechly, linebacker – Three-time AllAmerican from Boston College and the winner of the Lombardi, Lott and Bronko Nagurski awards, should start and help the team thrive at linebacker with the help of teammate Jon Beason. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 2011 Finish: 4-12 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 8-8 • Brett’s prediction: 0-16 Most important player: Josh Freeman, quarterback – A ton of offseason acquisitions should help Freeman in his third season, but this team could need more than new faces and a new coach. Newcomer to watch: Vincent Jackson, wide receiver – High expectations for someone who had a turbulent relationship with his former team, the San Diego Chargers (also watch Dallas Clark, tight end). Rookie to watch: Doug Martin, running back – Boise State product could be the go-to back by the beginning of the season.

SOUTH

PSULES SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 2011 Finish: 13-3 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 13-3 • Brett’s prediction: 16-0 Most important player: Jim Harbaugh, head coach – He’s not a player, but he’s the most important part of why this team went from less than mediocre to one of the NFL’s best teams with virtually the same team. Newcomer to watch: Mario Manningham, wide receiver – Helped the Giants win the Super Bowl, but this offense is the genius of Harbaugh, not just the athletes on the field. He’ll be part of the equation to helping the 49ers finish on top, though (also watch running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Randy Moss). Rookie to watch: LaMichael James, running back – The AllAmerican and second-round pick is Oregon’s career rushing leader who will provide team with more options on an already explosive offense. ARIZONA CARDINALS 2011 Finish: 8-8 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 5-12 • Brett’s prediction: 3-13 Most important player: Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver – One of the few bright spots on a mediocre team, he had his best season in three years after piling up 1,411 receiving yards. Newcomer to watch: Adam Snyder, offensive lineman – The 6-foot6, 325-pound offensive guard/tackle is a seven-year veteran and will make a nice addition to Arizona’s line. Rookie to watch: Michael Floyd, wide receiver – The former Notre Dame star impressed early in preseason camp and could get in during certain situations, but he will need to keep working hard.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 2011 Finish: 7-9 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 7-9 • Brett’s prediction: 5-11 Most important player: Marshawn Lynch, running back – If all of the offseason acquisitions don’t pan out, the Seahawks still have a reliable running back in Lynch (1,204 yards, 12 TDs last season). Newcomer to watch: Matt Flynn, quarterback – Put up huge numbers (480 yards, 6 TDs, all-time team records) in his one start last season for Green Bay (45-41 victory against Detroit). Seahawk fans are hoping for a repeat performance – every game. Rookie to watch: Bruce Irvin, defensive line – West Virginia’s speedy and athletic Irvin was a surprise first-round pick, but the Seahawks think he’s worth the risk. ST. LOUIS RAMS 2011 FINISH: 2-14 2012 potential finish: • Bryce’s prediction: 8-8 • Brett’s prediction: 2-14 Most important player: Sam Bradford, quarterback, and Steven Jackson, running back – If either struggle, the Rams are in for a long season. Newcomer to watch: Cortland Finnegan, cornerback – Talented (2008 All-Pro) and feisty, but his on-field behavior has left a sour taste in the mouth of some players and analysts. Rookie to watch: Janoris Jenkins, cornerback – If Jenkins, an All-SEC pick at Florida before being dismissed from the team and transferring to North Alabama, can eliminate off-the-field issues, people will be talking about him all season – and how the St. Louis defense has improved so much.

WEST

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Hunter Martin / Getty Images

POWER RANKINGS

1. GREEN BAY PACKERS–They have the best player in the league, and the core of the team continues to stay together, so I have the most confidence in them. 2. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS–They were close last year and added tons of offensive weapons, so I expect big things from them again. 3. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES–This has to be the year Vick (right) and the Eagles put it together, right? 4. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS–They are boringly good year after year—not to watch, but to predict, because they are always on top. 5. N.Y. GIANTS–The reigning champs should be good again, but they still aren’t the team getting all the attention and hype. 6. HOUSTON TEXANS–Their division will be very easy again, and if they stay healthy, they can have a special year. 7. DALLAS COWBOYS–There is always pressure on Tony Romo, and I think he will have a nice year and help the Cowboys click even better than recent seasons. 8. ATLANTA FALCONS–I’m a big believer in Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offensive weapons, but can they win in the playoffs? 9. CHICAGO BEARS–They have made amazing moves in the offseason, and I think a big year is in store for them. 10. PITTSBURGH STEELERS–They are always solid, and it will be fun to see if their young players step up to fill certain holes. 11. DETROIT LIONS–It’s hard to imagine the Lions having backto-back winning seasons, but I think they will be even better this year. 12. DENVER BRONCOS–Everything is in place for the Broncos to be even better than this ranking, but I want to see how Peyton Manning takes a hit before getting too excited. 13. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS–They should probably be ranked higher based on what they accomplished in the regular season last year, but I have a lot of doubt they can respond from the off-season issues. 14. BALTIMORE RAVENS–I don’t think they have done enough to get better, and I think they rely on too many old players.

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POWER RANKINGS (cont.) 15. CAROLINA PANTHERS–I have some questions about their defense, but Cam Newton (left) has one of the best offenses in the NFL. 16. N.Y. JETS–They are in the middle because, more than any other team, they could end up a lot higher or a lot lower by the end of the year depending on how things work out with Tim Tebow. 17. CINCINNATI BENGALS–Still might be too young, but they are heading in the right direction. 18. TENNESSEE TITANS–Chris Johnson should have a great year, and that will help the Titans stay in the mix. 19. BUFFALO BILLS–I’m going to start them off this low in the rankings, but if they figure out how to finish the way they started last year, their ranking could be much higher by the end of the season. 20. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS–I like the Greg Schiano hire as their new head coach, and I think he will motivate guys like Josh Freeman and Mike Williams to play better than they did last year. 21. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS–I don’t feel good about the direction they are heading, even though I think Ryan Matthews will run the ball very well this year. 22. ST. LOUIS RAMS–They have to start this low, but new head coach Jeff Fisher will turn the team around and make them one of the most improved teams. 23. OAKLAND RAIDERS–Carson Palmer and the offense will benefit from training camp, but I’m hesitant to put them much higher. 24. MIAMI DOLPHINS–I’m not sure what they are doing in Miami, but I think they have a ways to go before they are relevant and in playoff discussions. 25. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS–Can we really trust Matt Cassel? 26. WASHINGTON REDSKINS–I’m not sure Robert Griffin III will have the type of year Cam Newton had last year. 27. CLEVELAND BROWNS–I think Brandon Weeden will be a fine rookie quarterback because of his age (28) and talent, but the Browns just don’t have enough right now. 28. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS–Marshawn Lynch is their best player, but also somewhat of a wildcard based on his off-the-field issues. 29. ARIZONA CARDINALS–They have a couple of nice pieces here and there, but they aren’t good enough right now. 30. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS–They need a new QB because I don’t think Blaine Gabbert is the answer. 31. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS–They will be better than last year, but this is a major rebuilding process. 32. MINNESOTA VIKINGS–I’m not sure people realize how bad the Viking really are, but I do. Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

BRYCE JOHNSON

TOP 10 STORYLINES 1. Can Peyton Manning return to greatness and stay healthy 2. How will Drew Brees (right) and the New Orleans

Saints respond to an offseason filled with turmoil, and how will the absence of head coach Sean Payton affect the team?

3. What rookie quarterback (Andrew Luck, RGIII, Bran-

don Weeden, Ryan Tannehill) will make the biggest impact on his team?

4. Will the New York Giants be the team to beat in the NFC after winning last year’s Super Bowl?

5. Can the Philadelphia Eagles live up to the hype and win the Super Bowl?

6. Will the Dallas Cowboys steal more headlines for good things or bad things this year?

7. What new head coach (Jeff Fisher, Mike Mularkey, Joe

Philbin, Chuck Pagano, Dennis Allen, Greg Schiano, Romeo Crennel) will have the biggest immediate impact on his team?

8. Will Cam Newton be great again, or will he suffer a sophomore slump for the Carolina Panthers?

9. Were the San Francisco 49ers a one-hit wonder, or will they be a Super Bowl contender again?

10. Can the Detroit Lions stay out of trouble, and can their offense be as explosive as it was last year?

BRYCE JOHNSON

Andy Lyons / Getty Images

while taking the Broncos back to the playoffs?

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

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1. Tim Tebow (right)-Will he contribute to the New York Jets at different positions or become the starting quarterback?

2. Aaron Rodgers-Will he continue his brilliance and take his game to an even higher level?

3. Drew Brees-Will he live up to the monster contract he signed, and can he keep the Saints rolling the same way they did last season?

4. Matt Forte-Will he and the Chicago Bears have an improved offense this year, and will his role change at all?

5. Matt Hasselbeck-Will he be the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, or will he take a backseat to second-year quarterback Jake Locker?

BRYCE JOHNSON

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Jeff Zelevanski / Getty Images

CHRISTIAN STORIES TO WATCH

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CHRISTIAN MEDIA TO WATCH 1. Tony Dungy-NBC studio analyst (former Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach)

2. Kurt Warner-NFL Network studio analyst (former quarterback with the St. Louis Rams, New York Giants, and Arizona Cardinals)

3. Heath Evans (left)-NFL Network studio analyst (former fullback with the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins)

4. Trent Dilfer-ESPN studio analyst (former quarterback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers)

5. Rich Gannon-CBS Sports NFL game analyst (former quarterback with the Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, and Kansas City Chiefs)

BRYCE JOHNSON Chris Graythen / Getty Images

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

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SPECIAL FANTASY SECTION

PROFESSIONAL ADVICE FROM SPORTS YAPP PODCAST HOST AND FANTASY FREAK BRYCE JOHNSON

OPINION

SPORTS YAPP

B Y B RY C E J O H N S O N

bryce.johnson@sportsspectrum.com | Follow @sportsyapp

Salvaging my love, football

I

remember the day so vividly. The afternoon my middle school football coach told me I didn’t make the team. The moment my NFL dreams died and the moment I realized nobody gets cut from the middle school football team unless they’re really bad. Looking back, though, that disappointment didn’t cause me to lose my passion for the game, and I’m glad it didn’t because later on in high school there was a football league that actually wanted an unathletic, slow, weak, and energetic member to join them. I had finally found a place where I belonged. And that place? It was in the exciting and competitive world of fantasy football. I joined my first league after my Young Life leader, who had a big influence on my life and had been playing fantasy for a while, invited me to give it a try. I was a huge NFL fan to begin with, and I kept up with players and teams because I watched games all the time. When I started playing fantasy, my knowledge was finally put to good use. Instead of just sharing my thoughts and opinions about the NFL at the lunch table and only discussing what players will do well in the upcoming season, or what players were going to break out later in the year, I was now able to use that information in my head to compete against other sports fans. The league I was in with my Young Life leader, and some of his friends, was just for fun. It was all new to me so I had to learn how to draft, trade, sign players and figure out how to put together a winning team. It was a good time, and I had an up and down season that still landed me in the playoffs. It’s always big when a rookie makes the playoffs in real football or fantasy football, and I was excited to make that happen. However, I wasn’t satisfied. My competitive nature that I tried to use on the football field (even though I was missing the talent) was now helping me in the fantasy realm. I went on to upset the entire league and win the championship. This was when fantasy football turned from a cool idea from my Young Life leader to an intense hobby that now is a major aspect of my social and sporting life. I realized that being in one league, especially in a league where I didn’t know everyone, wasn’t going to be enough. I needed to start my own league (and become the commissioner) with my high school buddies. Little did I know that the league I started eight years ago would become the most competitive, entertaining, and worthwhile pastime I could ever be involved with. This tight-knit league represents so much more than just 30

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

the fantasy matchups each week. It’s a group of 11 of my closest high school friends and my two brothers that continues a strong bond with each other because we engage in a year ‘round experience. We have fun at the live draft in someone’s basement, proposing lopsided trades, signing players to our roster before anyone else does, going against each other during rivalry week, choosing what ridiculous pop songs represent each league member, ordering the winner’s ring while laughing at the last place team wearing the bracelet of charms, deciding what players are going to be kept for the next season, and bragging about how good our team is, was, or will be. But the key to our successful and worthwhile league is we all stay constantly connected because there is always something to talk about. It gives me an excuse to call my buddy and ask if he wants to trade his quarterback for my extra running back, and then I can ask how his wife is doing or how his job is going. It’s an icebreaker that’s always there, and we know how guys, especially, need that. There is more to just playing a make-believe game and setting your lineup each week, it’s a way to have fun with the people you care about, even when you aren’t physically with them. You might think we are crazy because we chip in a little money to buy the league winner a championship ring each year or that we’ve had a member fly in for the live draft or that the past winners get together in the offseason “winners meeting” to discuss the upcoming season and any changes that need to be made to the league. But it’s all worth it if it leads to 14 grown men caring for each other, even if it’s disguised as fun banter leading up to our weekly matchups, sending teasing text messages, leaving “rubbing it in” voicemails or coming up with clever trash talk after the win. A level of compassion and concern for each other is still there, despite the intense competition and desire to embarrass our fellow rivals. Deep down, we all desire to belong and be accepted. I understand that belonging to Christ is far and away the most important way this desire is lived out, but I also recognize that having an alliance with other men that facilitates discussion regarding football, faith, family and of course fantasy, can have tremendous value as we deal with or Bryce Johnson is the host of sometimes even escape “Sports Yapp,” the official the realities of life here podcast of Sports Spectrum on earth. magazine.

TOP 10 FANTASY QUARTERBACKS 1. Aaron Rodgers (right), Green Bay–All the Packers do is throw, and Rodgers has so many weapons.

2. Tom Brady, New England–Has even better options in the passing game this year, and he’s still so good.

3. Matthew Stafford, Detroit–Some will argue this is too

high, but he’s throwing to the best receiver (Calvin Johnson), and the Lions will continue to be on the rise this year.

4. Cam Newton, Carolina–His ability to score touchdowns, throwing and rushing, makes him a true fantasy stud.

5. Drew Brees, New Orleans–Was phenomenal last year, but I’m still very concerned that everything going on with the Saints and the bounty situation will negatively affect the team on the field.

6. Michael Vick, Philadelphia– There are always health concerns with him, but I believe he’s going to have another monster year in fantasy like he did a couple of years ago.

7. Tony Romo, Dallas– I have big expectations for Romo, and I think his ability to throw the ball all over the field will continue to help fantasy owners.

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“Faith plays an interesting role in our game. There are a lot of guys that profess to know God, but myself included—we don’t always set the best example for Christ. It’s a work in progress as every relationship is, but we have an important opportunity as Christians in the NFL to use that platform to glorify God.” -Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

8. Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants–I wonder how motivated

the Giants will be during the regular season since they are coming off a Super Bowl win, but Manning has proven to be a legit quarterback and a strong fantasy starter.

9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh–A little bit

of a wild card because of the uncertainty with Mike Wallace and the retirement of Hines Ward, but I think the Steelers will throw the ball even more this year.

10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta–A make or break year for

Ryan in fantasy. He showed glimpses last year, but was inconsistent at times. (I’ve ranked him pretty high, so you know which way I’m leaning.) BRYCE JOHNSON

“It’s easy to praise God and be all happy and tell everyone when things are going well. But when things go bad, how do you act, and what’s your character like? That really opened up my eyes.” -Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte on overcoming injuries and adversity Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

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TOP 10 FANTASY RUNNINGBACKS 1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia–His reliabil-

ity, week after week last year, and my prediction of major improvement this season make him my top running back in fantasy.

2. Arian Foster, Texas–If healthy, Houston’s whole

offense could consist of players I’d want to lead my fantasy team, especially Foster.

3. Ryan Matthews, San Diego–This ranking

might jump out as surprising, but the Chargers will rely on him heavily this year, and I have a feeling he will remind fans of LaDainian Tomlinson in years to come.

4. Chris Johnson, Tennessee–He seems to have the right

mindset heading into this year after dealing with contract issues last summer. I think that will translate to a return to dominance.

5. Ray Rice, Baltimore–What makes him so valuable?.He’s always

healthy. What’s my concern? Can it last?

6. Darren McFadden, Oakland–He has the ability and showed that last year, but you can’t trust him because of his injury problems.

7. Matt Forte (left), Chicago–He was fantastic last year, but

will he have as big of a role this season? It will be better for the Bears if he doesn’t, but it won’t be for fantasy owners.

8. DeMarco Murray, Dallas–A top player who is here to stay after bursting on the scene last season.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville–Led the

league in rushing last season, so it’s hard to take him off the list. However, I’m not very confident in him considering his contract dispute with the Jaguars.

10. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina–Some will say this

is too high, but I believe Stewart will make a big leap in his fantasy impact this season as DeAngelo Williams takes more of a backseat. BRYCE JOHNSON

1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit–Just throw the ball up and Johnson will grab it, and your fantasy team will reap all the rewards.

2. Andre Johnson, Houston–Injuries are a tad concerning, but he is so dominant that it’s hard to find anyone better.

3. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona–There have been question marks at quarterback since Kurt Warner’s retirement, but Fitzgerald still gets the job done when someone gets him the ball.

4. Brandon Marshall, Chicago–I’m buying into the Chicago Bears

hype, and the fact that Jay Cutler and Marshall will regain the success they had in Denver together.

5. Hakeem Nicks, N.Y. Giants–Will keep getting better for the Giants, and I trust him in fantasy more than his teammate Victor Cruz.

6. Greg Jennings, Green Bay–Jennings or teammate Jordy Nelson are great to have on your fantasy team, but I think Jennings gets the nod this season because of his versatility.

7. Jordy Nelson (right), Green Bay–Solid in the offense and has the best quarterback throwing him the ball, which makes me confident that a strong season is ahead.

8. Steve Smith, Carolina–Has at least one more big year left while

playing with Cam Newton, and I think that will translate into some crazy fantasy numbers.

9. Julio Jones, Atlanta–Will likely build on the couple of huge games he had in his rookie season and take over as the more productive fantasy player in Atlanta.

10. Roddy White, Atlanta–Has been tremendous the last few seasons with quarterback Matt Ryan, and he will continue to contribute as Julio Jones frees him up more.

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Tom Hauck / Getty Images

TOP 10 FANTASY WIDE RECEIVERS

“Everything happens for a reason, and it’s great to look back and see the changes that took place (in my life). It’s all in His hands.” -Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson

“It’s about daily finding purity in your life. The verse I lean on is Proverbs 3:5, trust in the Lord.” -Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten on dying to yourself

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TOP 10 FANTASY TIGHT ENDS 1. Vernon Davis, San Francisco–The passing game will take off in

San Francisco this year with more weapons on board and Davis benefiting greatly because of it.

2. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans–I’m hesitant about the Saints this year, but I think Graham has a freakish talent who seems to catch a touchdown every time I watch.

3. Rob Gronkowski, New England–Has done everything in the offseason besides getting ready for football because he’s becoming more of a celebrity. But he is still difficult to defend on the field.

4. Jason Witten (left), Dallas-I believe in the Cowboys and “old reliable” to continue to put up major fantasy numbers.

5. Greg Olsen, Carolina–You can tell that I trust the Panthers’ offense this year, especially since Olsen doesn’t have to share targets with Jeremy Shockey.

6. Aaron Hernandez, New England–A rising star like Hernandez proves how amazing it is that the Patriots can use so many unique players in their offense.

7. Antonio Gates, San Diego–A little hesitant to trust him again this year, but he’s still one of the best in the game.

8. Brent Celek, Philadelphia–The Eagles have to use him more this year, and I think they will.

9. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay–Kept waiting for him to burst out last year, but maybe he will show more consistency this year.

10. Kellen Winslow, Seattle–Could a new environment in Seattle be good for Winslow? I say yes because he will be extremely important to the success of their offense.

BRYCE JOHNSON

Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

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SLEEPERS 1. Sam Bradford, St. Louis 2. Carson Palmer (right), Oakland 3. Vince Young, Buffalo 4. Matt Moore, Miami 5. Tim Tebow, N.Y. Jets

Running Backs

1. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo 2. Peyton Hillis, Kansas City 3. Jahvid Best, Detroit 4. Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta 5. Bernard Scott, Cincinnati

Wide Receivers

1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh 2. Randy Moss, San Francisco 3. Denarius Moore, Oakland 4. Greg Little, Cleveland 5. Eddie Royal, San Diego

Tight End

1. Fred Davis, Washington 2. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati 3. Scott Chandler, Buffalo 4. Tony Moeaki, Kansas City 5. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota

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Quarterbacks

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FANTASY SECRETS AND STEALS Rookies to snag for good value 1. Stephen Hill 2. Brian Quick 3. Ronnie Hillman 4. Robert Griffin III (right) 5. Doug Martin

Guys who will have a bigger year this year than last 1. Mark Ingram 2. DeSean Jackson 3. Mike Williams (Bucs) 4. James Jones 5. Josh Freeman

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TOP 10 FANTASY RISKS 1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota–Injury problems, bad team, and off-field issues require me to be very cautious.

2. Joe Flacco, Baltimore–The Ravens win despite him. He shows glimpses, but I don’t think he has what it takes to be an elite quarterback.

3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle–Has had off-the-field issues before, and now he’s back in the news. He’s too much of a wildcard despite his strong play on the field.

4. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis–He was great with Peyton Man-

ning, but I have no idea what type of production he will have at this stage of his career with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.

5. Kenny Britt, Tennessee–Has shown glimpses of being a fantasy star, but he’s coming back from major knee injuries.

6. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville–I personally do my best to stay away from players who have contract disputes that cause them to miss time. Plus, I really like Jaguars backup running back Rashad Jennings.

7. Miles Austin, Dallas–He’s a solid player, but I like other Cowboys

players better in fantasy than him after he wasn’t as productive in 2011 compared to 2010.

8. Dez Bryant, Dallas–I’m hesitant to put him here because I’m a big

fan of his talent and potential, but what went on off the field involving his mom is very concerning.

9. Pierre Garcon, Washington���He has a rookie quarterback throwing to him too (RGIII), and he’s on a new team, so I’m too unsure what his production will be.

10. Matt Flynn, Seattle–I think the Packers made Flynn look a lot better than he actually is, and he’s not even a lock to win the starting job with the Seahawks.

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5 TIPS SO FANTASY FOOTBALL DOESN’T DESTROY YOU 1. Know how many leagues you can handle. Make sure you only choose one league to talk about. Fantasy football is so fun, and most people have a couple different groups of friends who want to be in a league together. I’m not against being in multiple leagues, but if you can’t give your all to each league, then you should probably limit your number of leagues. You want fantasy football to be enjoyable instead of a burden as you try to find balance. Also, when you talk about your fantasy teams with random people who don’t play, or your wife (if she pretends to care), just choose your favorite league and consistently talk about that team.

2. Limit the number of times you check the score during the early games. We are all guilty of want-

ing to watch our fantasy matchups score more often than the actual NFL scores, but we do so prematurely. Games may start on Sunday at 1 p.m. EST (or sometimes on Thursday nights), but there are more games at 4:15 p.m., later Sunday night, and on Monday night, so you have to pace yourself. Don’t get too excited when your running back scores on the first drive of a 1 p.m. game or get too discouraged when your quarterback throws an interception on the first play of the game. Enjoy watching the games, and then check on the fantasy scores during halftime.

3. Use Friday as a day off from football. It’s im-

portant to enjoy life outside of fantasy football, of course, so I recommend taking a break on Fridays. Use Saturday to set your lineups for Sunday. Monday and Tuesday can be used to recap the weekend. On Wednesday and Thursday, you should make changes for the upcoming weekend and listen for injury news. So that leaves Friday to catch up on everything in the real world. (I hope you don’t spend all day, every day, messing with fantasy football, but I think you understand the tip about Fridays).

4. Only change your lineup based on injuries. Don’t change every day or even at the last minute. I find it interesting when fantasy owners always second-guess themselves and constantly change what players they are going to put in their starting lineup each week. There are always obvious changes that need to be made, but sometimes a player will have a unique defensive matchup one week that seems to make fantasy owners go back and forth in deciding whether or not to play him. I follow the “gut rule” and go with my instinct, which is usually based on information, but not always. The key is making a decision and sticking with it. Plus, I only make a lineup change at the last minute if the player is dealing with an injury. I try not to secondguess any roster moves I made earlier in the week based on recent performance or matchup concerns. When you change your lineup every day, and you are constantly thinking about one decision, it takes up too much of your life. It may be an important fantasy choice, but make it and run with it.

5. Don’t let your fantasy emotions affect your emotions in real life. Fantasy football can be

emotional in good ways and bad ways, but when it determines how you act at work or with your wife, well, you might be taking it a little too serious. It’s exciting when you win and beat your buddy one week, and it’s a bummer when you lose a close matchup because your wide receiver dropped a catchable touchdown, but don’t let the disappointing loss ruin your week. Fantasy football is a long season, and it’s dangerous to get too high or too low on any given week. Like they say in real football, “keep your head in the game.”

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10 COMMON FANTASY MANAGERS Every league is made up of different personalities, and it’s fun to see how those managers’ personalities translate to interaction in a fantasy football setting. Below you will find 10 different types of managers I bet your league has.

consistently and has built a strong team that will be tough to beat in the playoffs. 3. The “cheers every catch” guy is the manager you watch a game with, and he lets you know the catch his wide receiver just made gave his fantasy team 1.267 points, and he jumps up and down to 1. The “smack talker” guy is the manager you never celebrate. This continues the entire day after every like to lose to because you will never hear the end small play any of his players make. of it. He’s the one that texts you the week leading 4. The “clueless NFL fan” guy is the manager in up to your matchup with him and then texts or calls the league who is friends with everyone but doesn’t you all day during the games to tell you how great really know anything. He pretends like he does so his team is. He’s also the guy who posts the most on he will fit in, but everybody else isn’t fooled by his the league message board or is the one that sends weak attempt at football knowledge. He’s the one out emails to the entire league letting you know sitting on the couch during the games texting his how he’s going to win the championship. Let me wife or girlfriend. note that this guy will probably never even win the 5. The “lopsided trade” guy is the manager you can league, but will make you think he will. count on to send you ridiculous trades during the 2. The “sneaky good” guy is the quiet manager season that don’t benefit you at all. He thinks he is that makes minor pickups and stays quiet during going to trick you or take advantage of you, but he the draft. Then when it comes to the middle of never actually pulls off any of these trades because the season you recognize that he has been winning they are too outrageous.

Kayana Szymczak / Getty Images

6. The “die-hard fan” guy is the manager that wears is really good even though Terrell Owens hasn’t been his favorite NFL team’s colors everywhere he goes and also does his best to stack his fantasy roster with players from that same team he roots for. The problem with this guy is that he has put all of his eggs in one basket, and it usually means he drafts players earlier than most would, so he makes sure those players are on his roster. 7. The “I’m too busy” guy is the manager who is pretty bad at fantasy football but isn’t willing to admit it. Instead he uses the excuse for his poor roster moves on the fact he’s too busy. The reality is this: everyone can be too busy to play fantasy…but you don’t want to be the guy that leans on that when things don’t go your way. 8. The “overthinker” is the manager who second guesses every draft pick, signing, weekly starters, or trade he makes. He can never commit and feel good about it, so he tries to get approval from other guys in the league. 9. The “big name player” guy is the manager who loves to fill his roster with players that are wellknown by everyone. It makes them think their team

fantasy relevant, they still hold out hope that he will do well on their team. This manager always tells you how great his team is by listing all the names even though their production doesn’t live up to the hype. Fantasy football is so fun because every year there are players that are under the radar that end up winning leagues for managers. The big name players, many times, are let downs. 10. The “overpatient” guy is the manager who loves the team he drafted so much that he waits all year for a few of the bad draft picks to takeoff, but it never happens. This manager is too prideful or too scared to let go of a player because he thinks that player is going to start playing well “soon,” and he doesn’t want to miss out on his productivity.

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ANOTHER ANGLE

OPINION

BY STEPHEN COPELAND

stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com | Follow @steve_copeland

The mystery of fantasy

I

was walking around my apartment on deadline the other night thinking about this column—thinking about what the Hektor of Troy I was going to write about. I knew it was going in our fantasy football issue, but I’m not a fantasy football guy. I’m just not. I want to be. I want to be like my colleague, Sports Yapp podcast host Bryce Johnson, who has a ring sitting on his desk with “Bryce” carved into the band for his 2010 Fantasy Football Championship. (Trust me, I know it’s there; he’s showed it to me seven times.) I want to be like Jimmy Fallon and his friends on Fever Pitch. I want to be that hardcore. Obsessive is cool and funny. I usually end up playing fantasy football, but I always end up being the guy who doesn’t care. I adjust my fantasy lineup my first few weeks, telling myself that this will be the year I take it seriously. But by Week 4 I’m getting WUPHFed (if you’ve seen The Office) by the league commissioner—emailed, texted, facebooked, tweeted at—reminding me to bench the guys who are on their bye week. By Week 7, the commissioner is taking the time to look up my lineup and tell me who to bench. By Week 10, he’s telling me who to bench, who to substitute in, and notifying me about the three active guys on my roster who have apparently been injured since Week 11. And by Week 13, he has my username and password wondering, “Why the Roy Helu (Washington Redskins running back, fantasy rank of 24) did I invite this bum?” I don’t like fantasy football. And sometimes I wonder why people are so drawn to it—why companies have to firewall certain sites so employees don’t tamper with their fantasy lineups during work. What makes it so great? Seriously? I wondered if it was because regular football wasn’t good enough. So I started thinking about all the things I’d change about the NFL. I started building my own fantasy. I decided I’d lengthen the season by, eh, say eight weeks, starting the season in July, since I’m convinced July and August is a sports purgatory God ordained to purify us all of our addiction to sports, months where I replay the ESPYs in my mind and consider reading the entire Freeh Report. I usually fall asleep watching SportsCenter, but the other night I was so bored that I started reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare. I haven’t even thought about Shakespeare since I SparkNoted Hamlet in 11th grade. There are more things I’d change in my fantasy. I’d go back and have Chad Johnson change his last name to “Rach” instead of “Ochocinco,” trade him to the Broncos, and make sure he ran between two pillars of flames at the start of each game (see Daniel 3). I’d change Sean Payton’s last name to “Pay-a-ton.” I love Faith Hill, I really do, but I think I’d replace her with Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift on Sunday Night Football. And I’d probably add a cowgirl hat. I love Peyton Manning, but I’d plop him on a tractor and send him back to Indy. I love Tim Tebow, but I wish he didn’t do those Jockey commercials, mostly because the first three seconds make me feel inadequate and puny like Gumby. And I’m sure there are things I love about Terrell Owens, but gosh, I just can’t think of

anything. I decided my mind was wandering to far off places, like that underwater place where the Gungans live in Star Wars, so I returned to the premise of the column: Why are people so drawn to fantasy football? Judging by the fact that I wandered all the way to the fictitious planet of Naboo, I decided that my original theory—that fantasy football exists because regular football isn’t good enough—was bogus. It didn’t make sense. If that was the case, then people wouldn’t have enjoyed the NFL before the Internet. And I’m pretty confident that, even if the NFL stripped away fantasy football, football would still be widely popular. It’s what we do in America—that, and eat fatty things. So it had to be something else. For some reason, I started thinking about Peyton Manning again (I’m a Colts fan, and I miss him). I’ve heard that, even on his off days, he’s studying his playbook and watching film. I started to feel a little sheepish. I wished that I didn’t have off-minutes, off-hours, offdays, off-months with God. I wished I was like Peyton Manning, always studying my playbook, always focused on the task at-hand. I wished I was always close with God. People play fantasy football, you see, because they like to feel close. They like to feel like they’re on the sidelines. It makes each and every game, each and every play, incredibly real and meaningful. I want to be like Bryce in fantasy football—making trades and trash talking with my friends throughout the week—but, to be frank, I just don’t care. I want to be like Enoch, who walked so close with God that the Lord eventually took him—but, to be honest, I wonder if I care. In my fantasies, I care. And sometimes I wonder if this life is all about working our way down to the sidelines—until we’re so close that we see those little black rubber pellets Stephen Copeland is a staff flying up from the turf writer and columnist at and hear the pounding of Sports Spectrum magazine. padding and helmets, noHis column tackles sports ticing things we’ve never and faith from another noticed. angle, whether it’s All because we’re close humorous, personal or controversial. and want to get closer.

“I’d go back and have Chad Johnson change his last name to ‘Rach’ instead of ‘Ochocinco,’ trade him to the Broncos, and make sure he ran between two pillars of flames at the start of each game.”

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July 2012 DigiMag