Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

Fantasy football bold predictions: NFC West

The preseason is here and so is fantasy football. We have seen endless articles making bold predictions on players, numbers and who are sleepers. This article and many coming are my 2017 fantasy football bold predictions starting with the the NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer will Bounce Back in 2017

Headlined as a fantasy sleeper, Carson Palmer is a QB20 and picked towards the end of drafts.

Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

Carson Palmer (Photo by: si.com)

In 2015, Palmer had one of the best seasons of his career. He finished in the top-five among quarterbacks in 2015 with 35 touchdowns and 4,600-plus yard season. He had receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, and the emergence of John Brown and Michael Floyd really helped Palmer.

But 2016 was the opposite. Even though he was 36 that season, the departure of Michael Floyd and the recurring illnesses of John Brown were not helpful. Besides that, Palmer hit a wall with efficiency.

His 8.7 yards per attempt in 2015 dropped down to 7.1. Another big part of the struggle was the breakout of David Johnson. But Palmer did have a good end of the season with at least 20 fantasy points in a standard leagues in six of his final nine games, and no outing with fewer than 17 points.

But in 2017 Palmer is back and fully focused. Brown is finally healthy and the emergence of J.J. Nelson to complement Larry Fitzgerald and with David Johnson in the backfield should help Palmer have a season like 2015.

Los Angeles Rams: Sammy Watkins will play a full season, but will not have over five touchdowns

Sammy Watkins was traded to the Los Angeles Rams on Aug. 11. There’s no worse situation to be in than the Rams. He is ranked as the 21st wide receiver and selected around the fourth to fifth round.

Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

Sammy Watkins (Photo by: dailynews.com)

Watkins has missed 11 games over his last two seasons including eight in 2016 because of a foot injury that required multiple surgeries. The good news is that he’s healthy now. He should get the time to rest and learn the offense this preseason.

The bad news is now he’s with the LA Rams. Fantasy owners cringe now because of the situation. His quarterback is Jared Goff who was on the lower end of quarterbacks in 2016. Even though a rookie, he completed a miserable 54.5 percent of his passes, had a 5-to-7 TD/INT ratio and averaged 5.3 yards per attempt.

But for Watkins, he has averaged 0.46 touchdowns per game over his career. And while there’s hope for Goff, he has to learn a new offense and that doesn’t look good for either Goff or Watkins. Look for running back Todd Gurley to have a big role in Los Angeles.

Seattle Seahawks: Doug Baldwin will break into the top-five for wide receivers

Doug Baldwin checks in as the WR10 and ranked 29th overall among fantasy players. Baldwin hasn’t received a whole lot of love from a fantasy perspective. Maybe that’s because Seattle isn’t known as a passing team, but they have done better over the past two seasons. Last year, they ranked tied for 18th with 567 pass attempts. This was the first year Russell Wilson has thrown over 500 pass attempts.

Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

Doug Baldwin (Photo by: ftw.usatoday.com)

But back to Baldwin. His target share in the last three years has been steady at 22, 21, and 22 percent respectively. He’s blossomed in his new No. 1 wide receiver role, delivering back-to-back top-10 fantasy finishes in both standard and PPR formats. Baldwin’s eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in consecutive years, and he set a new single-season high of 1,128 yards last year.

His touchdown total however, dipped from 14 in 2015 to seven last year. But 21 touchdowns over the past two seasons is an impressive stat. With guys like Dez Bryant, T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas and Amari Cooper ranked right around Baldwin, his touchdowns over the past two seasons rank best out of all of them.

A key stat for Baldwin is in 2015, 95 percent of Baldwin’s yardage (1,011) and 93 percent of his touchdowns (13) came from the slot, per Next Gen Stats. In 2016, those percentages fell to 59 for yardage (662) and 57 for touchdowns (four). Baldwin proved he could win outside, posting a 78 percent catch rate and 15.36 yards per catch average when lined up out wide.

He has proven to be a top target for Seattle and I expect him to continue his dominance with the run game still in question. His only threat to take targets away is Jimmy Graham but that didn’t stop him in 2016.

San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Hyde will run for over 1,000 yards

Carlos Hyde as of right now is being selected right around the third to fourth round. He is ranked as the 15th running back.

Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

Carlos Hyde (Photo by: sfgate.com)

Hyde has had some problems staying healthy (14 games missed in three seasons). But when he’s on the field he’s one of the better backs in the league. He averaged a career-best 4.6 YPC on 217 carries last season and has ranked among the top 10 in the NFL in YAC each of the past two years.

He has been the best running back on his team in terms of success rate every year he’s been in the league, and just last season, only 10 running backs had more top-24 PPR performances and only 7 had more top-12 ones.

Hyde will be in a new offense in 2017 under Kyle Shanahan. He will fit his offense around the skillset of his personnel. With Cleveland in 2014, the team ran for five more touchdowns than they threw for. With the Atlanta Falcons, we saw Shanahan turn Devonta Freeman into a top fantasy running back in 2015. Granted in a better offense, Shanahan works well with running backs when the offense molds together.

Hyde finished 2016 ranked 18th in fantasy points in only 13 games, posting five top-10 weeks and nine touchdowns. He just missed 1,000 yards by 12 yards. There’s been a lot of hype around the backup Joe Williams. But he has been dominating training camp and Jon Lynch liked the shape Hyde was in as recently as late July.

 

Featured image from calvinayre.com.

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2017 NFC West division preview

2017 NFC West 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. 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 NFC West division preview.

4: San Fransisco 49ers

Last season: 2-14

Strength of Schedule: 20

John Lynch made a statement in the NFL Draft. He knows what he is doing and plans on building a championship defense. The picks of Soloman Thomas and Rueben Foster are prime examples. The problem is that the 49ers need lots of talent to actually be competitive. San Fransisco ranked in the bottom of every defensive category and a few young players aren’t going to turn them into a top NFL defense right away.

2017 NFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: USA Today)

The defense is going to struggle against the run. After ranking 32nd last season, the only way to go is up but again, two rookies aren’t going to take them from 32nd to the top of the mountain.

As teams run all over the 49ers, the defense will get worn out and teams will be able to pass against them as well. With a bottom third defense, it will be difficult for San Fransisco to win games.

Offensively, the 49ers will struggle because of a bad offensive line. Pro Football Focus is predicting the 49ers to have the 27th ranked line in the NFL. This will mean tough sledding for running back Carlos Hyde. Brian Hoyer has been given the reigns at quarterback but is barely an average quarterback.

Hoyer also has no real threat to throw the ball to outside of Pierre Garcon. Teams can load the box to stop the run and will not have to worry about getting burned by the pass. The predictability of the offense will make it hard for them to win games. The 49ers are clearly heading in the right direction but will not show it with wins this season.

Prediction: 2-14 (0-6), miss the playoffs

3: Arizona Cardinals

Last season: 7-8-1

Strength of Schedule: 23

Carson Palmer showed signs of decline last season at age 37. He went from 35 touchdowns down to 26. Palmer also threw more interceptions as his total increased from 11 interceptions in 2015 to 14 last season. Father Time is undefeated and this season Palmer will feel the effects even more.

2017 NFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The rest of the offense is pretty solid. David Johnson is one of the top three running backs in the NFL and will be the workhorse. It won’t be far-fetched to say Johnson will have 1,000 yards both on the ground and through the air.

Larry Fitzgerald is back for his 14th season to lead the Cardinals’ receiving corp. Outside of Fitzgerald, there is a lot of inconsistency with the receivers.

Arizona has had a very good defense for the last couple of seasons but there are a few unknowns this year. Losing Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson really hurt.

There is still plenty of talent but the key pieces of Campbell and Jefferson may prove too big of losses. If they can’t replace these players the defense will regress. The Cardinals will also have a rookie linebacker, Haason Reddick, starting at inside linebacker.

Special teams were a weak link for the Cardinals last season. They must improve in all facets in order to win more games but there isn’t much to look at yet in the preseason to determine whether or not this has improved.

Facing Arizona is going to be a tough game for any opponent but for now, because of an old quarterback and restructured defense, the Cardinals are going to be a team that hovers around .500.

Prediction: 7-9 (3-3), miss the playoffs

2: Los Angeles Rams

Last season: 4-12

Strength of Schedule: 17

Adding Wade Phillips as a defensive coordinator is going to make all the difference for the Rams this season. The Rams’ defense was much better than some of their rankings due to an offense that was rather pedestrian. Los Angeles gave up the ninth fewest yards in the NFL last season at just 337 yards per game.

2017 NFL West division preview

(Photo Credit: https://px1sports.com)

Wade Phillips has had plenty of success as a defensive coordinator and most recently with the Denver Broncos. With players like Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Conner Barwin and Aarond Donald (still in the midst of a holdout), Phillips will be able to create massive amounts of pressure on the quarterback.

Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron are pretty solid linebackers who can fly around the field to make tackles.

Trumaine Johnson is one of the best corners in the league and safety Lamarcus Joyner is an up and coming star as well. The secondary has all the makings to round out this defense and turn it into a top five unit.

Now, everyone knows how talented this defense is but the Rams will only go as far as the offense can take them. Los Angeles ranked near the bottom of every offensive category last season. To upgrade the offense, the Rams signed Andrew Whitworth to replace Greg Robinson. This is a colossal improvement at left tackle, which will really help out Jared Goff and the running game.

Speaking of the running game, Todd Gurley is on a mission to prove that last season’s down year was just a fluke. The Rams will need to run the ball well in order to be successful because it takes pressure off of Goff.

The passing game already featured dangerous weapon Tavon Austin but there were a couple more moves made to give Goff plenty of firepower in the passing game. Los Angeles drafted Cooper Kupp, signed Robert Woods and most recently, traded for stud receiver Sammy Watkins. There is no excuse for Goff to play poorly with an improved offensive line, a workhorse running back and a receiving corp filled with speed and playmakers.

With the additions made on offense, a new defensive coordinator that can turn this defense into elite and a fairly easy schedule, the Rams will be in contention for a playoff spot this season.

Prediction: 9-7 (4-2), wildcard candidate

1: Seattle Seahawks

Last season: 10-5-1

Strength of Schedule: 25

The Seahawks have one of the easiest schedules heading into the season. They might need it with the worst rated line in the NFL. Despite having such a bad offensive line, the Seahawks made the playoffs. They were unable to progress deep into the playoffs though. The offense has to improve in order for the Seahawks to become Super Bowl contenders once again.

2017 NFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: https://wallpapersafari.com)

Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy are going to attempt to bring a great running game back to Seattle. Russell Wilson is good but the identity and key to success have been being able to run the ball. If the Seahawks do so successfully, they will be one of the most feared teams in the NFL.

Jimmy Graham is still an unstoppable red zone threat. The chemistry between Graham and Wilson has seemed to improve the more they have played together and it will lead to a big year for Graham.

The other receiving threats, Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson, provide different playmaking abilities that compliment each other well. Baldwin is a quick receiver who can make plays both vertically or by turning a short completion into a long gain. Richardson can make spectacular catches on the outside as a deep threat.

Russell Wilson is the engine to this offense and he doesn’t get enough credit. Without him, this team wouldn’t make the playoffs. He makes good decisions on when to run and rarely turns the ball over. As long as the Seahawks have a viable running game, Wilson will have another Pro-Bowl caliber season.

The heart and soul of this team is the Legion of Boom. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are back to lead this defense to a top three ranking. With these three men patrolling in the secondary, teams will earn everything they get through the air because nothing comes easy against them.

The linebackers are solid as well and are headlined by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Up front, the Seahawks have head hunters. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were the only pair of defensive ends to make the Pro-Bowl. They get constant pressure on opposing offenses making it easier for the rest of the unit to play balls to the wall.

Due to the consistency of this defense over the past five seasons, it is safe to assume the Seahawks have a top three to five defense. Pair that with an offense that will have an improved running game and Pro-Bowl quarterback means the Seahawks will win the division and be one of the best teams in the NFL.

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

 

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Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews fantasy value following trade

The Buffalo Bills had a busy Friday after trading their star wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines and picks. They quickly found their replacement, trading for receiver Jordan Matthews from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for cornerback Ronald Darby. After these trades, how will Watkins and Matthews fantasy values change with their new teams?

Sammy Watkins to the Rams

The Rams finally get their No.1 wide receiver they have been searching for. While this trade helps the Rams in getting a top target, it may not help Watkins’ fantasy value.

Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews Fantasy Value After Trade

Sammy Watkins (Photo by: billswire.usatoday.com)

He goes from catching passes from Tyrod Taylor, an excellent deep-ball thrower, to catching passes from Jared Goff.

While Goff was a rookie last year, he really struggled in the seven games he played. Last year, he completed a miserable 54.5 percent of his passes, had a 5-to-7 TD/INT ratio and averaged 5.3 yards per attempt. Now he is learning a new offense under Sean McVay.

But for fantasy players, they can’t ignore the talent that Watkins has. He has per-16 game averages of 66 receptions, 1,063 yards and seven touchdowns. He can create separation in the middle of the field, but he’s also a truly dangerous deep threat, as evidenced by his career average of 16.1 yards per catch.

Watkins has true talent, but his career has been plagued with injuries. Watkins has missed 11 games over his last two seasons including eight in 2016 because of a foot injury that required multiple surgeries. But this year he is finally healthy.

As mentioned before, he will be the clear first option for the Rams and for that he won’t drop to far in drafts because of his role. But when you combine his injury concerns, with the fact that he’ll be playing with an inexperienced starting quarterback along with a new offense, there is major risk mixed in with that upside.

Watkins becomes a high-end WR3 around the fourth or fifth round rather than a mid-range WR2 in Buffalo.

Jordan Matthews to the Bills

After trading Watkins, the Bills found their replacement in Jordan Matthews from Philadelphia. Matthews would’ve been the second to third option in the slot in Philadelphia, but here in Buffalo he will line up both in slot and the outside as the new No. 1 receiver. This trade should increase his fantasy value.

As mentioned in Philly, he would have seen a decrease in targets. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith were both brought in during the offseason, Zach Ertz is a steady target at tight end, Nelson Agholor is still hanging on a thread and rookie Mack Hollins looks like a legitimate talent.

Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews Fantasy Value After Trade

Jordan Matthews (Photo by: phillysportsnetwork.com)

Even though Buffalo isn’t a pass-heavy offense, Matthews should find increased targets. He will be lining up with veteran Anquan Boldin and rookie Zay Jones who are both slot receivers.

From 2014-16, these are the percentages of routes from the slot: Jones at 68.1 percent at East Carolina, Boldin at 70.4 percent and Matthews at 84.5 percent. Matthews will have a great opportunity to get the ball from Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is an emerging talent at quarterback totaling 37 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 7.4 yards per attempt over the last two years.

One problem that comes with any trade is how quick he can learn the offense. Like Watkins with the Rams, Matthews is in a new offense and where will he be lined up in the offense. I think he will be all over, especially with the receivers they have in Buffalo.

There is a lot of potential for Matthews. He is an interesting sleeper that will be taken around the eighth or ninth round. He will have a better situation from a fantasy perspective.

Who will do better in 2017?

Watkins is a young talent who was taken with the fourth pick back in 2014. Matthews is entering the prime of his career. With a better situation, Matthews will have the better fantasy season.

Watkins will have his moments, but an inexperienced quarterback and a very new offense for the young quarterback will cause problems. Where Watkins has thrived is catching passes over 20-yards. Goff isn’t known as a terrific deep-ball thrower. Goff completed 8/23 passes which traveled 15+ in the air last season, out of 205 attempts.

Matthews has the same issue with a new offense, but has an established quarterback with experience. This is a player who has per-16 game averages of 78 receptions, 930 yards and seven touchdowns through three seasons. Matthews has had at least 800 receiving yards in all three seasons, and he scored eight touchdowns in his first two campaigns and I expect him now to repeat this in Buffalo.

 

Featured image from wday.com

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Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

The quarterback position is the most iconic position in all of sports. Football fans watch and discuss the position as if it was a soap opera on ABC. If your team has a franchise quarterback then you know you have a shot at the playoffs. If your team doesn’t then you are constantly searching for that guy. Not finding a franchise quarterback will put a team in a situation similar to that of the Browns or Jaguars.

Why does this matter? Just the other day a father and son were simply talking football like many do. One topic that came up was could the Jaguars sign Johnny Manziel as a backup plan to Blake Bortles. Bortles struggled mightily last season and if he regresses again, Jacksonville will more than likely look for a new candidate as the franchise quarterback. The topic of conversation then evolved to who and where could either Manziel or Kaepernick end up this season. Here are some possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick, the two controversial quarterbacks.

Johnny Manziel

The quarterback known as Johnny Football has had an infamous journey thus far. Recently Jon Machota of Dallas News tweeted a quote from Manziel that said, “I know the situation I put myself in. I know the year I took off and obviously the mistakes that I made. Right now, I’m hopeful. I think that I made some progress in that regard. But we’ll see. Whenever I get a call, I’ll do what I can to make the most of it.”

Reports have come out that Manziel is fighting hard to make a return to the NFL. He is still only 24 years old and if he is given the chance, can prove that he can still lead a franchise, so what teams are even a possibility?

Jacksonville

Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

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

This whole idea started because of the question if the Jags could or should sign Johnny Manziel. Blake Bortles has gone 11-34 in his first three seasons in the NFL. He also struggles with protecting the football and hasn’t had a season with less than 16 interceptions yet. This season is truly a make or break season for Bortles who will have a workhorse at running back, Leonard Fournette. The Jags also have a very talented defense that can succeed if the offense isn’t putting them in bad situations routinely.

This opportunity would allow Manziel to serve as the backup, which is the first step he will have to take in order to get back into the NFL. Depending on how things play out in Jacksonville, he may get a shot to take over a struggling Bortles. With the pieces in place, Manziel would have little to no pressure thus improving his chances of becoming the franchise quarterback they are looking for.

New Orleans

Back in March, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton met with Johnny Manziel for breakfast. Payton was rather coy on why they met but did say he was a fan of the talent Manziel possessed. The Saints are only a possibility because of Drew Brees age. He hasn’t shown signs of regression but quarterbacks don’t get better at 38. Even if he plays for two years, he could be an amazing mentor to Johnny Football.

Another reason this could work is that they are practically the same size. The knock on both Brees and Manziel coming out of college was their height. Both are six foot tall and around 208 pounds. Brees has proven, at his size, that even short quarterbacks can throw for 5,000 yards and win a Super Bowl.

Considering how respected of a quarterback and a person Brees is, he could really be the perfect role model for Manziel as Brees’ career comes to an end. Sean Payton would have his quarterback in waiting and the Saints could be set for the next ten years.

New York Giants

The big apple could be dangerous, yet the perfect destination for Johnny Football. Eli Manning is 36 and although hasn’t hinted at retirement, he could be done with football soon. Similar to the situation in New Orleans, Manziel could come in and sit behind Manning for two to three years. The Giants have a good defense and great receiving weapons on offense. Sitting behind Manning could allow Manziel to come in at the right time to be the man in the city so nice they named it twice. This isn’t insider information, just speculation but could you imagine the media frenzy if Manziel went to the Giants?

Colin Kaepernick

Pittsburgh

Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

(Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Ben Roethlisberger has already struggled with the idea of retirement but decided to come back this season. If the season is long and tough on Big Ben then it is very likely this is his last season. Pittsburgh will need a new man under center. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell could carry the offense and let Colin Kaepernick manage the game. Kap has experience going deep in the playoffs and can jump straight into the fire with the Steelers. Mike Tomlin could be the coach to take that shot on Kaepernick.

Baltimore

This won’t make much sense at first glance because Joe Flacco doesn’t seem likely to be going anywhere soon. But every team needs a backup and what better place for Kaepernick than to join the team whose head coach is the brother of the coach you had the most success with? Colin Kaepernick may not want to be a backup but at this point, he must take what he can get. John Harbaugh faced Kaepernick in the Super Bowl and knows what he is capable of. It may not be what Kap wants but needs instead.

Jacksonville

Every reason on why Johnny Manziel could play for the Jaguars is why Colin Kaepernick could as well. Last season Bortles threw a touchdown on 3.7 percent and interceptions on 2.6 percent of his throws. That was horrible compared to Kaepernick who threw touchdowns on 4.8 percent and interceptions on 1.2 percent of his throws. Kaepernick would be an improvement over Bortles. If Bortles continues to struggle not only will Manziel be an option but Kaepernick would be the best option.

Other

Both teams in Los Angeles are a possibility. Jared Goff could prove to be a bust for the Rams and if they don’t want to keep trying to find a franchise quarterback through the draft then Manziel or Kaepernick could be worth a shot. The Chargers are a young team with lots of talent aside from Philip Rivers. Rivers is 35 years of age and is coming off of one of his worst seasons as a pro. If he duplicates last years performance, the Chargers may decide to move on.

The Cardinals are another team with an aging quarterback. Arizona also has an offensive minded genius at head coach. Manziel or Kaepernick could be the replacement for Carson Palmer.

Three other teams, the New York Jets, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins may also be looking for a quarterback after this season ends and it is possible one of these teams throw either of these guys an opportunity.

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Dak Prescott

NFL quarterbacks under the most pressure in 2017

In recent years, it has become increasingly obvious that quarterback is the most important position in NFL football. While the goal of leading the team to wins is the same for all 32 starters in the league, the circumstances and context under which they play are all very different. Here are some NFL quarterbacks under pressure to produce heading into the 2017 season.

Andy Dalton– Dalton’s impact on the Bengals franchise has been largely positive. Last year, he and the Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in Dalton’s still relatively young career. He has thrown almost twice as many touchdowns as interceptions.

However, the reality is until he delivers this franchise a long-awaited playoff win, he will show up on any list like this. There is one additional detail that complicates Dalton’s situation for the upcoming season. Backup quarterback A.J. McCarron’s contract situation is murky, but he may be available via free agency after the 2017 season.

NFL quarterbacks under pressure

Photo: cincyjungle.com

The former Alabama signal caller has proven to be very capable when filling in for Dalton. He got closer than Dalton ever did to a playoff win two years ago against the Steelers. Several quarterback-needy teams would be interested should he become available.

As a native Cincinnatian, I can tell you that the Bengals’ resistance to making coach and player changes is the subject of a lot of comedy around town.

Even so, should Dalton and the team struggle again like they did last year, the threat of McCarron leaving may force Cincinnati into choosing one of the two quarterbacks. If Cincinnati gets off to a rough start, the coaching staff taking an extended look at McCarron as the starter is not unrealistic.

Jared Goff- You can pick whatever metric you want. The fact is Goff was flat-out atrocious when finally given the chance to start during his rookie season. While it is very true he did not have much talent around him, a completion percentage of under 55 and more interceptions than touchdowns speaks for itself.

NFL quarterbacks under pressure

Photo: turfshowtimes.com

In some cases, those numbers for a rookie quarterback on a bad team might not be too worrisome. However, virtually the entire front office and coaching regime that traded up to pick Goff first overall has been fired.

The new management has no attachment to Goff and is well aware that the Rams must show significant improvement in their second year back in Los Angeles. The franchise is struggling to become relevant again in the crowded Los Angeles sports scene.

With Wade Phillips now coordinating what was already a playoff-caliber defense, Goff must step up to the plate and at least be a serviceable quarterback this year.

Life is not always fair in the NFL. If Goff does not improve dramatically this year, he is likely headed down the path of guys like David Carr and JaMarcus Russell.

Goff still does not have much to work with on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Todd Gurley was neutralized last year because the Rams had no passing offense to speak of. The addition of young offensive guru Sean McVay as head coach is a wildcard. It will be up to him to turn this offense into something that looks like it belongs on an NFL field. It all starts and ends with Goff, one way or the other.

Cam Newton– Is he the MVP that ran rough shot over the league until running into the 2015 Broncos in Super Bowl 50? Or is he the inaccurate turnover machine that became a bit of a problem child late last season? 2017 is a big swing year for Cam Newton.

NFL quarterbacks under pressure

Photo: charlottestories.com

It should be noted that Newton had surgery to repair a partial rotator cuff tear following last season. Only he knows how much that affected him, but it certainly could not have helped matters.

The versatility of rookie running back Christian McCaffrey should be a big help to the charismatic signal caller. Improvement in the secondary will also be key to the Panthers ability to bounce back from last year’s hugely disappointing six-win campaign.

Much like every other quarterback on this list though, Newton will get all the credit or all blame. That is just the way it works in the NFL today.

Dak Prescott– Prescott was the inspiration for this article. The pressure on him for 2017 almost cannot be put into words. He is now the unquestioned starter for one of the most recognizable franchises in sports. His spectacular rookie season is perhaps the single biggest reason why borderline Hall of Famer Tony Romo is now a broadcaster.

We know the Ezekiel Elliott led running game and offensive line are fantastic, but Prescott in year two is a massive question mark. From Robert Griffin III to the option and wildcat offenses, we have seen so many things set the league on fire one year only to fade away the next. The defensive coaches in this league usually adapt over time.

Only time will tell if Prescott is different. For me, it is the most fascinating story of the upcoming season. There are two other factors to keep in mind for Prescott and the Cowboys. First, because of winning the division they will play a much tougher schedule than last year. Also, even in a year where he could seemingly do no wrong, Prescott was unable to get the Cowboys any closer to a Super Bowl than Romo ever did.

 

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Quarterback rankings for the 2017 fantasy football season: 32-21

In the NFL today, quarterbacks are easily the most important position on the field. With an elite quarterback, winning comes easily (just look at the Patriots). But in fantasy, the demand for the position just isn’t what it used to be. Today, we’ll take a look at my 2017 fantasy football quarterback rankings, starting with numbers 32-21.

These quarterback rankings are unlike the others you’ll find. They are based on a variety of things: athletic ability, arm accuracy, arm strength, strength of receivers and strength of offensive line.

Here’s the start to my early quarterback rankings for the 2017 fantasy football season.

32. Josh McCown (New York Jets)

What happened to the Josh McCown we saw four years ago? In 2013, McCown threw for 13 touchdowns and one interception with the Chicago Bears. Do I think that he still has the ability to put up decent numbers in the NFL? Yes, just not with the broken, receiver-less Jets.

31. Cody Kessler (Cleveland Browns)

I have hope for Cody Kessler or any starting quarterback for the Browns, as they have an improved offensive line and still have some decent weapons on the team. Kessler showed signs of improvement and potential last year, but doesn’t have enough experience to be higher on this list. Plus four fumbles in nine games. I’ll take my chances with a different quarterback in fantasy this year.

30. Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams)

I still believe that Jared Goff has the potential to be something great in the NFL, but is this year his year? I’m gonna have to say no. In an offense centered around young stud Todd Gurley, with minimal receiving help, Goff is just waiting for his time to come. I’m gonna say pass on Goff this year but keep him on your radar for the future.

29. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars)

2017 fantasy football quarterback rankings

(Photo: USA Today)

I was big on Blake Bortles last year, but clearly things didn’t pan out. I know this is pretty low for a guy that finished in the top five for fantasy quarterbacks just two years ago, but I don’t believe what the Jaguars did this offseason is going to help Bortles. They brought in Leonard Fournette which makes me think they’re ready to go run-heavy, especially in the red zone. Be cautious with Bortles this year.

28. Brian Hoyer (San Francisco 49ers)

I like Brian Hoyer this year, just in fantasy football. Under Kyle Shanahan, I actually think Hoyer can make some noise in this league, as he’s got some big targets like Vance McDonald and Pierre Garcon. I just don’t believe that a quarterback leading a team to probably around four wins can do well in fantasy.

27. Mike Glennon (Chicago Bears)

The Bears were a little risky giving Glennon this much money after only a few career starts. With some nice weapons at his disposal, like Jordan Howard, Victor Cruz and Kevin White, I’d suggest keeping Glennon on your radar and picking him up on a top tier quarterback’s bye week depending on the matchup.

26. Trevor Siemian (Denver Broncos)

If I had one word to describe Trevor Siemian, it would probably be mediocre. He’s an average quarterback who will throw for 250 yards, a touchdown and a pick per game, letting the dirty Broncos defense do their work. Draft another quarterback, but consider Siemian on bye weeks due to his copious amounts of targets.

25. Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills)

I don’t really understand the big hype around Tyrod Taylor this year. How will Taylor succeed so well in a run-first system? Coming off his huge year, Lesean McCoy will continue to get a majority of the touches while in the red zone the Bills will use their newly signed fullbacks. I see Tyrod Taylor being nothing special again this year, so keep him off your team.

24. Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)

2017 fantasy football quarterback rankings

(Photo: cincinnativseveryone.com)

Alright, I’ll be the first to say it: Carson Palmer is no longer a top-tier quarterback in the NFL. Going into this season with arguably the best running back in the NFL, Bruce Arians will probably focus on the running game this year. To make a long story short, stay away from Carson Palmer.

23. Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)

I really want to put Watson higher on this list but how can I do that when he has never thrown an NFL pass? With weapons like Lamar Miller, Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller IV, Watson is in the perfect position to succeed. Stash Watson on your team and wait for him to breakout midway through the season.

22. Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals)

I believe Andy Dalton is a good quarterback in the NFL and can be great. This year won’t be his year though. He has two huge targets in A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, but his offensive line took a hit this offseason. Losing two starters is hard to replace and I believe Dalton will feel the pressure this season and it will affect his numbers in a negative way.

21. Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs)

Smith is the go to guy if your quarterback is on his bye week and you want to know you’ll get at least 12 points out of your fill-in. He’s not flashy and he doesn’t make big plays, but he’s safe with the ball and he makes the right decisions. If you want to wait to pick a quarterback late in your draft, Alex Smith is your guy.

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Franchise Analysis – Los Angeles Rams

The 2016 preseason was full of compelling story lines. How would the Patriots deal with Tom Brady’s suspension? Could the Cowboys still compete with Dak Prescott? While they were interesting, neither narrative compared to the return of the Los Angeles Rams. The city and fan base was swirling with excitement and hope about their long lost franchise coming home. Sadly, it wasn’t a story book ending for the Rams this year. Once again, Los Angeles Rams fans have hope approaching the 2017 season with the hiring of Sean McVay. Will it be enough to overcome the many problems that currently plague this franchise?

2016 EVALUATION – OFFENSE

If you watched any Rams game this year, it’s not hard to identify what this team is lacking. Their offensive production in terms of points and yards were both last in the NFL. That’s easy to see, but let’s dive deeper into the Rams offensive woes.

I’m sure you’ve heard coaches and analysts say that you build a team from inside out. They’re right. The best way to build a balanced, productive offense is to have consistent play from the offensive line. While the Rams are not the worst group, they certainly have room to improve. I like to use Pro Football Focus ratings as a means to objectively evaluate players and compare them to others at their position group. Here is a snapshot of the Rams’ line and their ratings.

Each player is graded on a 0-100 scale and is assigned a color based on the range they fall in. For the most part, this is an average offensive line. What absolutely hamstrings this unit’s effectiveness is that their worst player plays the most critical position: left tackle. This season, 73 other players were better than Greg Robinson at tackle. Robinson is a liability in pass protection and struggles as a run blocker, given his 36.1 run-block rating. While his poor play contributed to the offensive struggles, he is by no means the only one to blame.

The Rams wanted to be a run-first team. With Todd Gurley in the backfield, that’s totally understandable. However, when the opposition knows stopping Gurley means beating the Rams, the burden is placed on the passing game. In this particular instance, the blame falls on the offensive staff, but more on that later.

2016 EVALUATION – DEFENSE

Conversely, the Los Angeles Rams have proved that they can draft and develop defensive players. Their end of the year rankings are somewhat deceiving. The Rams finished 23rd in terms of points allowed and ninth in yards allowed. Their ranking as the 23rd best scoring defense is misleading. This defense had to deal with constantly being on the field, below average field position, and their own offense scoring points for the other team via turnovers.

Robert Quinn had yet another injury filled season. The former Pro-Bowler will play a key role in making the Rams’ defensive line among the best in the NFL again (Courtesy; NFL.com).

On strictly a personnel basis, this defense is built to dominate the line of scrimmage. With All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald alongside quality defenders like Michael Brockers, William Hayes, and Robert Quinn, this team will be getting after the quarterback for years to come. Sadly, Robert Quinn was sidelined for four games this season and played on a limited basis after week six.

Other notable defensive players include: Alec Ogletree, who had a productive year bouncing back from injury, Trumaine Johnson, and Maurice Alexander. As a whole, what is keeping this defense from ascending into the top-five or top-three realm is their offense. If this defense can just stay healthy and possibly upgrade their second corner position, they will easily be among the top 12 in major statistical categories.

 

 

DIVISIONAL ANALYSIS

The NFC West was once considered the best division in football, but with the flailing 49ers, struggling Rams, and regressed Cardinals, it is anything but the best. So what do the Rams need to challenge Seattle for the division crown?

Sean McVay will have his hands full as he will be tasked with turning the Los Angeles Rams around in 2017 (Courtesy of; Czabe.com).

First and foremost, they need a competent offensive coaching staff. The new hire of Sean McVay is a step in the right direction. Yes, by now everyone knows he’s the youngest coach in NFL history. However, do not automatically assume that inexperienced equals incompetence. McVay has clearly impressed enough people in the NFL just to warrant an interview at his age. McVay’s biggest challenge will be winning over the veteran players. Not to mention, he won’t be coaching Kirk Cousins, Jordan Reed, or DeSean Jackson. Hopefully McVay isn’t afraid to let coaches who are currently on the staff go. In order for this to work, he has to have an entire staff that truly believes in him as well as his system.

Second, the Rams need to address the left tackle position. Yes, I know they need a quarterback, but with no first or third-round pick in 2017 and the history of free agents at that position failing, it’s not happening this year. It’s also unfair to say absolutely that Goff isn’t capable of playing well after not even playing a full season. Greg Robinson just simply hasn’t worked. Robinson has never played like the second overall pick in the draft and the Rams need to actively search for someone else. When you have to face Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Calais Campbell, Markus Golden, and the emerging DeForest Buckner twice a year, you need a reliable left tackle.

Outside of addressing depth on the defense, the third biggest need of this team is a receiving tight end. Here me out. The Cardinals and the Seahawks have elite talent at cornerback. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, despite their greatness, are still susceptible to getting beat in man to man coverage. Therefore, the best way to attack these defenses is 10-20 yards down the middle of the defense.

Now let’s shift our attention to McVay, who had Jordan Reed when he was in Washington. Reed provided Cousins with a red zone threat, a safety outlet against pressure, and he drew coverage away from Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Finally, let’s look at Philadelphia. Carson Wentz has a similar situation to Goff as far as offensive weapons. He has very little outside of Jordan Matthews, but he has Zach Ertz. Having a tight end that was able to work the middle of the field allowed Wentz to move the ball without great playmakers on offense. Both Goff and McVay could benefit tremendously if they can acquire a receiving tight end for the 2017 season.

PostSeason Prospects

When it comes to predicting postseason success, some metrics are more important than others. Here are the following offensive and defensive statistics that best determine postseason viability and where the Rams stack up.

Clearly there’s room to improve. I do think Sean McVay will have an immediate impact on these different metrics given his offensive background. I also think that Jared Goff will inevitably be better than he was this year. The important point is, the Rams don’t have to be top five or top 10 in these categories to have success. They just can’t be meddling at the bottom of the league. All of the current playoff teams are top 15 or better in at least two of these offensive categories.

As stated earlier, Los Angeles is tremendously talented on defense. We talked earlier about how the terrible offense is contributing to below average defensive rankings. For example, it’s hard for the Rams to record sacks when they are losing by two possessions in the third and fourth quarter, as the opposition is looking to run the clock. This same logic can be applied to points allowed and turnovers. In the two categories that the defense alone controls, they are top 10.

Overall, the offense has to make significant strides this offseason in order for the Rams to have a chance to compete in the postseason.

2017 Predictions

The future of the Los Angeles Rams is bright and hopeful, but not the immediate future. Last year’s acquisition of the number one pick from the Tennessee Titans leaves the Rams without a first or third-round pick this year. I don’t see them being able to acquire many impact players through the draft. It’s logical to think they will want to address depth on both sides of the ball. This way, they aren’t relying on late-round picks to start.

It’s also hard to predict how active the Rams will be in free agency given the new head coach. The Rams will be better next year, but not by much. They won’t be able to get impact players like Cam Robinson, Mike McGlinchey, or O.J. Howard to immediately boost the talent level on offense. I think the Rams will finish 5-12 in 2017, tied with the 49ers, but will lose the divisional tiebreaker. Los Angeles just doesn’t have enough resources available to catapult them from a four win team to a nine win team.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

It’s on the Haus: Chargers Logo Sucks, Rams Hire Coaches, Carmelo Anthony Airball

It’s on the Haus is a daily installment of sports and esports news from the past day. Rather than waiting an entire hour to see the big news on a television program, or going to multiple stories on multiple websites to get your sports fix, It’s on the Haus gives you the biggest sports and esports happenings, all in one place. You may feel guilty for reading this concise article that gives you everything you need to know, but don’t worry, It’s on the Haus.

Wut U Doing, Chargers?

Chargers los angeles rams coaches carmelo anthony airball

Ugh. (Photo: chargers.com)

The Chargers franchise that has lived in San Diego for 55 years is moving to glamorous Hollywood. The decision is ill-received by those who live in or around San Diego, and rightfully so.

The Chargers franchise sucks. They wasted Philip Rivers’ prime that included Ladainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman, Antonio Gates, and others. Now they move to a city that doesn’t need nor want them.

To make matters worse, the logo the Chargers created is terrible. It appears the franchise spent 99% of its available funds on relocating, and the other $14 on its graphic design team. The image is awfully bland, and it looks like the logo just combined the Dodgers’ logo with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s logo.

There’s a lot of unhappy fans, whether they be fans of the franchise or not. I understand the hate. I would be crushed if one of my favorite teams relocated, and it’d be worse if they gained a putrid new brand in the process.

Rams Hire Everyone

The Los Angeles Rams are handing out coaching jobs like Oprah hands out free gifts. The team made Sean McVay the youngest head coach of all time (30), and hired former Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to the same position.

Good for McVay for being ambitious, but I don’t see why anyone would take the dang job. The Rams don’t have a first or third-round pick for the 2017 NFL Draft. They also traded away the kitchen sink for Jared Goff, and he’s been about as impressive as one-ply toilet paper.

And Wade Philips, what the heifer are you doing? Philips is more crazy than McVay in this situation. The Broncos are a quarterback away from being real contenders again. So Philips moves to one of the worst franchises in the sport for the same position? Whatever old guy. Do you then.

Melo Does Bad, Gets Booed

Hot take: If you’re going to pay a man millions of dollars to throw a sphere into a circle, you should at least come close to doing so. Carmelo Anthony disagrees, as you can see in this technologically sound looping video below.

Look, “Melo”, don’t smile about sucking. Sucking isn’t funny, it’s actually bad. The Knicks have sucked for a while, and chuckling about your fans’ displeasure is cruel. Going iso and throwing up an airball is an atrocity, and if laughing is Anthony’s way of dealing with the pain, so be it. But it’s still not okay to do it.

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LA Blues: The Sad State of the Rams and How to Fix It

The Rams put everyone involved out of their misery by firing Jeff Fisher earlier this week. A blowout loss to Atlanta at home sealed his fate. Believe it or not, Fisher was a really good coach in this league at one time. However, a 31-45-1 record in almost 5 full seasons in St. Louis/Los Angeles speaks for itself. That time is no longer now. His dismissal creates one of the most unique head-coaching openings in NFL history.

 

The Rams return to the crowded LA sports market has gotten off to a disastrous start. This is a city that has lost its fair share of NFL franchises in the past, but has never lacked big-time sports. Right now LA has the exciting and fun Clippers, the young and rebuilding Lakers, a resurgent USC football program and the star filled Dodgers and Angels. At best, the Rams are the sixth most relevant sports story in their own city, and the second most relevant in their own stadium. USC is infinitely more competitive in college football than the Rams are in the NFL at the moment. Forget the NFL as a whole, the Rams are irrelevant in their own city. That is a battle no other franchise has to fight.

 

There are a few other issues working against the Rams right now. All of which are their own doing. Rams ownership seems more concerned about building a new stadium and finding a second team to join them in LA than they do about the current state of the franchise. Also, the Rams sit at 4-9 with the worst offense in the league, averaging just 12 points a game. Rookie quarterback Jared Goff is quickly headed down the path of David Carr (not Derek) if they do not surround him with better talent quickly. Their drafts on offense have turned out to be comically bad in recent years. Following Sunday’s loss running back Todd Gurley said the Rams “look like a middle school offense.” Honestly, that is insulting to middle school offenses everywhere. Gurley is the one offensive draft pick the Rams have gotten right in recent years, even he has faded into obscurity in 2016. On Sunday, Atlanta’s defense scored as many points as the Los Angeles offense. That is not even taking into account the Rams botching the opening kickoff and setting up Atlanta at the LA 3 yard line. It was the kind of performance that leaves an organization no choice but to make changes immediately, even though Fisher had inexplicably just been given a contract extension. After the season, the rest of the current staff is probably gone as well.

 

Despite the many challenges facing whoever takes over the head-coaching gig in Los Angeles on a full-time basis, it is not all bad. It is LA after all. The fact that the Rams have somehow accumulated four wins speaks to how good the defense is and can be. Even so, the Rams cannot give this job to whoever the hot coordinator candidate winds up being. That is doomed to fail. There is too much going on with this franchise for it to be anyone’s first NFL head coaching job. One name already being floated around is Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. While McDaniels seems to have grown up a lot since failing miserably as a head coach in Denver, the Rams need someone with both star power and substance. McDaniels does not check either box.

 

This narrows the list considerably. Names like Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll would certainly fit the bill, but both have said they are not interested. Additionally, I will eat my own left arm if either one of them leaves their current gig for such a massive undertaking like rebuilding the Rams in Los Angeles. There are two names that have been rumored that would be slam dunk hires. In fact, they may be the only realistic candidates that could be successful in such a chaotic environment. They are Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden.

 

It is not known if either one of them are on the Rams list. Everything that is out there right now is speculation. I know there are going to be some eye rolls at Shanahan’s name, but there should not be. Yes, his time with the Redskins was largely a failure , but dig deeper. He has been the only coach to get a good year out of Robert Griffin III. Griffin was rookie of the year and led the Redskins to the playoffs in 2012. No other coaching staff has figured out how to even keep him on the field, much less get any sort of production out of him. Shanahan also has two Super Bowl rings as the head coach Denver in the late-1990s. Often times, he gets no credit for that because those Denver teams were loaded. While true, realize that John Elway did not win a Super Bowl until Shanahan came along, then he won two.

 

Somehow, Shanahan has gotten the “washed up old hack” label by fans and media. Unlike Fisher, he does not deserve it. He did the best he could under the dysfunctional conditions of the Redskins at that time. Shanahan would likely bring his son Kyle on as his offensive coordinator. He is the coordinator behind the 2016 resurrection of Matt Ryan. Both Shanahans have proven they know how to build an offense and make it productive. This is exactly what the Rams need. Hiring the elder Shanahan would bring instant relevance and credibility to Los Angeles and may set the Rams up coaching wise in both the short and long-term.

photo from zambio.com

photo from zambio.com

 

If there ever was a situation for Jon Gruden to return to coaching, the Rams are it. Those close to Gruden have always said that he has not gone back to coaching because he likes the celebrity that comes with his role on Monday night football. In LA, he can coach and be a celebrity. The two franchises Gruden left (Tampa Bay and Oakland) are really just now starting to recover. His legendary reputation as a disciplinarian that loves to work with young quarterbacks would be perfect for the Rams. Come on, just look at the guy.

photo from deadhitsports.com

photo from deadhitsports.com

 

Both Shanahan and Gruden would require a lot of money, but they have jewelry on their fingers for a reason. Judging by artist renderings of the Rams future home in Inglewood, California, they must have some deep pockets. It would be great for the NFL to have a good franchise in LA again, but it is going to take a very special coach to turn the Rams into winners in a timely manner.

Week 13 NFL Picks Against the Spread

I am coming off my best week in a long while. I was 10-6 against the spread last week. After taking a narrow defeat Thursday night, 87-92-6 is where I sit for the year. The black is ever so close as December football begins in earnest. This football season is moving way too fast for me. There are several tough games to call this week.

Broncos (-3.5) at Jaguars- For the first time in about two years, Denver’s defense could not close out a game last week. That loss could really hurt, but the defense is still easily the best part of this football team. Jacksonville just is not very good. Denver needs this win and will get it behind rookie backup quarterback Paxton Lynch, but it will not be pretty. Jacksonville does not have the pass rush to rattle a young quarterback that will be playing behind a shaky offensive line. Den 20 Jac 14

photo from Denver.cbslocal.com

photo from Denver.cbslocal.com

*Lions at Saints (-6) – The Lions keep finding ways to win. New Orleans has found ways to lose its share of big games this year. This will be fun to watch. Two of the hottest quarterbacks on the planet facing off. Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees know that they will have to lead their offenses to a ton of points. The Lions have a little defense, the Saints have none. I am not sure this would be considered that much of an upset. Det 35 NO 31

Texans at Packers (-6.5) – Are the Packers finally back after their season saving win last week? Honestly, we will not find out much here. Despite still controlling their division, Houston has a negative point differential and more turnovers than touchdowns on offense this year. It is hard picking a team like that to win any week. It is impossible to do so when they are traveling to Lambeau Field to play Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. GB 34 HOU 21

Chiefs at Falcons (-5.5)- The Chiefs are riding high after a big win in Denver last week, but Atlanta is a nightmare matchup for them. As solid as Kansas City is on defense, Atlanta has proven it can score on anybody this year. Kansas City has played one similar opponent this year in terms of offensive firepower. They traveled to Pittsburgh on a Sunday night and the game was over after the first quarter. Atlanta has not given anyone any reason to think their offense will not be hot again on Sunday. If it is, there is nothing Kansas City and their methodical offense can do to keep up with them. ATL 31 KC 20

Rams at Patriots (-13) – In a week where I do not feel strongly about much, this game is an exception. The Rams are not all that dissimilar to the Jets, the offense is a tick worse, the defense a tick better. The Jets gave the Patriots fits last week, the Rams will do the same, but Bill Belichick toys with young quarterbacks. Jared Goff does not have much help around him. The Rams are a good team for New England to play while they find their way without Rob Gronkowski on offense. NE 21 LA 12

Dolphins at Ravens (-3.5) – This is the toughest call of the week for me. I have been high on the Ravens all year, and have fallen in love with the Dolphins over the last month. The Ravens are at home and their defense is the best unit in this game. Ryan Tannehill could be in for a long afternoon. This is possibly the best defense he will see all year. No one runs the ball on Baltimore either. That has been Tannehill’s security blanket as of late, but the Dolphins defense is pretty good too. Miami keeps it close, but not close enough. Bal 23 Mia 17

Eagles at Bengals (-1.5) – Here, we have two teams that are absolutely sinking. Both teams had playoff aspirations at one point. That feels like a distant memory. It really is a coin flip, but the Bengals are a little more experienced. In a game where there is not much to play for, I think the young Eagles may come out flat. Cin 23 Phi 14

49ers at Bears (-3) – They both stink in a big way. Chicago stinks a little less… I think. Chi 21 SF 17

*Giants at Steelers (-6) – This is a very similar matchup to Detroit and New Orleans. The two crowned jewels of the 2004 quarterback draft class take center stage here. The Giants have gutted out some really tough wins to get to their 8-3 mark. It has not always been pretty. So, I understand the spread here. However, I struggle to trust that Steelers defense against any upper echelon quarterback. Eli Manning certainly falls into that group. NYG 30 Pit 24

photo from associated press

photo from associated press

Bucs at Chargers (-4) – This is a classic letdown game for a young team like the Bucs. After consecutive big wins against really good opponents to put themselves in the playoff race, they travel west to take on the most talented last-place team in league history. The other notable member of that 2004 quarterback draft class is Philip Rivers. Despite never having the coaching or supporting casts that Manning and Ben Roethlisberger were blessed with, he continues to play great football. The Chargers will lose sleep over all those close losses early in the year, but no one wants to play them right now. SD 28 TB 21

* Redskins at Cardinals (-2.5) – This is the strangest line I have seen in a long time. Washington might have the best offense in football at the moment. They have the fewest three and outs in the league, and Arizona is a big disappointment this year. They just are not as good as they look on paper. The Redskins feel like easy money. It is too good to pass up. A word of warning though, Vegas is always smarter than average folks like me. Was 27 Ari 19

Bills at Raiders (-3) – Finally, I am reluctantly buying into the Raiders. They still commit too many penalties for my liking and the defense is still atrocious. However, they are winning games, despite being dead to rights almost every week before miraculously pulling out a victory. Buffalo is the top rushing team in the NFL. They will have some success with that in this matchup, but the biggest weakness on this Raiders defense is the secondary. The banged up Buffalo receivers will struggle to exploit that. Another Raiders nail biter, another win. Oak 31 Buf 27

Panthers at Seahawks (-7) – Seattle’s offense throws in about three clunkers a year. Last week in Tampa certainly qualifies, but they always end up playing in January and February, they will be fine. Meanwhile, Carolina is desperate for wins to keep their fading playoff hopes afloat. Seattle is the wrong place to go to get that done. However, the Panthers are one of few teams that have the talent to go into Seattle and compete, even though they are underachieving this year. Expect a tight one. Sea 23 Car 20

MNF: *Jets at Colts (-1.5) – As awful as this matchup is, it is still very relevant for the Colts who are hanging around in the below par AFC South. However, the Jets defense is really good, despite the team’s 3-8 record. Rushing the quarterback is their strong suit. Whether it is a dinged up Andrew Luck or backup Scott Tolzien at quarterback, they will be playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. This is just a bad matchup for Indianapolis. NYJ 17 Ind 13

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