All posts by billywilson22

NFL Sleeper Teams for the 2017 Season

The teams that are expected to seriously contend for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in 2018 are not shockers. The New England Patriots, with their brilliant offseason acquisitions of TE Dwayne Allen, WR Brandin Cooks and CB Stephon Gilmore look primed to defend their title, even after a week one loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. To the delight of Dallas Cowboys fans all over the country and no one else, the suspension of RB Ezekiel Elliot for his various off-field incidents has been postponed. They also still have the game’s most dominant offensive line, and if QB Dak Prescott is able to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, the Cowboys offense will be electric.


The Green Bay Packers look to make another deep postseason run with their star QB Aaron Rodgers. The Packers retooled their offense with the free agent signing of TE Martellus Bennett from the Patriots and have decided to commit to former WR Ty Montgomery as their primary backfield option. The Pittsburgh Steelers still have QB Ben Roethlisberger and the two most dominant players at their respective positions in RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown in addition to a defense that finished in the top ten for lowest average points allowed per game. Last but not least, with the return of QB Derek Carr from injury and a talented defense led by Khalil Mack, the Oakland Raiders should make serious nose in the AFC as well.

While there are undoubtedly other teams that I am overlooking as Super Bowl contenders, the four aforementioned teams have the best chance to make a deep postseason run based on their roster, and the odds makers in Las Vegas feel similarly. The Patriots open the regular season with 11-4 odds to hoist the Lombardi trophy, while the Packers and Raiders both come in with 8-1 odds to win. The Steelers have 10-1 odds to win the championship, while the Cowboys trail with 12-1 odds.  However, there are certainly quite a few teams that are being overlooked for a chance to make the playoffs. These teams are often referred to as “sleepers.”

The Steelers return yet again as favorites to make the playoffs.

My first sleeper team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The subject of HBO’s famed Hard Knocks series this summer, the Bucs are a dangerous team that have added some serious firepower this offseason. They signed WR Desean Jackson from the Washington Redskins to complement Second Team All-Pro WR Mike Evans. They drafted TE O.J Howard from Alabama to provide franchise QB Jameis Winston with a reliable tight end weapon to contend in the NFC South, a much-improved offensive conference. The Bucs will go as far as Winston takes them, as their defense still has holes with a below average secondary and a talented, but very young linebacker core.

The Tennessee Titans finished with a solid 9-7 record, and if QB Marcus Mariota had not picked up a substantial knee injury late in the season, the Titans might have been able to make some noise in the playoffs. The acquisition of WR Eric Decker, who the New York Jets released in an effort to save money, and the selection of WR Corey Davis from Central Michigan, has now turned one of the Titans’ weaknesses last year into one of its main strengths. Mariota had very few dependable options to throw the ball to last season, but assuming the health of the Titans receiving corps, their offense will improve a great deal in comparison to that of last season. The Titans also possess a dynamic backfield duo in both Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry. They remain as options to improve on their running game that ranked third in the league last season.

Carolina Panthers v Tennessee Titans

In addition, the AFC South is a glaringly weak division since the Texans are struggling to find a quarterback to help out JJ Watt and the Texans defense, and Andrew Luck has struggled to stay on the field and is still experiencing shoulder issues. If Blake Bortles can find his form, the Jaguars could be a threat to the Titans’ division chances, but I believe that the Titans have a solid chance of winning a playoff game at the very least. The Jags’ resurgence took a hit in week one when top receiver Allen Robinson went down with an ACL tear. Because of the Titans’ new receivers that will allow their already dynamic running game to become even more of a threat, Tennessee will be able to surprise a lot of teams in the league and become contenders. Once again though, if Mariota is not able to remain on the field, the Titans’ playoff chances take a huge hit

My final sleeper team is the Cincinnati Bengals. Due to the midseason injury of their best player, WR AJ Green, the Bengals failed to meet expectations for their 2016 season. After winning the AFC North division two of the past three seasons, the Bengals finished in third place in their division with a sub-.500 record. The return of Green will help QB Andy Dalton find his form again. However, the losses of guard Kevin Zeitler to the Cleveland Browns and left tackle Andrew Whitworth to the Los Angeles Rams are tough to swallow. If the Bengals struggle again this season, their failure to re-sign these players will be looked at as the biggest reason why, as their offensive line now looks shaky at best. Despite being shut out to the Ravens this past week, look for Cincinnati to regain their footing and fight for a spot in the playoffs.


On the bright side, all of these teams will undoubtedly be better than the New York Jets, who look poised to be the first winless team since the 2008 Detroit Lions.

How Should we Determine a League MVP?

The award for Most Valuable Player (MVP) is always hotly debated amongst diehard sports fans and figurehead experts. The issue in doling out this award to the individual who is supposed to represent excellence in their respective league during the most recent season is how to actually decide who in fact is the “best” player.  Thus, it essentially comes down to deciphering what factors determine one to be the most valuable player out of all eligible players for one specific season. Is it an athlete’s uncanny ability to keep their team competitive and in striking distance of postseason success or is it purely an honor that should be derived from individual stats? This age-old question has constantly been interpreted in different ways throughout each professional sport.


I believe that while a team’s record should be noted as part of the equation that decides who will earn the MVP award, it should not be a primary aspect.  Russell Westbrook was the first NBA player to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals did so in the 1961-62 season.  While one would think that Robertson would have unanimously won the MVP award for that season, he in fact came in third place behind Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain of the Los Angeles Lakers.  Russell and Chamberlain played on championship-contending teams that season, while the Royals barely finished above a .500 record.  Thus, the voters in that era decided that a team’s performance in the standings mattered more than a player’s on-court contributions.  This is not to say that only stats should be weighed as a factor in deciding who the true MVP of that league is, but that one should consider how a team might perform without the player in question. The Oklahoma City Thunder are a lottery-destined team without Westbrook as their point guard.

While triple-double average was the icing on the cake in terms of why voters decided to crown him as the MVP of the 2016-17 season, he made his teammates better and almost singlehandedly won and kept them in games that they would have no business being in if he was not their star point guard.  Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, winner of two MVPs and also a two-time runner-up for the award in his first five MLB seasons, has led the league in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in each season.  WAR is an estimate of a player’s value to date and tracks the question of, if Mike Trout got injured and had to be replaced with a freely available minor leaguer or bench player, how much value would the team be losing?  While WAR is an imperfect system, I am a big proponent of its use in helping to decide MVP races, as I believe that team performance should not be the sole factor in deciding who is truly the most valuable player in a league.

Another player that was robbed of an MVP award due to his team’s poor record is Kobe Bryant, former Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard, during the 2005-2006 NBA season.  Steve Nash, who led the Phoenix Suns to 54 wins and a Western Conference finals berth, averaged a double-double in points and assists and was surely deserving of garnering some support for taking home the award.  However, Bryant was an unstoppable force that opposing defenses could not contain and went on to average over 35 points per game while also grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists a game. Bryant’s Lakers finished with seven less wins than Nash’s Suns and did not make it past the first round (ironically losing to the Suns in Game 7), and because of this, he was penalized for not having as good of a supporting cast in LA as Nash in Phoenix.  Bryant’s best supporting players were Lamar Odom, Smush Parker, Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown.  Besides Odom, a casual NBA fan would have no idea who these players were, while Nash was playing alongside All-Stars such as Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.  Thus, the Lakers surely would not have even come close to securing a playoff berth had it not been for Bryant’s otherworldly season. Because Bryant did not have the same talent that Nash had around him, he was overlooked and Nash took home the MVP.


Team performance is the most important aspect of a successful sports franchise, but in terms of deciding who really is the MVP of any professional sports league, I believe that the question of what would this team be like if a player were not in the lineup every night should be asked.