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2019 Season Computer Simulation Chat -- RC and XC Discuss the NFC West

Date:
June 4, 2019 6:02 PM
June 17, 2019 8:31 AM

NFL Mock Draft guru Xavier Cromartie and I (RC) recently published a daily series we do about this time every year – a computer simulation of the upcoming NFL season based on our inputs on the talent levels of the rosters, the schedule challenge/interpretations, etc.

Now, we are publishing our annual post-simulation chat about each division in the NFL -- looking at our differences and asking various questions about teams in the division. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we’re far apart.

We’ll be publishing our chat, done via email, division-by-division each day and soon after we’ll be publishing our ‘Top 3’ over/under win total bets with a fictitious $1,000 to spend on the three teams and seeing how we do after the season. We’ve both been ‘over/under’ winners for a couple of years now…you could make money following our ideas. Or just sit back and enjoy the free discussion and debate of ideas.

Please note, we were emailing back and forth. There might/will be typos, grammar things, abbreviations…but they’re limited, and you’ll be able to follow just fine, but note this is the raw transcript of our discussions…


NFC West (RC)

LAR … 12 - 4 = 0.750

SF …. 10 - 6 = 0.625

ARI … 8 - 8 = 0.500

SEA … 8 - 8 = 0.500

NFC-W (XC) W L .PCT

z-LAR … 12 - 4 = 0.750

w-ARI … 8 - 8 = 0.500

SEA … 8 - 8 = 0.500

SF … 6 - 10 = 0.375

RC: We have the same exact win totals for LAR, ARI, SEA and the biggest divergence of about any team on the 49ers. I have them 10-6, a top wild card. You have them 6-10, last place. You also have Arizona in the playoffs, and we'll get to that, but first the 49ers disparity.

My case for the 49ers is -- it's a shaky 10-6. A low confidence 10-6. I had several close call games/wins in their account. I could see 8-8 and some turmoil begin in San Francisco. My case for the 49ers is one of the deepest collections of talent at RB-WR-TE in the NFL. A rapidly improving O-Line. A solid QB who has upside with Jimmy G. This is a dangerous offense if they can put it all together...but it might be more a year away. The other value is...a rapidly improving defense. Adding Bosa is huge. Having Foster pried from them and adding Kwon Alexander is an upgrade. I like Sherman-Witherspoon, but if Jason Verrett stays healthy...even better. If they lost Robbie Gould, I might have them more towards 8-8 and meet you halfway. I'm not that passionate about the 49ers.

Do you see any hope with this 49ers team or you're hard core against?

XC: I have two major issues with the 49ers. The first is that I'm not sure how good Jimmy Garoppolo really is. He became a legend, undeservedly, when he went on that 5-0 run in 2017. Because he missed most of last season, he's still flying high off of that hot streak. The Italian Stallion is also infamously handsome, to the point that it may distract from his focus on being a great QB. The other issue with the 49ers is that their secondary looks dreadful. Richard Sherman is another guy coasting on past glory. He has been banged up and is getting older. He's not shutting people down anymore. The 49ers are hoping that Jason Verrett will start? He has five games played in three years. Even if he somehow stays healthy, he's not the same guy that he was in 2015. Ahkello Witherspoon ended up being pure trash. The safeties are junk too unless Tarvarius Moore shows something.

Some positives for the 49ers start with George Kittle. He's the real deal. They also have a good defensive line. Nick Bosa and Dee Ford are clear upgrades. But I think it's kind of old-school thinking to try to beef up the 'trenches' when the WR-vs-CB battle matters more. Especially considering that their divisional opponents all have elite QBs. The 49ers have been trying to upgrade at WR, to their credit. I'm not sure that they've actually upgraded significantly.

A final point is that the 49ers have been completely unsuccessful every year since Jim Harbaugh left, and so there needs to be a very good reason why things are different now. Kyle Shanahan is 10-22.

RC: Two things more on SF...(1) If they don't win with a full 16 from Garoppolo, then head's might need to roll and Kyle Shanahan is on the hot seat and totally in question as a head coach. I think he's a solid 'B' head coach, better than most in the league...and why I think he gets to a 9-7+ type season. If not, serious questioning should happen. (2) I liked what I saw from Witherspoon in 2018, need to watch him more this offseason to be sure. I don’t know how/why PFF graded him so low for 2018...but I don't trust their grading anyway.

How about your Cardinals...why so confident in the coach that is the most suspect in the division (maybe the most suspect in the NFL)? One-time shock value season or Arizona is here to stay with Kyler-Kliff?

XC: The Arizona Cardinals are the most interesting of all 32 teams. This team deserves the longest, most thorough discussion. But first, my analysis of the 2018 Cardinals team was 100% correct. I projected their 3-13 record exactly. The major sites' power rankings had them in the 20s, whereas I argued for them as potentially the absolute worst team. And they ended up as the worst team for the reasons that I stated. Josh Rosen quickly took over for never-healthy Sam Bradford and was awful. The o-line was bad, the defense was mediocre. Most importantly, I dared to 'wrongthink' about Steve Wilks. The major media of course went on about how qualified, impressive, smart, etc. Wilks was. They take whatever the truth is and say the exact opposite. I thought all along that Wilks was incompetent.

But that's the past. Or rather, 2018 was an aberration. Since 2007, the Cardinals have been a good team. They were in the Conference Championship only four years ago. The Cardinals recognized their mistakes and moved on immediately. But is Kliff Kingsbury any good? He went 35-40 at Texas Tech, while previous coach Mike Leach went 84-43. One important factor is that Leach coached at Texas Tech before the major conference realignment. Leach would schedule four easy games to start the year and then play only eight teams in the Big 12. It was a different era. Now they have to play all nine other Big 12 teams. But how could Kingsbury lose with Patrick Mahomes? The same reason the Chiefs lose with Mahomes: they have no defense. Everyone scored 40+, sometimes 60+ on Tech. Texas Tech has no NFL defensive talent. Kingsbury is in Glendale to install a new offense.

Fortunately, the Cardinals had one of the all-time great drafts in 2019. Kyler Murray is easily the most impactful player from this year's draft. He is almost on the same level as Baker Mayfield. And he went to the best possible situation. Kingsbury has wanted Murray since 2012. They're going to have outstanding chemistry. It's going to be a well-executed modern offense. But it needs receivers. Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler were both in the argument for best WR in the draft class. Isabella is not any old small speedy receiver. He's a legitimately masterful receiver who happens to be small. Whereas Hakeem Butler provides monstrous physical metrics across the board. DK Metcalf overshadowed him, but Butler is a better player. And then the Cards bring back promising Christian Kirk, old reliable Fitz, and elite receiving RB David Johnson. They're going to use all of them on the field at the same time. It's going to be very difficult to stop all that talent.

The defense shouldn't give up 60 points like Texas Tech. Vance Joseph isn't great, but if they can be a middle-of-the-pack defense then they'll be in good shape. They made significant changes to the roster in the offseason. Zach Allen and Byron Murphy didn't test as elite athletically but they're good players at positions of need. Jordan Hicks, when healthy, provides a badly needed star at LB. Terrell Suggs is still playing the edge pretty well. The Redskins gave away DJ Swearinger for free, very nice. Losing Patrick Peterson for a few games will hurt, though.

I tried to project the Cardinals' record conservatively. I don't think that they had a lucky 8-8. I projected road losses to some of the potentially weakest teams in the league: CIN, NYG, TB, and SF. Although it is also true that I projected them to be strong at home against some pretty good teams. I think that they could potentially win 9 or 10 games if things go well. This projection is in serious contrast to the mainstream expectation of 5 wins, which I find almost baffling. How can literally everyone put the Cardinals 28-32 in their power rankings? Some of it is from the common tendency to assume no change from the previous season. The new factors are unknown to the common person, and so they are treated as null space rather than improvements. I am quite sure that the new offense is not going to jam David Johnson up the middle every play like the former regime. From the media, I believe that there is genuine bitterness at the Cardinals' treatment of Wilks and Rosen. The media are rooting against Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury for delusional, non-football reasons. I believe that the media are creating the narrative that they hope to see, which is far detached from objective reality.

RC: I agree with everything you said for the most part, and to the same degree. Except I flirted with Arizona as a good .500-ish team last year and loved their energy in the preseason and believed they would not blow up like they did, so I want to be sure my errors are laid bare.

If the issue of losses is no defense...are you worried that the issue is Kingsbury cannot scout/coach/lead a defense as head coach? That he's Rex/Buddy Ryan in reverse...so caught up in the offense the defense gets starved to death and functions poorly. Kingsbury had plenty of time to scout/change, whatever his defensive issues...he didn't and got run. When I listen to Kingsbury speak, I don't see Sean McVay Jr. -- I barely see a guy who likes what he is doing, but definitely pushes offense. Just because he racks offense doesn't mean he'll lead a winner in Arizona. I do think, year one, regardless, the NFL will be totally confused early by Kliff and Kyler and they'll get off to a hot start and stumble (in terms of ‘wins’) as time goes on. But they could ride the 'new' all the way to 10+ wins in 2019. I definitely don't see 'fails' to a 4-5 win season even possible considering the radical-ness of what's about to happen. Kingsbury's true competency is my one fear for this team...and just like his first year at Texas Tech, he'll be fine out of the gates.

One other piece of the pro-Arizona puzzle for 2019+. I think Steve Keim has done a helluva a job in 2019. The draft is just part of it. The guts to pull the trigger on Wilks and Rosen after one season is something I'm not sure any other GM would do, even Belichick. But the other under-the-radar thing -- Arizona made a ton of NFL roster moves, a lot of small/no one cares moves that were really smart little gambles. I don't know if it's luck, or panic, or he has an FFM/CFM subscription but 2018 was filled with stupidity and 2019 has been a bunch of savvy maneuvering like it's a whole new person/Keim. Philon, Clay, Hundley, Kevin White, Dam. Byrd, Alford, Clay, Gilbert, and even grabbing Desmond Harrison -- all smart, low cost (many) gambles, that most won't work out, but some will and that's what it's all about in personnel management. Arizona has made the most roster moves of any team this year so far, I believe.  

If San Fran doesn't live up to expectations, and Arizona splits with them...they have a pretty easy first 11 games. They might go 8-3 there and then brace themselves for LAR-PIT-CLE-at SEA-at LAR to finish. I think we both might have 10 wins here if not for those last 5 games on the schedule. If Arizona stumbles early because of Peterson out...then 8-8 will be the high point.

XC: Kingsbury is a pretty smart guy; his IQ is around 130. That's higher than most people in football. I think that Kingsbury is aware of his inability to handle anything relating to the defense. He has been asked about Texas Tech's horrible defense before, and he didn't give a phony positive spin. He honestly admitted that he doesn't have a good answer. He hired Vance Joseph because Joseph has been an NFL head coach. Joseph is going to be in full control of the defense so that Kingsbury can focus on his strength, offense. It has to be extremely difficult to recruit good defensive talent to Texas Tech. In the local area, you're competing with Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Christian, Houston, and Louisiana State. They're all to the east while Lubbock is in the middle of nowhere. I don't know how you convince anyone worthwhile on defense to go there. The Cardinals don't have to worry about recruiting.

I don't think the Cardinals were ever that enthusiastic about Wilks and Rosen. It seemed like they hired Wilks because everyone would clap and say it was such a solid hire. It looked good but it didn't feel good because they knew deep down that he was a loser. Likewise, they were not particularly aggressive getting Rosen, even though Sam Bradford was clearly not a long-term answer at QB. They moved up a few spots, with a team desperately looking to trade down, for the fourth QB in the draft. If they really loved a QB, they might have tried harder to trade up to the top, like the Jets did for Darnold.

I speculate on whether Keim was perhaps dealing with some personal issues back in 2018 that led him to make those weak moves. I mean, when the Cards hired Wilks, one of the reasons they mentioned was emotional intelligence. Excuse me? It was really effeminate. In 2019, Keim has gone in the complete opposite direction with full aggression. And that's a good thing. Kingsbury is about as aggressive as you can get on offense. Actually booting Wilks and Rosen in the face of media backlash took guts. And then gobbling up all of those free agents. Yeah, it makes no sense to think that these Cardinals will be the same as 2018. Steve Keim has rediscovered his masculinity. The team is competitive and assertive.

RC: Mike Leach has a high IQ...won a bunch of games at Texas Tech with all offense and no defense and handed it to Kingsbury. If you think it was bad timing for Kliff...Leach took that act to Washington State and has done the same -- win a lot of games. If Kingsbury is so smart, you'd think he'd figure out how to win at a high level...if Central Florida or PJ Fleck's Western Michigan can overcome and challenge at higher levels, how could Kingsbury keep getting worse as time goes on?

I'm not saying Kingsbury is doomed...he'll probably be coach of the year, but if there is one fly in this Arizona ointment, for me, right now it's Kingsbury coaching wins-losses on the sideline consistently. I've been impressed with what Kingsbury has done so far.

What about your Seattle Seahawks group? You've been a big advocate, and been right on them...noting they weren't rebuilding but reloading in 2018. No playoffs for them this year? You think they are starting to head in the wrong direction? If feel like they are still a sub-.500 team with not improving thru drafts or free agency, but Russell Wilson is the better Aaron Rodgers -- he just makes things better/wills teams to victory through his greatness.

XC: Mike Leach needed four years at Washington State to turn it from a loser into a winner. And so it seems like he can't take just any old group of kids and coach 'em up into a top-25 team. But he probably is really good at recruiting guys who fit his system. Maybe Kingsbury is a fine coach who struggles with the recruiting aspect of college. He landed Patrick Mahomes early in the process, with only Houston and Rice really competing for him (Mahomes is from the east part of Texas). The only other recognizable name from those Tech teams is Keke Coutee. In Mahomes's junior (final) season, Tech was 5th in offense and last in defense. And so it's not like Kingsbury was wasting Mahomes. Kingsbury doesn't seem to know defense, but he isn't responsible for that in the NFL. Keim brings in the talent and Joseph coaches them.

I'm not very interested in the Seahawks anymore. Now that many years have passed, they look like a team that got really lucky drafting Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and Russell Wilson. They always trade down to get extra picks but most of them have no impact. I liked the two LBs they drafted this year, but the rest of the draft didn't make sense. Are they now looking for the least agile players instead of the most agile ones?

I agree about Russell Wilson; he's doing a superhuman job carrying the team every season. Last season they were undervalued because everyone was predicting doom thanks to media narratives. Now they're back to proper valuation with an expectation of about 9 wins. I'm not going to defend their team talent any longer. Overall, they're one of the least talented teams. Wilson and Wagner are doing all the work. The Seahawks rely on those two great players. I see 8-9 wins and in the playoff hunt. They're the same Seahawks as the last few years, maybe a little worse. They're a predictable and unexciting team now that all the fake drama is gone.

RC: Random NFC West Questions...

(1) The next NFC West coach fired is...?

(2) The best team in this division in 2021 is...?

(3) Will the Rams win a Super Bowl within the next three seasons?

(4) Is Todd Gurley effectively done as a great NFL RB...is he in trouble or all this noise is just noise?

(5) Just one of the Arizona young WRs will be in the Hall of Fame someday...who is it -- Isabella, Kirk, or Butler?

(6) The 49ers best WR, talent-wise, if you could steal one in an expansion draft as GM...who would it be?

(7) The better, more talented QB for their NFL career based on today (not just the best stats guy...the best actual QB) -- Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Big Ben or Russell Wilson?

(8) The most talented, key under-the-radar player in the NFC West is?

XC: Kyle Shanahan looks like the coach in the most trouble. He needs to start winning this year or he could be gone. Sean McVay will coach for a long time. Our guy Kliff should pair with Kyler for many years. Pete Carroll perhaps doesn't deserve his spot, but he'll stay there as long as Russell Wilson keeps bailing out the whole organization.

I think that it's possible that the Cardinals will be better than the Rams in 2021. The Cardinals' offense should be at maximum efficiency that season because all the stars will be in their peak prime at 24-25 years old. Whereas the Rams' trio of receivers will be 28-29 then, getting a bit too old for me. The Rams are also a bit old on defense already. If the Rams want a Super Bowl, this year might be their best chance. When they give Jared Goff his big contract, they won't be able to keep signing a bunch of guys to big money. Their WRs are also age 26-27, and so they need to win now before they decline. But those old-man QBs (Brees and Brady) are still in their way. For any individual team it's easier to say no, they won't win a Super Bowl based on probability, but they could.

The Todd Gurley issues are fantasy noise. He's starting the downside of his career but he's not done. He had been getting about 85% of the snaps. There are only a few teams left that utilize a true workhorse like that. It's unnecessary to grind a RB down with so many carries. It looks like the Rams have accepted the dual-RB philosophy.

Andy Isabella is my favorite of the Cardinals' WRs. But can a guy like him (5'9, 188 lb) get to the HoF? I'll throw out a few names for comparison. Steve Smith is only 5'9, 195 lb and he'll go to the HoF when eligible. Wes Welker (5'9, 185 lb, similar size but not similar style) racked up a lot of catches and yards over his career and is at least in consideration for the HoF. TY Hilton is 5'10, 183 lb and has been very successful throughout his career, maybe even a HoF contender. The scouts who didn't like Isabella had irrational explanations. He is supremely skilled.

Isabella probably qualifies as the most talented under-the-radar player in the division, but I'll pick a veteran instead. From the Cardinals, of course. I think that it's LB Jordan Hicks. He has had some injuries. But when he plays, he's a top LB, particularly in coverage. Bettors looking at the Cards' defense are only focusing on the loss of Patrick Peterson for a few games and ignoring all of the positive changes that they've made. Hicks makes an impact if he stays on the field.

Can I just steal George Kittle from the 49ers? I'll pay him like a WR. Marquise Goodwin is too old. Between Deebo Samuel and Dante Pettis, I don't know, they're the same guy. They're slot/kick returner types but not exciting. They both get injured frequently as well, and so I can't use that as a tiebreaker. I don't know why they drafted two similar guys in back-to-back years. I'll take Jalen Hurd on measurables alone because I don't like the other options.

I wouldn't put Ben in the group of most-talented QBs. I've previously called Aaron Rodgers the best QB ever, but he's fueled by dark thoughts, like he's Darth Vader. If I need a win, I don't like his self-destructive psychological makeup. Drew Brees is the best thrower of the ball but that's not all there is to being a talented QB. Russell Wilson is very efficient and carries the Seahawks, but having less help doesn't necessarily make him better. On a personal level, the QB that I trust the most is Drew Brees. With my life on the line, I would want Drew Brees as my QB. If we lose, I'll know he gave it his best. If I lost with Rodgers or Wilson, my last words would be, "I should have picked Brees."

RC: My answers to the random NFC West Questions...

(1) The next NFC West coach fired is...?

I agree...Kyle Shanahan is the closest to the edge of going from 'hope springs eternal' to everyone looking at his SF tenure and wondering what he's ever done to deserve all this praise. If Kingsbury has some 5-11 season and the team scored but couldn't win -- that might pressure Keim out, and then put Kingsbury on a hot seat with the new GM. Especially, imagine this, if Josh Rosen finds success in Miami...to further the complaints. I don't think much of that is true, but if Rosen starts winning and Kingsbury scores a bunch and is losing, and loses his friend Keim...he might be in some trouble, unwarranted as it might be.

(2) The best team in this division in 2021 is...?

I stick with the Rams. I think Sean McVay is the real deal...the next 'always winning' head coach like Belichick. I don't care what roster he has...he'll make it work.

(3) Will the Rams win a Super Bowl within the next three seasons?

I think they will be back to the Super Bowl 1-2x in the next three years, so I'll say they will.

(4) Is Todd Gurley effectively done as a great NFL RB...is he in trouble or all this noise is just noise?

Who knows, but I will say part of the Rams undoing ahead (if it happens) or just falling short of Super Bowl rings could be the salary space they committed to Gurley and what that kept them from landing instead. Teams are wasting so much effort and dollars on RBs still in the NFL.

(5) Just one of the Arizona young WRs will be in the Hall of Fame someday...who is it -- Isabella, Kirk, or Butler?

Christian Kirk, because he's a professional WR and dangerous return man (if he even still does that)...but I'm a fan of Isabella and Butler too. My 2nd choice would be Butler -- that he 'gets it' at some point and becomes new age Calvin Johnson. That's a reach, but not totally impossible.

(6) The 49ers best WR, talent-wise, if you could steal one in an expansion draft as GM...who would it be?

I just go all-in on Dante Pettis and damn the injury concerns. Injury out of the question, he's a star. I could find five Deebo Samuel's every draft or as UDFAs. Pettis is a more rare talent.

(7) The better, more talented QB for their NFL career based on today (not just the best stats guy...the best actual QB) -- Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Big Ben or Russell Wilson?

I go Russell Wilson...had he been set up with any kind of passing game mind, he would be a top passer in the league -- plus the best runner of the group. He could've been what Kyler Murray is now...just different eras. Ben has been to three Super Bowls and won two, nothing to sneeze at. Wilson two SBs and Rodgers, Brees for all their greatness and longevity...one Super Bowl each. I'm not dissing the other great QBs for choices but more to prop up Wilson who has been as big a savior QB as Rodgers has for GB or Brees for NO. Ben's always had good support around him.

(8) The most talented, key under-the-radar player in the NFC West is?

I like your choice of Jordan Hicks...such a great coverage LB. I might have gone with Frank Clark, but Seattle ditched him. I'm kinda liking DeForest Buckner...67 tackles, 12.0 sacks, 17 TFLs, 20 QB hits from a DT/DE who now has Nick Bosa to help relieve some of the blocking attention. As a DT with his height bothering passing lanes and his overall performance...a true menace, a DT built like few others.

XC: I find it hard to imagine that Josh Rosen will have success as a Dolphin. He was the worst QB when under pressure. I'm not surprised; it's consistent with his awful character. The Dolphins' o-line isn't going to give him much better pass blocking. I'm still shocked that the Cards were able to directly trade Rosen for Andy Isabella. It'll be known as the trade that changed history. To become a Hall-of-Fame WR is extremely difficult. Isaac Bruce still isn't in the HoF (but he will be eventually). Calvin Johnson might not get into the HoF because his career wasn't long enough. We should note that the Cardinals' other WR, Larry Fitzgerald, is going to the Hall of Fame. To get there, a guy typically has to be really good for about 12+ years. Do any of the young three have something that will make them special for a long time? Christian Kirk is excellent on screen passes but I don't think he can get to the Hall that way. Hakeem Butler might catch a lot of touchdowns. I guess theoretically his upside could be a Brandon Marshall type of career, but I don't think he's that talented. I believe Isabella's talent level is high enough that he could have a TY Hilton type of career arc for 12-13 years and get into the HoF.

RC: I agree with your sentiments, except Christian Kirk is not a screen pass guy...he's an all-over, legit WR. He's not a bubble screen guy. He's rare to get that type of work -- he's more all the routes, catches tough in traffic (where most WRs don't wanna work), but can defeat DBs going deep as well. He's well-rounded and savvy after the catch. He's a technician that may not be a best fit with Kingsbury's style.

13.7 yards per catch in 2018, 55%+ of his catches for 9 or more yards. 6 punt return TDs on just 37 returns on college over three seasons.

He's a football player...and if Isabella and Butler end up as good as we think, and Kirk fits the scheme -- this WR group is crazy with diverse talent.

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

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