Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Fantasy Focus

Monday Night Football. Week 13. Ravens at Packers.

On paper, an early December matchup between two Wild Card chasing teams would be a decent draw. Fans from all corners of the country, presumably with their own Wild Card aspirations, would tune in to to cheer for the team from the opposing conference to win. As a result, fans in Miami, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh are rooting for Aaron Rodgers tonight while those in Philly, New York and Atlanta are newfound followers of J. Flacco.

However, the real-life playoff positioning is most likely taking a back seat this evening as the majority of NFL aficionados, who are most likely in AT LEAST one league, are measuring the fantasy football implications with each and every snap. You see, Week 13 is typically the regular season cut-off for the fake stuff. The scenarios at play are plentiful. Rodgers is owned in 100% of Yahoo Fantasy Football Leagues (the home of the ROFFL). Flacco is owned in 89%. But QBs are not the only ones on display. Ray Rice, Derrick Mason, Ryan Grant, Donald Driver and both defenses are almost surely starting for many GMs out there. So whether your team has one of those guys, is playing against one of them, or even more gut-wrenching, your following another matchup to see if you get into the postseason, tonight is must-see TV.

As a result, the WK13 MNF slot is surprisingly sought-after. A game worth looking up when the schedules come out each Spring as they could represent the last 60 minutes of your fantasy life. I'd even guess to assume that tonight is more important to the fantasy game than the Week 16 match-up, as Championship Week is only big for 2 teams (I can only hope I'm pulling for Greg Olsen and Sidney Rice during MIN vs CHI Dec. 28th). For now, its back to rooting for Mason and the Ravens D, against the Packers D and following the footsteps of Ryan Grant very carefully as he determines the fate of a few fellow fantasy friends.

Blind Sided

I read the book. I watched the draft. I knew his story. But it wasn't until I watched the evolution of Michael Oher unfold on the big screen that I realized just how special he is, and just how lucky we are that Big Mike is a Baltimore Raven.

What's amazing about some of the best sports movies of all time is that they are based on true stories. Stories so inspirational, that not only did they pass the test in a Hollywood pitch room, but they hold up on film too. The Rookie, Eight Men Out, Rudy...and now, The Blind Side.

For those new to the Oher saga, the movie provides an abridged version of his journey from having nowhere to sleep to starting in the NFL. At the center of the transformation, is a family who was willing to take Michael into their home, into their family and into their lives to give him the means to pursue an NFL dream. From giving him a warm meal on Thanksgiving and his own bed to providing a tutor and cheering him on from the stands, the Tuohys gave Oher a gift of a lifetime - a life.

The movie starred Sandra Bullock as Leigh Ann Tuohy, which of course gave the film its focal point. As a result, the movie centered on her bond with Michael, which eventually leads to the Tuohys becoming his legal guardians. The road is filled with moments that made you laugh, but even more moments that made you, well, get a little teary. Come on, I know its a football story, but thanks to the magic of hollywood, the kid found a home, got off the streets, got his first bed, learned biology, got through high school, made a few friends, gained a brother and a sister, got some new clothes, stood up to the old gang back in the projects, got a car, learned how to play tackle, got a scholarship and was drafted in to the NFL all within 124 minutes. Each step along the way was a story unto itself and of course the movie could only show so much. Which is why the book is so important as - at minimum - a companion reader.

Written by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame, the book adds a sports skew to the story with the evolution of the left tackle position just as prevalent as the evolution of a young man. Starting with the career-ending sack of Joe Theisman by Lawrence Taylor on Monday Night Football, the story describes why the second most important man on the football field is now considered to be the man who protects number one. The Left Tackle. Responsible for protecting the Quarterback from oncoming defenders he cant see. Otherwise known as the blind side.

The book profiles the reasons for the growing emphasis on the LT, starting with the hit by L.T. The book references some of the best to play the position since that fateful Monday Night, including the original Raven (literally the first player drafted by the franchise) - Jonathan Ogden. J.O. was a mountainous man who spent more than a decade camped out on the left hand side of the line in Bmore. Its only fitting that less than a year after Ogden left his post, the man selected to help fill his shoes is a kid whose promise was predicated in part by Ogden's play at the position. Ogden's versatility, combined with his monster-like size, gave NFL scouts a protoype to compare all future footballers looking to play the line. In fact, the high school coach that helped get Michael into high school, and onto the field, saw those very traits in Oher. The Big O, just like J.O. And now, just like J.O., Oher wears the purple and black on Sundays and takes his place in front of 70,000 cheering Ravens fans with one mission in mind. To protect. The same as the Tuohys. And now his story gets to play out in Baltimore, but consider his pro career the sequel because his journey thus far has already earned itself a Hollywood ending.