There are three things they say you should never discuss in polite company: religion, politics, and your fantasy football roster. Like picking your toenails, or singing Carly Rae Jepsen songs in the shower, fantasy sports are something nearly everyone does, but one doesn't necessarily want to admit to publicly.
Worker productivity takes a dive every fall, and it's not unusual to see Labor Day barbecues overtaken by a group of guys huddled over laptops feverishly preparing their "war rooms" for draft day. Back in that hazy, forever lost epoch before ubiquitous WiFi and an endless universe of porn in our pockets, "fantasy sports" were merely the province of card-collecting obsessive stat geeks and degenerate gamblers. Now, a mere two decades later, the idea of drafting real players to play imaginary games is a massive mainstream practice, enjoyed by kids, your colleagues, your sister-in-law. and degenerate gamblers.
It's cool though; it's all totally legit. Forbes has estimated that the entire "industry" will generate more than $1.7 billion in revenue by 2017, though for whom is a serious question.
The alphabet soup of cable sports networks now cover fantasy as if it were real news, and all have weekly and sometimes even daily shows devoted to pretend ballgames, which has resulted in a new class of sports pundits: a pastier, doughier breed of snarky bloggers and assorted dweebs who are constantly bellowing about things like YAC, ADP, and "handcuffs," in what was once an insular realm of backslapping bonhomie from the grinning mugs of hearty, blazer-adorned ex-jocks like Terry Bradshaw and "Dandy" Don Meredith. Clearly the geeks have inherited the gridiron, and America's obsession with a data-driven economy has forever fused with our macho death wish for competition and mercenary commerce.
So if you're still reading this column, you clearly need help. Maybe you're a casual fan who needs a few pointers or just something to talk to your uncles about at Thanksgiving. Perhaps you bleed Honolulu Blue and Silver Kool-Aid and can't resist drafting a whole passel of our own Motor City Kitties to champion your squad.
Normally we'd say you were sick in the head, but at least from a fantasy perspective, these aren't the same old Leos. They posted an 11-5 record last time out, and were one referee screw job away from winning a playoff game. There are some legitimate offensive weapons on this team, and since you don't really want to spend your Sunday morning sorting through the garbage dump of Cleveland's backfield rotation, why not pick up some of our hometown heroes to spice up your team?
Matthew Stafford, quarterback
At times Stafford is the most hated man on Detroit sports talk airwaves, and other weeks he's the baby-faced, cannon-armed messiah who will finally bring balance to the force and lead us all to greatness. In truth he is like our play-calling trickster God, capable of delivering agony and ecstasy to the long-suffering Lions faithful with a cruel flick of his mighty wrist. The truth lies somewhere between those extremes; in his first year in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's scheme, Stafford stayed healthy and posted fairly respectable numbers and most importantly only tossed 12 interceptions, the lowest total for a full season yet in his career. He may not throw for 5,000-plus yards as he did in 2011, but increased accuracy, along with legitimate options beyond Calvin Johnson, should put Stafford back in top 15 QB discussion, if not the dreaded "elite status."
Calvin Johnson, wide receiver
The inhuman receiving machine known as Megatron had a "down" year in 2014, mostly due to an injury that forced him to miss three games, and limited him in two more. Even hobbled, Johnson "only" managed 71 catches for 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns, which is still pretty damn good by anybody without his insane standards. While it's true Johnson hasn't played a snap in the preseason, that was merely a wise bit of precaution on the part of the coaching staff. When healthy, the dude is a 6-foot-7 genetic freak, capable of causing massive destruction to any defensive back at anytime, anywhere on the field, so look for a significant rebound this season. He might not reach the stratosphere on his 2012 numbers, but will be far better than your average mortal.
Golden Tate, wide receiver
The former Notre Dame golden domer had a breakout season in 2014, and has looked lethal as a downfield threat thus far in the preseason. He's looking to maintain his status as one of the top No. 2 wideouts in the game. If that makes any sense at all.
Ameer Abdullah, running back
The rookie running sensation electrified the fan base with a stunning preseason performance in which he shredded the sorry Jets defense and was so fast he appeared to be mashing the turbo button in Madden 16. The jury is still out on his durability, but his quickness and agility are unquestioned, and he should be a hot commodity for fantasy players.
Joique Bell, running back
The Wayne State product (Go, Tartars! Yeah, yeah, I know, but screw that Warriors crap) has emerged as the team's bruising, between-the-tackles sledgehammer capable of punching holes in the line and gaining tough yards, a skill set that has been in short supply in Motown for at least a decade. If his knees hold up, Bell should be the Lions' workhorse, and will lead the way in carries and goal line touches, making him a solid, if unspectacular, choice.
Matt Prater, kicker
The kicking game was a horror show around here last year, until Prater rolled into town, converting 21 of his 26 attempts, with an aver... forgive me. He's a kicker. Nobody gives a shit.
Barry Sanders, running back
I'm sorry guys, he's not coming back. Well, OK, maybe if we're really good. Let's leave a light on for him in the locker room ... just in case.
Corey Hall is a freelance writer, who, (true story), used his fantasy football championship cup trophy as the champagne bucket at his wedding.