2017 AFC North division preview

2017 AFC North division preview

The NFL regular season is fast approaching. In the blink of an eye, Sep. 7 will arrive and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off the 2017-2018 NFL season. In the meantime, Hagan’s Haus will be bringing you the divisional previews and predictions of how teams will finish in their respective divisions. Without further ado, here is the 2017 AFC North division preview.

4: Cleveland Browns

2017 AFC North division preview

(Photo Credit: http://www.clevelandbrowns.com)

Last season: 1-15

Strength of schedule: 21

The Cleveland Browns had an atrocious 2016 NFL season but that has become the norm in Cleveland. In the last 10 seasons, the Browns have had more the seven wins only twice. It has been even longer since the Browns have made the playoffs which last occurred in 2002. The struggle has been real but the Browns seem to be moving in the right direction finally.

It isn’t hard to improve on a 1-15 season and the truth is the Browns have nowhere to go but up. Improvement started with the draft and Cleveland did a tremendous job in the draft this year. The selections of Myles Garrett, David Njoku, Jabrill Peppers, DeShone Kizer, Caleb Brantley and Larry Ogunjobi show just how much the Browns are moving in the right direction. All these players will be key pieces for the Browns moving forward.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns will be much better than last years 31st ranking. Danny Shelton and Desmond Bryant will do a solid job plugging the middle allowing Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey to make a lot of tackles. In the secondary, Joe Haden is the veteran star who will attempt to lead this secondary’s improvement in defending the pass which gave up 249.8 passing yards per game.

Offensively, the Browns will need to be committed to running the football. Their upgrades along the offensive line will create a solid foundation for improving an offense that only managed to score 16.5 points per game. The quarterback situation is still unfolding but having a solid offensive line will allow them to run the ball well with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. This will make life easier for whoever ends up under center over the course of the season.

No matter who starts, or eventually plays, at quarterback they will have really good receivers to connect with. Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt are capable of having big years and both could find their way to 1,000 yards. Duke Johnson Jr. will also see some time at wideout and with his speed could turn any touch into a house call.

Although the Browns seem to be heading in the right direction, they won’t see a ton of wins this season. Cleveland plays in a tough division and just doesn’t have enough talent to win it. The Browns will be more competitive but are a year or two away from really competing for the division crown.

Prediction: 4-12 (2-4), miss the playoffs

losses: Pit, @Bal, @Ind, @Hou, Ten, Min, @Det, @Cin, @LAC, GB, @Pit, @Chi

3: Baltimore Ravens

2017 AFC North division preview

(Photo Credit: https://www.si.com)

Last season: 8-8

Strength of schedule: 24

Baltimore has struggled since winning Super Bowl XLVII, missing the playoffs three of the last four seasons. The defense hasn’t been as elite and the offense doesn’t seem to have a true identity. The Ravens are in for another tough season and John Harbaugh may be on the hot seat by the end of this season.

As previously mentioned, the Ravens do not have a true identity. Despite having Marshal Yanda on the offensive line, the unit as a whole is a weak spot and Pro Football Focus ranks the unit 23rd out of 32 teams. The offensive line is going to face some tough defenses, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh twice, Jacksonville, Minnesota, and Tennessee are teams capable of dominating the Ravens front.

With a below average offensive line, the running game is going to struggle as it did last season averaging just 91.4 yards per game. There is also a three man committee at running back between Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West and Danny Woodhead. Each has their own specialty, but with three running backs splitting time, none will be able to get into a good enough rhythm to lead the running game to succeed.

Because of this, the running game will not open up the passing game which is a must for Joe Flacco to have success. Aside from an amazing playoff run in 2013, Flacco is rather average. His QBR shows just how average he is at 58.4 last season. In Flacco’s nine year career he has averaged 3,626 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions per season. These numbers scream average. Flacco is also 11-19 in his last 30 starts. His career seems to be trending down and the Ravens are going to hurt this season because of it.

The receiving group has a lot of experience and speed. Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace will cause nightmares for defensive backs but can the offensive line hold up enough for Flacco to get them the ball, that is the question. Breshad Perriman is another speedster that can become a dangerous deep threat.

Defensive has been the strength of this franchise for a long time. Last season was no different as the Ravens ranked ninth in points allowed. Baltimore gave up the seventh fewest yards during the season which was due to their outstanding rush defense. Teams only ran for 89.4 yards per game against the Ravens. The defense will remain good but not good enough to carry a team with a bad offense to the playoffs.

The Ravens really struggled on the road last season going 2-6 and it is likely that the road woes continue. Pair this with an offense that will struggle to score and you get a team that ends up with only a handful of wins.

Prediction: 6-10 (3-3), miss the playoffs

losses: @Cin, @Jax, @Oak, @Min, Mia, @Ten, @GB, Det, @Pit, @Cle

2: Cincinnati Bengals

2017 AFC North division preview

(Photo Credit: George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Last season: 6-9-1

Strength of schedule: 29

After making the playoffs for five straight seasons the Bengals took a step back and only won six games last year. Marvin Lewis is entering his 15th season as the head coach and has gone 0-7 in the playoffs. If he does not win a playoff game this season he will be fired. 15 years is plenty of time to prove you can win a playoff game and if the Bengals don’t do so there needs to be a new voice in the locker room.

The Bengals offense was nothing spectacular last season. Cincinnati ranked 24th in scoring at just 20.3 points per game. The Bengals offense will need to score more points this season. Rushing the ball seems to be easy for the Bengals as they averaged 110.6 rushing yards per game. Joe Mixon will improve the running game even more as long as the replacements along the offensive line create running lanes.

The passing attack will also be better this season. A.J. Green will still be a beast on the outside but a healthy Tyler Eifert will open up the middle of the field. Speedy receiver John Ross will complement these two players and create mismatches for opposing defenses. Andy Dalton just needs to get the ball out of his hands and into these playmakers hands as quickly as possible to make up for the below average offensive line.

Losing offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler is going to be huge blows to this offense. Cincinnati is hoping they can soften this blow by reacquiring Andre Smith. If the offensive line can replace these losses and hold up, then the Bengals will easily have a top 15 offense in the NFL.

Similar to the Ravens, the strength of the Bengals is on the defensive side of the ball. Cincinnati gave up the seventh fewest points last season at just 19.7 per game. The front four is led by studs Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. Vontaze Burfict returns at linebacker and the Bengals upgraded their middle linebacker from Rey Maualuga to Kevin Minter. The secondary is also not to be messed with as the Bengals return Adam “Pacman” Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka.

The success of this season depends on the offense. Defensively, there is little to no concern. If the offensive line can create success then the Bengals will be in the hunt for the playoffs.

Prediction: 8-8 (3-3), wildcard candidate

losses: Hou, @GB, @Cle, @Pit, @Ten, @Den, @Min, @Bal

1: Pittsburgh Steelers

2017 AFC North division preview

(Photo Credit: https://www.pinterest.com)

Last season: 11-5

Strength of schedule: 27

How did a team that finished 11-5 and made it to the AFC Championship, get such an easy schedule? Pittsburgh has the fifth easiest schedule in the NFL and returns a plethora of talent. The Steelers have plenty of experience on their side and should be one of the best teams in the NFL and a Super Bowl contender.

The Steelers quietly had a very good defense but the offense gets all the recognition. Pittsburgh did rank 10th in points allowed and total yards. The high total yards ranking was because of their rush defense which only gave up 93.2 rush yards per game, ranking eighth.

The biggest area the Steelers need to show improvement in is in third down defense. Pittsburgh could not get off the field and spent an average of 62 plays per game on the field. Opposing offenses converted 41.1 percent of their third downs. The Steelers added rookie T.J. Watt in the draft to get some more pressure thus helping them get off the field more on.

Supringingly Pittsburgh is all about the offense though. The Steelers have a three headed monster on offense that led them to having one of the leagues best offenses. The oldest of the three, Ben Roethlisberger, had another great year. Big Ben threw for 3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Even at his age, he will still throw for close to 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns as long as he remains healthy.

Le’Veon Bell is who this offense is built around so this hold out is alarming. As long as Bell can play the entire season, the Steelers will have an unstoppable offense. Bell is the first player to ever average 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving for a season. He is a key piece to the Steelers success.

The remaining star, Antonio Brown,  contributed 106 receptions, 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns to the high powered offense. Brown consistently dominates the league and with him passing success is easy to come by. These three superstars are the reason the Steelers are going to have another year in which they score a ton of points.

The Steelers have an easy schedule, tough defense and explosive offense. Pittsburgh will win the division and contend for the Super Bowl

Prediction: 12-4 (4-2), division champion

losses: @Bal, @KC, NE, @Hou

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles written by other great TGH writers along with Matthew!

Featured image courtesy of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uY9XhulFyM

2017 fantasy football notes: Cram session

One of the worst feelings in the world is feeling unprepared. You forgot to study for a quiz and have as much knowledge about the subject as Alex Smith has on not being average. You’ve got an important presentation at work but forgot your briefcase at home.

Worst of all, your fantasy draft is tonight, yet you’ve spent the last six months watching baseball and catching up on your favorite guilty pleasure on Netflix. Your pulse reaches an unhealthy level as your heart races trying to think about how to prepare a draft plan good enough to beat your friends, yet you rank Adrian Peterson as your No. 6 running back because you think he’s poised for a great year with the Vikings.

But Adrian Peterson doesn’t play for the Vikings, and you’re screwed.

Fear not, lazy fantasy football player, I’ve got just the article for you. Let’s talk about all the big news and notes you missed so you can have a fighting chance to compete in your league this season.

2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES: QUARTERBACKS

Marcus Mariota is undervalued

2017 fantasy football notes

Photo: titansonline.com

Marcus Mariota is among the top 25 most attractive players in the NFL, and it turns out he’s pretty good at football too. Mariota was good enough to earn spot starts last season, and finished as the No. 13 scoring quarterback. He’s especially suited for fantasy football thanks to his rushing ability, and he’s gotten some upgraded toys to play with for 2017.

No shade at Rishard Matthews or Tajae Sharpe, but Mariota didn’t have the greatest receivers to throw to last season. The Titans signed Eric Decker during the offseason and drafted top wide receiver prospect Corey Davis with their first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. On top of that, Mariota plays with an elite offensive line and DeMarco Murray, who got back to his usual RB1 self last season.

Entering his third season, the myth of a sophomore slump cannot affect Mariota. Mariota was the top scoring quarterback from weeks five through week 12 of last season, which shows his upside is through the roof this season.

Mariota is being drafted as a fringe QB1 this season, which is way too low. Sit back and wait for Mariota as others grab overvalued quarterbacks, and then grab him once you’ve filled out your starting lineup and part of your bench.

Blake Bortles sucks at throwing footballs, but don’t overlook his volume

Sure, you may’ve spit up in your mouth a little due to reading the name Blake Bortles, and that’s fine. Bortles ruined Allen Robinson last season and made some of the worst throws of the season in 2016. However, while Bortles gets roasted by Twitter everyday, he could make for a good backup for your team.

Before you click the “x” in the upper right corner of your device, hear me out.

Bortles had the fourth-most fantasy points among quarterbacks in 2015, and followed that with the tenth-most points among quarterbacks last season. Even with all the hate Bortles gets, he’s still been a QB1 in each of the past two seasons.

I’m not saying you need to draft him as your QB1 this season, but you should at least consider the volume he’ll see. Leonard Fournette will suck in Jacksonville’s system unless they plan on taking less snaps out of the shotgun this season. Jacksonville started plays out of the gun more than every single team in the NFL except one last season, so don’t expect Fournette to be successful in his current system.

This paves way for Bortles to continue to see a bunch of pass attempts, and at some point they have to turn into touchdowns and 250-yard games. Bortles will most likely embarrass himself this season, and you’ll get heckled for taking him, but if quarterbacks are thin, take him as your QB2.

2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES: RUNNING BACKS

Don’t be that guy who drafts Adrian Peterson

2017 fantasy football notes

Photo: Associated Press

You thought I was kidding about Adrian Peterson no longer being a Viking, didn’t you? Well, I’m no Photoshop wizard, so the picture to your left with Peterson doning New Orleans Saints getup proves Peterson is a Saint this season.

I have no clue why the Saints signed Peterson this offseason. Mark Ingram was productive enough last season to be the eighth-best fantasy running back in PPR leagues. Drew Brees is still under center, so expect the Saints to continue to air it out this season, especially with Michael Thomas playing on the outside.

Ingram will most likely be the starter come Week 1, and even though Peterson will see touches this season, it won’t be enough to sustain any kind of success. Peterson managed just three games last season, and averaged just 1.9 yards per carry. He’s also topped 40 catches in a season just once in his career, compared to Ingram doing that in each of his past two seasons.

Peterson will be dropped halfway through the season by all active owners, so save yourself the trouble and keep Peterson off your team. You can score Terrance West, Robert Kelly, Tevin Coleman or even Danny Woodhead at Peterson’s price, and all of which offer much more upside and volume potential.

Eddie Lacy isn’t as fat as he used to be, but that doesn’t mean you should draft him

Eddie Lacy literally got paid this offseason to not be so chunky. Lacy’s always been overrated to me, but that hasn’t stopped others from clogging their arteries by drafting him. In case you missed it, Lacy is now a Seattle Seahawk, and he’ll be fighting off Thomas Rawls to get fed this season.

While the two were splitting time with the first team to open camp, it appears Thomas Rawls has taken over the bulk of the first team work, Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times said on Aug. 9. For the near future, Rawls looks to be the starter.

Fantasy owners will draft Lacy for the same reason as Peterson, and that’s for name value alone. Rawls doesn’t have the name recognition, but he does have the advantage in terms his skillset. Rawls has much better lateral quickness and has forced more missed tackles over the course of his career. That ability is a necessity in a Seattle offense that has a terrible offensive line.

Marshawn Lynch is playing football again

2017 fantasy football notes

Photo: raiders.com

At the end of the 2015-16 season, Marshawn Lynch called it quits even though it seemed he had more left in the tank. Well, Lynch okie-doked us all by coming out of retirement to join the Oakland Raiders.

With Latavius Murray now in Minnesota, Lynch will own the backfield for the Raiders. Oakland’s offense already owns one of the top one-two punches at wide receiver with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, and the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL in Derek Carr. The talent is no longer shifted to benefit only the passing game with the addition of Lynch.

Lynch is the No. 15 running back according to the consensus Fantasy Pros rankings for 2017. Expect Lynch to end up as a low RB1 by season’s end. He’s ranked lower than Leonard Fournette, Isaiah Crowell and Carlos Hyde in the rankings, which is odd to say the least. Lynch is in a better offense and will receive the same if not more volume as the aforementioned players.

2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES: PASS CATCHERS

Brandin Cooks now plays for the Patriots, and that’s not fair

Tom Brady has made his money by throwing to a bunch of late round draft picks and one large tight end that seems to party more than he plays. That changes this season with the addition of Brandin Cooks. The Patriots traded for Cooks during the offseason, and with that addition and other moves, there’s been pundits saying New England could go undefeated this season.

Cooks’ most notable trait is his speed. His catch rate on deep passes last season was 45.8 percent, good for fourth in the NFL. He also had 544 deep receiving yards which was second in the NFL. Patriots beat writers have raved about Cooks to start camp, which further proves he has a great chance to one of the best receivers Brady’s ever had.

I’ve yet to take Cooks in any drafts at his ADP, as his ADP is a little too high for my taste. However, taking Cooks as your WR2 could pay huge dividends for your team. He resides in a pass-heavy offense with one of the best quarterbacks of all time. I’m not quite comfortable with Cooks as my WR1, but if you have him as a WR2, your receiving corps will be solid.

Terrelle Pryor used to be a bad quarterback but now is a good wide receiver

2017 fantasy football notes

Photo: redskins.com

Terrelle Pryor made a cool one-handed catch in training camp, and for one day fantasy football Twitter anointed him as the next coming of Randy Moss. But that’s what happens during the start of training camp, as our football-thirsty brains need something to sip on. Even so, Pryor is in line to become the No. 1 option in a pass-heavy offense this season.

Kirk Cousins may be his generation’s Alex Smith, as he’s as average as Philadelphia fans are angry. However, the Redskins’ poor defense and questionable running attack could give Pryor the chance to see a lot of targets.

Pryor had 1,007 receiving yards last season with the Cleveland Browns, and that’s as impressive as ESPN ignoring the impulse to tweet about Tim Tebow smacking a double in a low-level minor league game. Pryor was a low end WR2 last season, and his situation this season should allow him to be a solid WR2 again this season.

Martellus Bennett will clown around in Green Bay’s offense

Martellus Bennett signed with the Packers this season, making him the first player to sign with Green Bay during free agency since Bart Starr (that’s called sarcasm, folks). Bennett had a better season last year as a backup in New England than half of the starting tight ends in the NFL. Moving to a pass-heavy offense and playing with a future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers gives Bennett the chance to be a TE1 this season.

Bennett was fifth among tight ends in yards per route run last season at 1.96. This shows he took advantage of his time on the field better than nearly all tight ends. Bennett also dropped just two of his 57 catchable targets last season, which will please Aaron Rodgers (that’s a slight against Davante Adams, folks).

Bennett won’t have to battle anyone on the roster for snaps at tight end, so he has the upside to be a top tight end this season. He’s been drafted as a low end TE1 right now, but if you can get greedy and take him as a TE2, you’ll have a good problem on your hands midseason.

 

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more great sports and esports coverage. You should also follow Tim, as he’s gotten over 100 likes on a grand total of three different tweets, and sometimes offers lukewarm takes on things that don’t matter.

NFL Fantasy Studs Sporting New Colors

2017 fantasy football running back rankings: 20-11

This list of running backs fall in the low end RB1 category and the solid RB2 category. These are some of the running backs that can make your season if they breakout and make their way into the top ten. Here you go, the 2017 fantasy football running back rankings: 20-11.

20. Ty Montgomery (Green Bay Packers): Montgomery switched from wide receiver to running back last season and found immediate success. Averaging 5.9 yards per carry, he also rushed for 457 yards. He is kind of like a Swiss army knife for the Packers because of how they still use him in the receiving game. Montgomery had 348 receiving yards last year while playing at both running back and receiver. Expect a bigger workload and continued success for Montgomery and the Packers this year.

19. Spencer Ware (Kansas City Chiefs): After the departure of Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware has the chance to lock up the number one running back position for the Kansas City Chiefs. Ware started last year after Charles went down with another knee injury, and he succeeded. He had at least 16 fantasy points in four games last season and had at least seven points in 11 games. Ware also averaged 2.9 yards after contact, which was good enough for seventh-best in the league last season. If he can fend off rookie Kareem Hunt, he’ll be a solid RB2.

2017 fantasy football running back rankings: 20-11

http://www.chiefs.com/assets/images/imported/KC/photos/clubimages/2016/02-February/tempSpencer_Ware_Gallery_011–nfl_mezz_1280_1024.JPG

18. Mark Ingram (New Orleans Saints): I had some trouble placing Mark Ingram on this list. He’s found success in a primarily passing offense, as the Saints passed on 63 percent of their plays last season. Now the Saints added former MVP Adrian Peterson and rookie running back Alvin Kamara.

Ingram will split running duties with Peterson and Kamara will get looks as well. The main reason Ingram is high on this list is because of he is used within the opposing 20-yard line. He scored five of his six touchdowns there and should continue to get the ball in the red zone.

17. Bilal Powell (New York Jets): Powell is in a prime position to be the lead back for the New York Jets this season. He will have to compete with Matt Forte in training camp and the starting spot isn’t guaranteed.

Last season, we saw Powell succeed as the number two running back in New York. He finished as the 23rd-best running back in standard leagues. In four of his last seven outings, he eclipsed 14 fantasy points.

What people don’t know is that he has quietly been the sixth-best running back in terms of receptions over the past two seasons. Powell is a great RB3 and a low end RB2 with tons of upside.

16. Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers): The Stanford product finds himself in a perfect position to succeed immediately in the NFL. Everyone knows he has the skill to be a great player, and he gets to play alongside former MVP Cam Newton.

McCaffrey was an absolute beast at Stanford last year. He had over 1,900 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns. The Panthers are going to use him to “create mismatches” for opposing defenses, and that is entirely possible. McCaffrey will line up out of the backfield or the slot and will get a lot of touches this season making him a good RB2 and an even better flex.

2017 fantasy football running back rankings: 20-11

(Courtesy of stanforddaily.com)

15. Lamar Miller (Houston Texans): Lamar Miller was a fantasy disappointment last year, plain and simple. He didn’t handle his increased workload as well as everyone hoped he would. His yards per attempt decreased from 4.5 to 4.0 from 2015 to 2016.

His work as a receiver wasn’t anything to brag about either. He had 16 less receptions and almost 200 less yards than the previous season. With the addition of Deshaun Watson, those numbers should be better in 2017.

The key to Miller’s success will be his offensive line. Ranked 29th in the NFL last season, if that group steps up, then Miller could be a top ten running back.

14. Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville Jaguars): Former No. 1 recruit and All-American, Leonard Fournette is ready to make his mark on the NFL. Standing at 6-feet 240 pounds, Fournette is an absolute beast and his college film can back that up. Being this big, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t eclipse double digit touchdowns and get plenty of work in the red zone.

The Jaguars all but said they were going to commit to a power run scheme by drafting Fournette in the first and left tackle Cam Robinson in the second. Fournette would crack the top ten if it wasn’t for Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon being right behind him.

13. Carlos Hyde (San Francisco 49ers): Carlos Hyde has the ability to be a 1,000-yard rusher in the NFL. That’s if he can stay healthy. He hasn’t played a full season since he entered the league in 2014, but when he plays he is effective. He ranked seventh in the NFL with 414 yards after contact and averaged 31.8 yards after contact per game. Recent reports have told us that he is looking slow and indecisive, so if you draft him make sure you handcuff Tim Hightower.

2017 fantasy football running back rankings: 20-11

http://media.cleveland.com/browns_impact/photo/isaiah-crowell-a69df631dd19e806.jpg

12. Isaiah Crowell (Cleveland Browns): Talk about a breakout year, Isaiah Crowell came into his own last season after rushing for 952 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Cleveland did a good job in the offseason of bolstering its offensive line, so expect those numbers to increase.

Two things that should be noted surrounding Crowell is the amount of garbage time running he gets and his goal line carries. Crowell had 591 of his yards when the Browns were trailing, which was most of the season. He is a good player when the Browns are losing but doesn’t get as many opportunities when they are ahead. Crowell is also wildly ineffective when in the redzone, averaging 1.6 yards per carry. Draft Crowell as a low RB1 and a good RB2.

11. Marshawn Lynch (Oakland Raiders): Beast Mode is back. Marshawn Lynch made the decision to come out of retirement this offseason and he is now a member of the Oakland Raiders and their high-powered offense. In 2014, Lynch had 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns and looked like he could play another ten years in the league. It wasn’t until the next season when Lynch hit the injury bug and people saw he was in fact human.

The Raiders had the sixth-best rushing attack last offseason and have the offensive line to help Lynch succeed this season. Their offensive line is currently ranked fourth in the NFL. With Jalen Richard and Deandre Washington also in the mix, Lynch should have ample rest opportunities and should be fresh the whole season. It wouldn’t be a stretch to expect another 1,000-yard season and ten touchdowns for Marshawn Lynch.

 

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles written by other great TGH writers along with Cameron!

“From our Haus to Yours”

 

2017 fantasy football running back rankings: 30-21