Fantasy Football Need to Know: AFC South

Fantasy Football Need to Know: AFC South

AFC South - What You Need To Know
Houston Texans (10-6, 381 Points For, lost in Divisional Playoffs): The Texans probably would have been the AFC's playoff favorite last year if not for a slew of designer injuries around midseason. Sack-master Mario Williams is gone for good - he signed with Buffalo - but otherwise, the Wade Phillips defense looks formidable. QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson are no longer fantasy targets - Schaub doesn't throw all that much in the red area, and Johnson can't seem to stay on the field. Johnson's never scored ten touchdowns in any season, a sobering stat given how talented he is. Tailback Arian Foster is the consensus No. 1 pick in most fantasy league and he's running behind an elite line, but be warned that backup Ben Tate is a difference-maker as well. Tate should be the first or second backup runner off your board, depending on how you feel about Kansas City's Peyton Hillis. Strength of schedule can be a fool's errand, but nonetheless keep in mind that the Texans have the fourth-easiest slate, on paper, as we head into 2012.
Tennessee Titans (9-7, 325 PF): Although the Titans were a sneaky-competitive group last year, they're moving into a transitional phase - with second-year QB Jake Locker close to winning a starting job over incumbent Matt Hasselbeck. Locker's rushing ability makes him a possible QB2 this fall, though he got into trouble with his aggressive play in college. Chris Johnson is also entering a prove-it season; he was a bust after his late signing last year, though he miraculously played all 16 games. He's a reasonable pick in the middle of the first round, on volume more than upside. Kenny Britt is a Top 10 wideout by talent alone, but he's been arrested eight times since turning pro (the latest for a DUI incident) and he's probably going to receive a multiple-game suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell. Rookie Kendall Wright might have to play a lot of snaps right away, though the most consistent receiver on this roster (and the best fantasy value) is unheralded Nate Washington. TE Jared Cook isn't much of a blocker, but his receiving stats have improved every season. He's something of a sleeper if you want to go cheap at the position, though he's become a little trendy in the tout industry.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11, 243 PF): First, the good news: the Jags offense can't be nearly as horrendous as it was last year, and at least these guys aren't on prime time three times (as they were in 2011). But if holdout back Maurice Jones-Drew doesn't make nice with the club and report to headquarters, you won't want to spend your Sundays tracking these folks. Backup Rashad Jennings has looked snappy in camp and could be a Top 20 back if MJD walks away for good. That established, most holdouts hear the biological clock ticking just before the games start (and the game checks start), so look for Jones-Drew to eventually report. Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert has to improve quickly - import Chad Henne is pushing him - and there's talent on the flanks, albeit Laurent Robinson is learning a new offense and Justin Blackmon had a disappointing DUI arrest shortly after draft day. This probably will be the AFC's worst team in 2012.

Indianapolis Colts (2-14, 243 PF): While it's going to take several years to return to contention, the 2012 Colts should be an improved and fun team. The defense looks woeful on paper, but we'll take that for fantasy purposes: bring on the shootouts. Rookie QB Andrew Luck has been impressive from Day 1 (and his preseason debut was a smash), leading many to conclude that he's a Top 12 quarterback right now. His decision-making is excellent, and he's handy with his pocket movement. The Colts have plenty of good receivers for Luck to work with, and most of them are excellent draft values: Reggie Wayne; Austin Collie (hopefully the concussions are gone for good); rookie TE Coby Fleener. Running back Donald Brown also looks ready to break through; you can get him in the 25-30 range at the position in most leagues, but we won't be at all surprised if he's a Top 15 back on the field. Get to know this roster.

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”


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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.