Is Dez Bryant a top fantasy option?

Dez Bryant has struggled with injuries and in-season battles in the past two years. Bryant was once a top five receiver in fantasy. From 2012-14, he finished in the top five in fantasy points in the receiver group. But with struggles with injuries and a transition to a new Dallas offense and quarterback, will Bryant return to being the elite fantasy player that he was early in his career?

Throw up the X: 2011-14

After his rookie season, Bryant came to life. In 2011, Bryant became a top option for Tony Romo behind Jason Witten. He finished with 63 receptions, 928 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished in the top 20 that year in fantasy for receivers.

The following season, Bryant broke onto the scene. He had his first season over 1,000 yards and had over 90 receptions and double digits in touchdowns. He finished in the top 10 in receptions (92), yards (1,382) and receiving yards per game (86.4). His 12 touchdowns were top-three. Bryant finished third in fantasy that season.

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant and Tony Romo (Photo by: zimbio.com)

In 2013, he had another solid season. He saw his targets spike from 138 to 160. He finished in the top five in fantasy again under receivers and his 93 receptions ranked eighth. His 13 touchdowns again ranked third.

Bryant did see a small decline in receiving yards with 1,233 and his receiving yards per game (77.1) that both ranked outside the top 10.

However, Bryant did perform in the top two inside the 10-yard line of the red zone. He led the league in targets (16), receptions (11) and touchdowns (9). He finished second in yards (38) and target percentage (43.2).

Bryant developed into a red zone weapon and also ranked in the top 10 in receptions (13) and target percentage (29.9) inside the 20-yard line. He was also second in touchdowns with 10 inside the 20.

2014 was probably Bryant’s best fantasy season to date. He finished third in fantasy points among receivers, his third top five finish in a row. He led the league in receiving touchdowns with 16. Bryant also improved his receiving yards (1,320) and receiving yards per game (82.5), which ranked eighth and 10th respectively.

He did have less receptions (88) but averaged 14.3 fantasy points per game, a career-best that season which ranked third. He also had his best PPR fantasy points per game at 19.8. Bryant also doubled his catches of 20-plus yards with 22 that ranked fifth in 2014.

In those four seasons, Bryant totaled 4,863 yards and 50 touchdowns. During that time, just Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green had more yards than he did. His touchdowns were the most during that timeframe, and no other receiver had more than 43 touchdowns.

Injuries and quarterback issues: 2015-16

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: whatthebuc.net)

Before the season, Bryant resigned with the Cowboys on a five-year, $70 million contract that included $45 million of guaranteed money and a $20 million signing bonus.

In a game against the Giants on Sep. 13, 2015, Bryant had a foot injury. The x-ray revealed a fracture in the foot that required surgery. He returned in week eight and struggled, getting two receptions for 12 yards.

In a season in which he struggled with health issues, he caught 31 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. Before the injury, part of Bryant’s success was having Tony Romo as the quarterback. They only played three games together in 2015 as Romo had a back injury.

Bryant played with two other quarterbacks (Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore) that season. All of his three touchdowns came from a different quarterback. On Jan. 6, 2016, he underwent foot and ankle surgeries.

In 2016, his favorite quarterback in the preseason went down with another back injury and rookie Dak Prescott became the starter. It proved again that Bryant missed Romo as the quarterback as he and Prescott only connected on 16 of their first 41 targets in their first five games together.

This led to inconsistent fantasy numbers, as Bryant had just three games with 10 or more points, but two games with less than two points. He also missed three games with a knee injury. However, removing week 17 where they played only one series, Bryant and Prescott came to life.

In the final eight games including the playoffs, Bryant had 66 targets, 43 receptions, 646 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s a 65.2 percent completion rate. It seemed that Bryant came back to being the receiver he once was.

2017 outlook

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: sbnation.com)

In 2017, there is some concern regarding Bryant. Besides adding no receiver help to complement him, Bryant will face Janoris Jenkins twice, Josh Norman twice, Aqib Talib/Chris Harris Jr., Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Jason Verrett/Casey Hayward and Richard Sherman.

In the two matchups with the Giants last year, he was held to just two catches for 18 yards on 14 targets and fumbled once that clinched the Giants win in the second meeting.

The last time he played against Sherman, he totaled just two catches for 12 yards on six targets.

And expect Norman to shadow Bryant this year after not doing so in 2016. In the first three games for Bryant, he plays the Giants at home and then goes to Denver and Arizona on the road. We could see again early season struggles for him.

He has missed 22 games in two seasons. He is also in a run-heavy offense with a great offensive line and a premier running back. The defense in Dallas hasn’t improved, especially in the backfield which could lead to Prescott throwing the ball more if they have to play catch up. That would benefit Bryant but the game plan will be to run the ball to protect Prescott.

But how good will Prescott be if he has to throw to win? That’s a question for another article.

Bryant is a top-10 fantasy receiver that should be drafted somewhere in the third round. Be cautious with his durability, and Prescott worries me this year as he is my top bust for quarterbacks. In some leagues he will be a top receiver for most teams, but he’s a high-end WR2 with a ceiling as a middling WR1.

 

Featured image from reddit.com

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Week 16 NFL Picks Against the Spread

My run of alternating good weeks and bad continued last week as I slipped back to 5-10-1 against the spread. Throw in another loss Thursday night and I now sit at 110-117-7 on the year. The bulk of the action takes place on Saturday this week. Happy Holidays everyone!

Falcons (-3) at Panthers- The Panthers are absolutely maddening. While their inconsistency will in all likelihood cost them a playoff spot, they can still show up any given week and play like the team that reached the Super Bowl last year. Last week against a Redskins team that had everything to play for is a perfect example. The Falcons are trying to hold off the upstart Buccaneers to lock down the division title. The Panthers are very dangerous, but have not been able to put together two good games in a row all year. Luckily for MVP candidate Matt Ryan and the rest of the playoff hungry Falcons, Carolina played its best game of the year last week. Atl 31 Car 24

Photo courtesy of mcall.com

Photo courtesy of mcall.com

Dolphins at Bills (-4.5) – The playoff hopes of many teams in the AFC ride on Miami losing one or both of its final two games. Given the matchups, Miami’s history of struggling in bad weather, and the fact that they are playing with a backup quarterback, it is a virtual certainty. It is no accident that they are the underdog here. Buffalo is trying to protect slim playoff hopes of its own. The Bills offense can run on just about anybody. Also, offensive line injuries have lessened the effect of the Dolphins rushing attack, which was their strength. LeSean McCoy runs wild as the AFC playoff picture goes haywire. Buf 24 Mia 17

Vikings at Packers (-7) – The Packers and Aaron Rodgers continue to feverishly dig themselves out of the early-season hole they created. The playoffs are by no means a certainty, but are realistic again. They play a perfect opponent here. The Vikings showed us all last week just how dead in the water they are. GB 34 Min 17

Jets at Patriots (-16.5) – Much like I said a few weeks ago when these two teams locked horns, the Jets always keep this game competitive. That week, the Jets controlled the game for 58 minutes. That will not happen here. New England has gotten much better since then and the Jets have gotten much worse. 16.5 points is still way too many. NE 31 NYJ 20

Chargers (-5.5) at Browns- Cleveland is running out of chances to avoid going winless. Unless your team is playing the Browns or you are just plain mean, you have to be pulling for them. San Diego is coming east, eliminated from playoff contention, and it is fair to assume the conditions in Cleveland will not be ideal. However, Cleveland’s last best chance to win a game will go by the boards. The Browns played okay last week and still lost by 20 to the streaky Bills. That is how far away they are from competing with the mediocre teams in this league so forget about the good ones. Thus, it is impossible to pick them this or any other week. SD 30 Cle 17

Titans (-5) at Jaguars- This is probably my bravest pick of the week. I stopped just short of picking the outright upset. Despite its record, Jacksonville does have some talent on both sides of the ball. Also, an in season coaching change usually results in at least a brief spark for a team. Meanwhile, the Titans are coming off two straight massive wins over fellow playoff contenders. Moreover, it looks like next week’s game against Houston will be for all the marbles. This just screams trap game. The Titans have more firepower and will get it done, but be very careful with this game. Ten 24 Jac 21

Redskins (-3) at Bears- The Redskins were the biggest disappointment of last week. With a chance to take control of their playoff fate, they laid an egg at home. Thus, there season is on the line this week. The scrappy Bears have been giving contending teams all they can handle, but do not have many wins to show for it. Vegas has clearly been paying attention to Chicago. A three-point spread against a playoff contender like Washington is a sign of respect. The number is too small for me not to swallow. Was 28 Chi 24

*Colts at Raiders (-3.5) – The Raiders are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but they still drive me nuts. Last week they overcame yet another slow start to knock off San Diego. Just think about how good this team could be if it actually played well on a consistent basis. Granted finding ways to win while leading the world in penalties, giving up over six yards per play, and falling behind every single week is much more fun to watch. However, it is very difficult to pick a team like that to win.

Additionally, Derek Carr’s finger is still a big concern. He just has not thrown the ball nearly as well since the injury. The Raiders are going to the playoffs, but they will not be there long. Indy still has a faint playoff pulse of its own and has played really well on the road lately. That is good enough for me. Ind 27 Oak 21

Cardinals at Seahawks (-7.5) – Arizona really started to look like a team that was ready for the offseason last week. It is hard to put up 34 points and still get dominated. If the Cardinals just go through the motions this week, the Seahawks will bring the pain. A date with the Rams last week was just what they needed. Look for them to keep rolling towards the playoffs. Sea 24 Ari 13

49ers at Rams (-4) – Yikes! This may be the worst NFL game of the year, but it is a fairly simple one to pick. The Rams pass rush is as good as any in the league. I cannot come up with a single thing San Francisco does well. This game may send offensive football back to the 1800s. LA 17 SF 9

Bucs at Saints (-3) – This is one of those lines where the assumption has to be that Vegas knows something that us mere mortals do not. It is a fairly even match-up. The Bucs are still in the thick of the playoff race, the Saints are not. However, that offense makes them a threat every single week. That being said, it still surprises me that a team with nothing to play for is favored against a team with everything to play for. Again, it is so surprising that I have to think the bookies are on to something. NO 38 TB 31

Bengals at Texans (-2.5) – Tom Savage has become an overnight sensation in Houston. The largely unknown quarterback may well have saved the season last week. He gave them a spark that had been missing all year with Brock Osweiler running the offense. The Bengals are still playing hard and will get A.J. Green back, but momentum can be a powerful thing. It should be enough to get the Texans over the line here. Hou 27 Cin 16

Sunday: *Ravens at Steelers (-5.5) – Kudos to the NFL for putting two competitive and important games on Christmas day. If I am getting anything more than field goal, I will always take the underdog in this match-up. The Steelers still worry me. Getting pushed around for a half in Cincinnati last week did not help that. As good as their offense is, the Ravens are a more complete team when taking into account all three phases. Bal 23 Pit 20

Broncos at Chiefs (-3.5) – While Denver’s defense is too good for the team to get blown out, Kansas City is not a defense that Denver can get right up against with their patchwork offensive line. While the reigning world champions may still have playoff hopes even with a loss here, they are not in a position to take advantage. They can expect no slack from Kansas City, who still has the division title to play for. KC 19 Den 12

MNF: *Lions at Cowboys (-6.5) – What a fun matchup to close out the Monday Night Football slate. Dak Prescott returned to form last week after two rough games, but Dallas still had its hands full with Tampa Bay. The defense is starting to leak some oil. Everybody on that unit has played above their heads all year long. It was just a matter of time. The secondary has given up a few big plays in the last couple weeks. Prescott is a concern too. Despite just four incompletions against the Bucs, it still felt like Ezekiel Elliott was doing most of the heavy lifting. Translation: I think the Cowboys as a whole peeked about a month too early. Also, with the Eagles upset win on Thursday, Dallas has nothing to play for here.

 

Detroit is desperately trying to hold off Green Bay in the NFC North. Differing from the usual, the Lions have played their best football in the biggest spots all year long. It does not get much bigger than this. With three MVP candidates in the same game, I expect Matthew Stafford to separate himself and solidify the Lions playoff position. Det 34 Dal 31.

Happy Holidays to all and to all a good week of picking football games.

Photo courtesy of sidelion.com

Photo courtesy of sidelion.com

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Week Twelve NFL Picks Against the Spread

It was another middle-of-the-road effort by me last week. I went just 6-8 against the spread. I am now 77-85-6 on the year. A hot stretch is absolutely necessary for me to finish the year in the black. Hopefully, this weekend is the start of that. My picks are bolded. Outright upsets have an asterisk. All spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. With not one, but three games on Thursday for Thanksgiving, I am at it early. Here we go.

Vikings at Lions (-2.5) – First place in the NFC North is at stake here. Both teams have taken strange paths to their 6-4 records. The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter of every game this season. Minnesota is relying almost exclusively on their defense and special teams to win games. It is hard to sustain the kind of winning both these teams are doing. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford continues his rise to becoming an elite quarterback every week. The gap between the two offenses is just too great to not swallow the points. Det 31 Min 20

Redskins at Cowboys (-7) – This game sells itself. Two of the hottest teams in football facing off in a holiday rivalry game. I have been wrong on Dallas all year. Amazingly, so has Vegas. Dallas is 9-0-1 against the spread this year. However, I am foolishly going to take the Redskins here. Rivalry games are always closer than they should be anyway. Washington’s offense is a problem for any opponent, especially if undrafted rookie Robert Kelley continues to spark the run game. Dallas and their freakishly talented rookies will get the job done, but will be made to work. Dal 28 Was 24.

photo from nfl.com

photo from nfl.com

Colts at Steelers (-7.5) – With Andrew Luck likely out due to a concussion, this number will probably continue to grow until game time, and rightfully so. Pittsburgh can score on anybody, and while their defense is still bad, Colts backup quarterback Scott Tolzien is the backup for a reason. He will not be able to exploit their defensive deficiencies. Pit 38 Ind 17

Sunday:

Cardinals at Falcons (-4) – This could go either way. Atlanta got off to a white-hot start, particularly on offense, but has struggled since. Arizona has struggled from the start, but we have seen flashes of why they reached the NFC championship game last year. Due to their division, Atlanta is in much stronger playoff position and they are at home. That is good enough for me. Atl 31 Ari 24

Bengals at Ravens (-4) – I have been high on the Ravens all year with mixed results. This week, they are catching the Bengals at a perfect time. Cincinnati’s relevant season may have ended with last week’s loss to Buffalo. Additionally, they will be without two of their main offensive weapons, wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovanni Bernard. The Ravens appear to be one of the strongest bets of the week. Bal 31 Cin 17

Jaguars at Bills (-7.5) – A streaky team like Buffalo as this big of a favorite makes me nervous, but the Jags played the Lions to the wire last week and still could not manage to cover. So… Buf 28 Jac 17

Rams at Saints (-7.5) – The Rams offense was cute last week in Jared Goff’s debut. He made no mistakes, but was not asked to do much. You can count on one hand the number of times he threw the ball more than 10 yards downfield. The “training wheels” approach won’t lead to enough points to keep up with Drew Brees and the Saints. NO 34 LA 17

Giants (-7) at Browns – As I noted last week, the Giants always keep it close. Despite rarely looking impressive, a 7-3 record is a 7-3 record. Also, this is the Browns we are talking about here. Between the injuries and general lack of talent on the roster, they may be unable to keep it close with anyone right now. NYG 30 Cle 17

Chargers (-1.5) at Texans – Here you have a last-place team favored over first place team. You just do not see that very often. The fact is San Diego is better by just about every statistical measure, except the important one. The Texans do have a slight edge on defense, but the difference between quarterbacks is too vast for me to pass up. SD 30 Hou 23

49ers at Dolphins (-7.5) – Miami keeps winning. Last week was closer than it should have been, but this isn’t college football. Style points are irrelevant. When everything around him is functioning well, Ryan Tannehill is just fine as an NFL quarterback. That is the case right now and San Francisco is not good enough on defense to expose his limitations. Mia 23 SF 13

photo from dolphinswire.usatoday.com

photo from dolphinswire.usatoday.com

Titans (-5.5) at Bears – It has probably been a few years since the Titans have been this significant of a road favorite. They showed their immaturity last week against the Colts after roughing up Green Bay. If the Titans stay the course, they will be really good in about two years. However, this is another spot where their youth and inexperience could hurt them. Also, the Bears have played people tough all year. It is hard for me to imagine them winning this game with third stringer Matt Barkley at quarterback, but I will take the points. Ten 24 Chi 21

Seahawks (-5.5) at Bucs – Seattle continued their recent great form by pushing around the Eagles last week. I would take them to cover against anyone right now. Even though I am impressed with the way Jameis Winston and the young Bucs have put themselves right in the middle of the playoff race, they are no exception. Sea 27 TB 17

*Panthers at Raiders (-3) – I am still not a believer in the Raiders. Yes, the defense has gotten better lately. However, the inevitable will happen at some point. Derek Carr will struggle and the hole the offense finds itself in will be too deep. As for Carolina, they are still very dangerous. The struggles of their division rivals leaves them with plenty to still play for. The Panthers are due to catch a break, and all the mistakes and penalties are due to catch up to Oakland. Car 27 Oak 20

Patriots (-7.5) at Jets – Again, rivalry games are always close. The Patriots will likely be without Rob Gronkowski for another week. They struggled for three quarters with the 49ers last week. The Jets beat the Patriots last year. The main parts of each roster are basically the same. Lastly, the Jets pass rush is a problem for any opponent, even if they are quarterbacked by Tom Brady. An outright upset with shock everyone but me here. NE 24 NYJ 20

 

 

Chiefs at Broncos (-3.5) – This is a huge game for both teams. It becomes even bigger if Carolina does indeed knock off Oakland. Despite current records, I would still argue that these two teams will eventually finish ahead of the error prone and one-dimensional Raiders. Given, that Denver is finally healthy off a bye week, I would have thought they would be a bigger favorite here. Kansas City found a very creative way to lose to Tampa Bay at home last week. I have too much respect for Kansas City to call for a blowout, but with Denver rested, healthy and at home 3.5 points feels like a steal. Den 24 KC 17

NNF: Packers at Eagles (-4) – I am officially out on the Packers, but I will tell you one thing. The problem is not Aaron Rodgers. Anyone who tosses 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions through 10 games is not the problem. The problem is that it looks like the defense is playing with about six guys on the field, the last two weeks have been particularly brutal. Any team with the kind of quarterback play the Packers are getting can turn around at any moment, but you will not see me predicting it. The Eagles are really solid along the offensive and defensive lines and should be able to manhandle the lifeless Packers here. Phi 34 GB 23. Have a fantastic Thanksgiving everyone!

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Why You Didn’t Win Your DFS League

You just woke up after the best night’s sleep you had all week and let out a magnificent yawn as your body adjusts to the light. After going downstairs, open up FanDuel, turn to your favorite NFL pregame show, and look to adjust your DFS lineup. But this morning is different. You wake up to find that the Giants and Rams are tied at 10 during the third quarter.

Depending on your dedication you either woke up early to check your lineup, or, did not play in a league that included the 9:30 AM EST game. Whether you overslept or not isn’t the point. The point is, the London series is a back breaker to the average DFS player. As players, we already have to deal with Monday and Thursday night games detracting from the 1 PM EST main event pool.

This past Sunday, we lost access to players like Todd Gurley, Odell Beckham Jr., and Eli Manning. While they may not be playing well at the moment, these players have posted gaudy numbers in the past and have been critical to many people’s success in DFS.

Discovering Diamonds in the Rough 

With the number of options decreasing further from the 1 PM EST main event, finding an optimal lineup becomes even more challenging. Moreover, this makes finding key sleepers borderline impossible, for example, Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers was owned by 42.23% of all FanDuel players this weekend (NumberFire). This means without the ability to pay up for backs like Lamar Miller or CJ Anderson, you’re sleeper play becomes chalk. Thus, you lose your competitive edge in large tournaments.

Jacquizz Rodgers runs through a putrid Niners rush defense

Jacquizz Rodgers ran through the 32nd ranked Niners rush defense to accumulate 16.8 points

If you did play Rodgers, you’re ecstatic about the 16.8 points he produced. Given his low price tag, you no doubt were able to pay up for players like Julio Jones and AJ Green, right? Well, so was everyone else.

Jones and Green were the two highest owned players in all of FanDuel this past weekend. The two elite receivers were owned at 47.84% and 45.81% respectively (NumberFire). Once again, even though the decision to play them both was correct, you lost your tournament edge.

The first reason why you didn’t win your DFS League is that your lineups weren’t unique enough, and it wasn’t your fault. Blame our friends across the pond for the inability to roster Odell Beckham Jr. and dilute the ownership of Jones and Green.

 

Chalk vs. ChAnce

Since you, and many others, will have to keep dealing with these ridiculous London games, let’s look at ways to sift through the chalk plays and regain our competitive advantage. The best place to start is by examining player matchups. Jacquizz Rodgers was so widely owned not because he was a starter, but because the 49ers had the worst ranked run defense in the NFL. So, given his price tag, his volume, and his opponent, Rodgers became a no brainer.

On the other hand, Melvin Gordon was facing a top 10 rush defense in Atlanta, and a bottom third pass defense. Gordon’s price tag was also high at $8,000 given his unfavorable matchup. These factors contributed to a crazy low ownership of Gordon, 5.01% in fact (NumberFire). While both Rodgers and Gordon has successful outings, Gordon had a monster game and accumulated 33.1 points, more than doubling the production of Rodgers.

What’s the point? Understand the way other players are picking lineups, and counter their way of thinking. Now, let’s look at one player at each core position this week to be considered chalk and one to be considered chance.

Quarterback:

Chalk: This week’s chalk play at quarterback is none other than the golden boy, Tom Brady. Not only is he projected to be the highest scoring Quarterback, but also his DFS floor is outstanding. This past week versus the Steelers was his lowest scoring game to date with 18.18 points. Look for the Patriots to establish the run and come over the top with play action. If Ryan Tannehill can score 16.26 points and find receivers running free throughout the secondary, then no doubt Brady can as well.

Chance: While he may never seem like a chance play, Drew Brees will have an ownership under 5% this week. Why? Because the Saints play the Seahawks, who have a top-10 rush and pass defense. But here’s the key: The Saints are playing at home, which means, play Drew Brees. In each of his three home games, Brees has scored at least 25 points and topped 30 points twice. If you think I’m crazy about Brees’ ownership, he was only owned by 2.58% of players this past Sunday against the Chiefs, where he scored 25.68 points (NumberFire).

Running Back:

Chalk: Jacquizz Rodges will no doubt be another popular play this week. His price of $6,600 and his matchup vs. the 28th ranked Raiders rush defense makes him prime for another successful fantasy outing. Once again, you can play Rodgers again this week, just understand that you’ll need to differentiate your lineup at other positions. Also, be careful about the emergence of Peyton Barber. Barber had 12 carries for 84 yards and stole a touchdown from Rodgers against the 49ers.

Chance: Ty Montgomery will prove to have a big day against the Falcons. While he’s nowhere near the runner that Melvin Gordon is, Montgomery is going to be extremely effective out of the backfield. With 20 catches on 25 targets over the past two weeks, his role in the passing game will remain large. He also doesn’t have to be an efficient runner to score points, as Gordon only accumulated 68 yards on 22 carries last week versus Atlanta.

Wide Receiver:

Chalk: For the second week in a row, Mike Evans will have an ownership percentage over 25% across all FanDuel contests. With players Like Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, and Odell Beckham Jr. unavailable, Evans is the second most expensive receiver at $7,900 and has a great matchup against the Oakland Raiders, who has the worst ranked pass defense. In five of Evans’ last six outings he only scored less than 16 points once and scored more than 20 points twice.

Chance: Justin Hunter is starting to gain a lot of traction. While his outing against Miami was not impressive, he got the start in place of Robert Woods and played 53 of the 57 offensive snaps. This past Sunday was the first time since Hunter joined the Bills that he didn’t have a touchdown. Expect Hunter to have a high volume of touches as the Bills will likely be playing from behind and with a price of $5,200, he gives any lineup great flexibility.

Tight End:

Chalk: Do I really need a whole paragraph to talk about why Rob Gronkowski is chalk this week? Since Brady’s return, Gronkowski hasn’t had a game in which he scored less than 13.4 points. Expect Gronkowski to do major damage on play action deep down the middle of the field.

Chance: If you are looking to take advantage of the Raiders defense this weekend, look to Cameron Brate. The emergence of Russell Shepard against the 49ers cut into Brate’s production, but the only player to score a touchdown against the Raiders last week was Julius Thomas. Since the Buccaneers are not playing the 49ers, expect the game to be much closer and force them to throw the ball more often, leading to a higher volume for Brate.

I just want to be clear, I am not suggesting that rostering any of these chalk players is foolish. Tom Brady and Mike Evans are going to produce. Just know that if you decide to roster one of these players, you’ll need to find another area of your roster to regain your competitive edge when it comes to ownership.

Week 5 NFL Picks Against the Spread

It is time for my fifth week of NFL picks against the spread. I am coming off a second consecutive 8-7 week. I called outright upsets the Bills and Saints. However, I foolishly put my faith in the Browns while continuing to doubt the Vikings. I am off to another good start this week with Arizona’s blowout win Thursday night. For the year, I am now 29-33-2. When picking against the spread anything close to .500 is respectable. So, I am happy. My picks for this week are in bold and outright upsets have asterisk.

Bears at Colts (-4.5) – You will not find a game all year between two teams with more issues. The Colts are on the verge of the season that would see everybody in the organization lose their jobs with the exception of quarterback Andrew Luck and owner Jim Irsay if it continues this way. The Bears picked up a surprising win with backup quarterback Brian Hoyer against Detroit last week. Make no mistake, they are still banged up and not doing anything well. If the Bears can somehow get this win, John Fox may have something to think about when Jay Cutler gets healthy. However, I just do not think the Colts are as bad as a home loss to Chicago would make them. Ind 24 Chi 13

Texans at Vikings (-6.5) – I am finally picking the Vikings this week. They are very good, but the lack of any kind of sustained offensive rhythm still makes it hard for me to accept this team as one of the best in the league. Unless this defense is truly great, which is entirely possible, they will eventually break down from carrying the rest of the team. It will be interesting to see who picks up the slack in terms of catches for Minnesota with top threat Stefon Diggs likely out. Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler and the Texans offense just do not have anything they can trouble an elite defense like the Vikings. Min 20 Hou 9

Patriots (-10.5) at Browns- Yes, Tom Brady is back, but he is also human and Cleveland continues to play people tough in losses. I expect Brady to be a little rusty. Thus, the Browns find a way to keep this within such a massive spread. NE 24 Cle 15

Jets at Steelers (-7.5) – Is there a team that has regressed more from last year than the Jets? It really does not make much sense. They were above the .500 and made no significant personnel changes, at least none that were clearly for the worse. They are turning the ball over at an alarming rate Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown nine interceptions in the last two games. If you have issues that need fixing, Pittsburgh is a terrible place to go. This will get ugly. Pit 34 NYJ 13

Eagles (-3.5) at *Lions – The Eagles are one of two teams in this league I cannot figure out. This team being undefeated with a rookie head coach and quarterback as well as very few established play-makers on either side of the ball defies logic. I expect the Lions high-powered offense to come out firing after laying an egg last week in Chicago. The Eagles remind me a little bit of the 2011 Bengals who made the playoffs behind then rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. That team also had its share of surprising losses. With that is my logic, I will take the Lions here. I still think this team is one of the most dangerous in the league. A 1-3 record is not indicative of the talent they have, particularly on offense. Det 31 Phi 27

Titans at Dolphins (-3.5) – This game will go on as scheduled despite Hurricane Matthew. There are much more important things going on in Florida right now than a football game between two lousy teams, but the Dolphins are my favorite bet of the week. As you may know by now, I love teens that were humiliated on national TV the following week. I was at the Dolphins game last Thursday in Cincinnati. They cannot possibly be any worse, and Tennessee skinks to begin with. I expect Miami to come out like gangbusters here. Mia 31 Ten 17.

Redskins at Ravens (-3.5) – Despite last week’s loss, I am still a charter member of the Ravens bandwagon. They found that nice little running game last week with Terrace West. That will only help Joe Flacco going forward. Also, for the first time in his career, he has about five legitimate pass catching targets at his disposal. The defense is work in progress, but it does not need to be great. Washington is banged up in the secondary and their win over Cleveland last week was not exactly convincing. They are a team that has not terrible at anything, but also not particularly good at anything. The Ravens will put up some huge offensive numbers here. Bal 34 Was 20

photo from associated press

photo from associated press

Falcons at Broncos (-4.5) – I keep looking for a week to pick against my Broncos. This isn’t it. Paxton Lynch will make his first career start for Denver here for a mildly injured Trevor Siemian. The formula is the same. He is driving a Ferrari, all he has to do is not strip the gears. Atlanta has been a pleasant surprise. I am very aware of what Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are capable of. However, it is almost impossible to pick against this defense at home. Den 28 Atl 20

*Bills at Rams (PK) – The Rams are the other team that is mystifying to me. After an embarrassing Monday night shutout start year, they have rattled off three straight behind a tremendous pass rush. However, they can only make up for the team’s offensive deficiencies for so long. They just do not have anything on the offensive side of the ball that makes me think that this start is anything more than a fun mirage. Even Todd Gurley has struggled to find running room, which makes their start all the more inexplicable. Do not ask me how this team is 3-1. I have no clue, but credit to them. Despite everybody burying him after two weeks, Rex Ryan has the Bills playing really well. Both these teams go about their business in the same way, physical, smart, and conservative. It is not flashy, but has proven effective for both teams as of late. I think the Bills do it just a little better. Buf 16 LA 14

Bengals (-2) at Cowboys- Both teams struggle in the red zone. Cincinnati has their star receiver, Dallas is missing theirs. I think this game will come down to who can make one big-play and avoid the red zone altogether to score a late touchdown. With Dez Bryant out again, the Bengals are far better equipped to do that. Cin 28 Dal 24

photo from talk-sports.net

photo from talk-sports.net

*Chargers at Raiders (-3.5) – For me, this is the most interesting game of the week. For the second time this year the public has fallen in love with the Raiders after an impressive road victory. The first time that happened, they went home and got their doors kicked in by Atlanta. If the Raiders want to sit at the big kid table, they have to win games like this. Until they show me they can, I will pick against them every time in this spot. Also, San Diego’s 1-3 record is a little misleading. They have led at the two minute warning in every game this season. SD 24 Oak 20

Giants at Packers (-7) – I thought this line would be closer. I know the Giants were terrible on Monday night against the Vikings, but that offense packs enough punch to scare anyone. Conversely, the last time we saw the Packers they did their very best to blow a 31- 3 lead against Detroit two weeks ago. Both teams are much better on offense than they are on defense. I think scoring will come easy for both Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers. So, it is hard for me to see this game getting out of hand. That being said, the home team will still win it. GB 38 NYG 34

MNF: Bucs at Panthers (-5) – Derrick Anderson will start for the injured Cam Newton here. He is one of the league’s most capable backups. This game of two 1-3 teams features one team that is struggling, but has proven it knows how to win, and another that is still learning how to win. I am going to assume that anyone who reads this will know which is which. Car 24 TB 14

The Bengals Draft Guide

Laquon Treadwell is a top level talent, however he's free falling in some mocks. (Photo By: Michael Chang, Getty Images)

Laquon Treadwell is a top level talent, however, he’s free falling in some mocks. (Photo By: Michael Chang, Getty Images)

The Cincinnati Bengals are expected to be one of the teams in competition for the AFC North title in 2016. A year after watching the Bengals implode against arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, the team looks to follow-up and make greater strides this season.

We’ll know more about the future of the team after the first round of the draft is completed. Will they go “all-in” for 2016, meaning, do they select what would amount to an impact receiver? Or do they pick a long-term project player as they’ve been known to try?

With the losses of Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta Falcons) and Marvin Jones (Detroit Lions) in the offseason, the Bengals are a few receivers short of the depth they’ve grown accustomed to. With that being one of the glaring holes the team is at a small crossroads. Do they select a receiver early and expect him to put up incredible numbers in his rookie season? Or, do they favor a later round receiver (like Jones and Sanu) and expect him to slot in as the third or fourth option behind A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert?

These questions will be the first of many that the Bengals “War Room” has to debate heading into the draft. They’ll also have to battle the question of picking a receiver with the idea of drafting a project player. 

Last season we saw the Bengals select Cedric Ogbuehi, an offensive linemen that would’ve probably been a top five pick before a season-ending injury pushed him to the bottom of the first round. Ogbuehi has since regained strength and learned under the likes of Andrew Whitworth and company, and developed into a bright star moving forward. He’ll be a starter next season and should be a mainstay for the rest of his career. That project worked out well.

They’ve also selected guys like Darqueze Dennard, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Kevin Zeitler and allowed them to work their ways into the starting lineup, not pressuring them to be stars from day one. This method has worked well and has allowed the team to be called “the deepest team in the NFL” or “the most talented team 1-53, in the NFL” from NFL luminaries all over network TV.

With these things in mind, there seem to be a few options for Cincinnati in the first round.

  1. Draft a receiver that fits the bill as a top tier target on Andy Dalton’s offense.
  2. Draft a longer term project that has fell down the board due to injury.
  3. Draft a depth player that will eventually fill a pivotal role. However, this pick won’t make an immediate boom.

These are the essential choices the Bengals have laying at their feet ahead of the draft that is now, right at our doorstep.

If Marvin Lewis dives down the first rabbit hole, he’ll likely please the fan base that believes next season should end with a Super Bowl championship. The fan base is in outcry mode after losing beloved options Jones and Sanu. They want an immediate replacement that will play a fundamental role in the offense.

What options are out there?

  1. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
    Will Fuller may be considered the top receiver on the board with the fall of Treadwell. (Photo By: Walter Football)

    Will Fuller may be considered the top receiver on the board with the fall of Treadwell. (Photo By: Walter Football)

  2. Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
  3. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
  4. Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
  5. Michael Thomas, WR, OSU

These are really the five guys we’re going to talk about. Ideally, Laquon Treadwell falls to Cincinnati. You may wonder why that’s an ideal thing? If he’s falling, something has to be wrong, right? People don’t like the leg injury he suffered two years ago. It was a nasty play and leaves question marks everywhere. But for the most part, this point is overplayed. He isn’t the greatness route runner and likely won’t burn many corners with his 4.63 40-yard dash. That’s a lot slower than Green’s 4.5 he ran in 2011. These things do appear to dampen the expectations for Treadwell. But that’s why he isn’t going to be a top 10 pick. He’s falling into the 20’s; there’s a big difference between a can’t miss receiver and a mid-20’s pick. He’s not Green or Julio Jones; he’s Anquan Boldin. A receiver that wins jump balls and outmuscles most corners. He’s a possession guy that’s going to be a great second option opposite of Green.

Should Treadwell fall, he should be the pick.

Fuller and Coleman would both be great number two picks. I’m just a tick lower on them than Treadwell, so both would be home runs for different reasons. Fuller is a blazing fast (4.32) outside threat that looks like a burner that could take the top off of a defense. He could become Green’s best friend in week one. Coleman, much like Fuller, is a blazer. A 4.37 40-yard dash time at his pro day make him a viable option for Cincinnati. He’s a little less polished, and I worry about production inflation in the Big 12. Taken aside, he’s a great route-runner and can burn just as well as Fuller. I would grade Fuller slightly ahead of Coleman, and I assume the Bengals would do the same.

Doctson is the only other receiver I would consider. He ran a 4.5 40-yard dash and is a bit taller than both of the aforementioned receivers (6’2”). He is the least polished of the big four and wouldn’t turn as many heads. But he fits the bill as a number two beside Green. Thomas is off my board as a first round pick. Should the Bengals trade down (as if that would ever happen), he becomes a much better option in the second round.

Taking option two for the Bengals wouldn’t be as popular as the first choice, at least immediately. Ogbuehi wasn’t a popular pick on the first day, but fans are starting to see why the pick happened and seem to love it.

The main topic of discussion, Notre Dame linebacker, Jaylon Smith, suffered a devastating knee injury to end last season. How has this changed things? Well, he was a consensus top five pick last season, now? He’s in danger of falling into the latter part of the first round. A significant change that opens up a window of opportunity for the Bengals.

Jaylon Smith fell down draft boards after a Fiesta Bowl knee injury derailed his final college football game. (Photo By: Sporting News)

Jaylon Smith fell down draft boards after a Fiesta Bowl knee injury derailed his final college football game. (Photo By: Sporting News)

New information came out today that some doctors are saying his knee is a ticking time bomb with all of the nerve damage. This is a major concern. It could be career jeopardizing. Or, he could come back and be fine. That’s where the gamble comes in. You truly have no idea what you’re going to get from him. He could be the best player from this draft or he could be out of the NFL after two seasons.

The Bengals love their pass rush and you can never have enough solid linebackers. Would they consider this pick? Yes. For sure. Would they pull the trigger? Probably. Will they? Who knows?

The last option would be for the Bengals to select some interior line help on either side of the ball, or maybe some secondary help. The Bengals and Lewis himself, love having depth. They do have holes that could be addressed, but they also have possible fillers on their roster. They can also fill these holes later in the draft.

Some of the names to watch for. . .

  1. Noah Spence, DE, EKU
  2. Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor

These two have floated around on the Bengals radar. Sure, there are several other options (most of which we haven’t even connected to the Bengals) but these two are the main options to think about.

Spence and Billings will both fill gaps on the Bengals D-Line. Spence could become a great pass rusher and Billings would fill in the gap that Domata Peko is starting to leave. He’s got age and will need a full-time replacement.

If I had to lay down a solid prediction, it would be at the wide receiver position. There have been grumblings that the Bengals aren’t sold on Lewis as a Super Bowl winning coach while also giving him a one-year extension, go figure. With that in mind, this year should be an all-in type of season for the Bengals. For Marvin Lewis to keep his job, 2016 must be a good season. That means they’ll likely try and find the most impactful player in the draft. That will probably come from a receiver.

Which one? That’s where the real debate comes in.

Replacing Lost Players

Brock Osweiler is heading to Houston, where does that leave Denver? (Photo By: ESPN)

Brock Osweiler is heading to Houston, where does that leave Denver? (Photo By: ESPN)

The defending champion Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, and Miami Dolphins all watched as key players departed during the initial salvo of free agency in the NFL. With that in mind, we now look at the replacements.

The NFL never stops, and that means the front offices never stop. Right now I’m sure the war camps inside each respective teams front offices are littered with scouting reports, phone numbers, and pizza boxes. They are all looking for ways to improve the team; and in some cases, repair a damaged team. If you think of free agency like a war, the three teams above are in full retreat. Well, not exactly. The fan bases see things in a different manner than the front offices. The front offices know they have solutions to these problems. Why? They’ve all known about these issues for months, and years in reality, and have prepared to find replacements.

Did the Dolphins know they were going to lose Lamar Miller? Yes. They had to know that the chances were not in their favor that the running back would return.

Who can they find to replace him? Well, if we look at the free agent pool, it’s dwindled. The top targets, Chris Ivory, Doug Martin, and Matt Forte are all gone. Arian Foster, Bilal Powell, and Alfred Morris are the top remaining options. All have considerable concerns.

What will they do to patch up the backfield? It’s actually common sense when we look at it. They just traded the number eight pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell, and the number 13 pick. A great move for Miami all around and it opens up an even more logical landing spot for their future running back replacement.

With Miller gone, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is the perfect fit in South Beach. ‘Zeke brings an all around beastly running game that has him rated as the draft’s top prospect at the position. Getting him at eight was a possibility. But now at 13, and likely the first team to take a back, it makes too much sense.

The Bengals have known that this offseason was going to be rough for a long time. A lot of free agents is never really a desirable position. However, a lot of starters in the free agent pool is really undesirable. They were able to secure their biggest free agent, safety, George Illoka. Illoka was one of the guys I thought was surely going to leave. He didn’t. And as of writing, Adam Jones appears to be returning to Cincy to finish his roller coaster of a career. This offseason has been really efficient (so far) for the Bengals despite severe losses at a critical position. With the departure of Marvin Jones to Detroit the Bengals had only one of their two free agent receiver’s left to sign. It now appears that Mohamed Sanu will be leaving the Queen City.

The Bengals pass game will now be anchored by A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. But how do they replace the high-flying duo of Jones and Sanu?

The answer is, once again, a simple one. They’ll do it through a combination of rookies and possibly a veteran. However, the rookies will likely play a direct role, much like Green did his rookie season.

Who are the targets? In the first round, there are several that fit the bill. Laquon Treadwell of Ole Miss will be the home run if he falls to Cincy, which appears to be a possibility. Per multiple reports, Treadwell has fallen down draft boards in recent weeks. They’re now saying he’s a mid-to-late first round pick. If he’s there for the Bengals, he’ll be in stripes. Other first round talents are Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas, Notre Dame product Will Fuller, TCU star Josh Doctson, Pittsburgh standout Tyler Boyd (although he carries baggage), and Baylor stud Corey Coleman. Braxton Miller from Ohio State and Sterling Shepard from Oklahoma could be second round pickups. Down the board several picks could happen on days two and three; Jalin Marshall from OSU and Leonte Carroo of Rutgers are both interesting picks to add depth at the position. There are a handful of deep covers that the Bengals will probably have stashed. Jones and Sanu themselves were later picks, fifth round and third respectively.

My take is that they should go rounds one and three or four on receivers. They’ll likely add two or three guys during the three-day draft. And that should be enough to cover the losses of Jones and Sanu.

For the Broncos, they entered 2016 free agency with a clear problem. They had no active QB on the roster that had playing time. Peyton Manning announced his retirement earlier this week, and Brock Osweiler has agreed to terms with the Houston Texans. Without a quarterback life looks bleak in Denver. The fix to this problem won’t sound ideal to Bronco fans, especially coming off of a Super Bowl. But there are a few options.

Via trade there are several backups that could make sense. The top trade target is likely A.J. McCarron of the Bengals. He stepped into a similar role as Osweiler did, filling in for an injured starter with playoff implications on the line. He played decently at times and good, if not great, at others. He is still on his rookie deal and could be gotten for cheap, at least for two more years. He has shown he can win and adjust. This would probably cost a pair of picks, one being early. Not the best option in my opinion. The best option is free agency. The best option is Robert Griffin III. RGIII leaves a bad situation in Washington and now has the chance to revitalize a once-vibrant career.

The best option is free agency. The best option is Robert Griffin III. RGIII leaves a bad situation in Washington and now has the chance to revitalize a once-vibrant career, at least, a career that appeared to be heading in the right direction. A stellar rookie season was marred by injury, and that followed into the next season and into 2015, which was the death nail. Kirk Cousins has taken over in DC, and Griffin is out. He’s got a career 90.6 passer rating and really didn’t look terrible last season with limited opportunity. A new place with a great surrounding cast and tempered expectations are just what the doctor ordered for the former Heisman Trophy winner.

While things may look bad for you fans, they really aren’t. Trust in your organizations to make the most out of the coming days. The draft is just around the corner.