Miami Dolphins fantasy football: Jay Cutler’s impact

On Aug. 6, quarterback Jay Cutler came out of retirement to sign with the Miami Dolphins. This signing indicates that Ryan Tannehill is likely out for the season and Cutler will take over as the starter. On paper this could be a good signing for the Dolphins, but how will Cutler fair to fantasy owners?

Adam Gase Reunion

Miami Dolphins fantasy football: Jay Cutlers impact

Jay Cutler and Adam Gase (Photo by: sportsmockery.com)

It’s hard to project players that go to new teams and new schemes but that’s not the case here. We have seen Cutler in this offense before. He and head coach Adam Gase reunite from the days of the Chicago Bears where Gase was the offensive coordinator in 2015.

While Chicago was at the bottom half of the league in both yards and points scored, Cutler had one his most productive seasons. In 15 games, Cutler completed 64.4 percent of his passes and averaged 7.6 yards per attempt. He threw for 3,659 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Even though Chicago didn’t thrive, it is safe to say Cutler had a solid season at age 32 with Gase.

The numbers under Gase

Most of us want to wonder how, if anything, Gase’s offense has changed since becoming a head coach. Fantasypros.com gives us a look at the 14 games Cutler played in 2015, and compare it to how Gase has coordinated his offenses throughout the years.

Att/gm RB Tgt % WR Tgt % TE Tgt %
2015 (Cutler) 32.2 22.0% 57.0% 15.0%
2016 (Tannehill) 29.8 18.0% 67.0% 15.0%
2014 (Manning) 37.9 16.0% 67.0% 16.0%
2013 (Manning) 42.2 17.0% 62.0% 20.0%

Besides Peyton Manning’s breakout 2013 season, Cutler’s numbers are consistent to the other years that Gase has ran the offense. But Cutler had only 57 percent of passes targeted to wide receivers the lowest of the four seasons. However, to Cutler’s credit, these are the receivers he threw to that season.

Player Games Targets
Alshon Jeffery 9 94
Marquess Wilson 11 51
Eddie Royal 9 50
Josh Bellamy 16 34
Marc Mariani 16 33
Cameron Meredith 11 16
Deonte Thompson 7 3

For starters he didn’t have Alshon Jeffrey for the nearly half the season as he missed seven games. The No. 1 and No. 2 receivers that season were Josh Bellamy and Marc Mariani for seven games. Cutler did not have Brandon Marshall as he was traded to the New York Jets that year.

You can’t criticize Cutler. In fact, he should be given an award for the miracle season he had throwing for 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. I see Cutler targeting the wide receivers in 2017 more like Tannehill last season.

Dolphins Pass Catchers

Miami Dolphins fantasy football: Jay Cutlers impact

Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker (Photo by: miamiherald.com)

It’s easy to say Cutler has better weapons than he did in Chicago. He has a good trio of receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills that can be argued as one of the better trios in the NFL. They also have tight end Julius Thomas who has been in the Gase offense in Denver from 2013 to 2014.

The one problem with Thomas is he needs to stay on the field, something he hasn’t done throughout the entirety of his career. Pass catchers will get more targets because Jay Ajayi isn’t known as a pass catcher like Matt Forte was in Chicago.

If we want to project how Cutler will fair in games, he should be throwing over 30 times a game and should be well over 500 passes for the season. I expect the wide receiver targets to double from what they have been in past Gase offenses. The targets to running backs and tight ends should be consistent with years past.

Which receivers will succeed

For starters, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills should be moving up draft boards. The difference between Cutler and Tannehill is that Cutler has one of the stronger arms in the league.

Parker has been labeled to have a great bounce back season. He struggled last year but Gase has praised him this year for his dedication to this offense. Fortunately for him, Cutler tends to favor the big body wide receivers and has the arm to get the ball downfield to them. Parker and Stills could each have 100 targets this year.

As for Jarvis Landry, he could see less targets because Cutler didn’t really take shots in the short, middle area of the field with Gase in Chicago, but personnel likely played a role in that. Eddie Royal was his slot receiver in Chicago. He has Landry this year and he won’t be ignored as he is the top target.

If anything, Landry is still a candidate for over 1,000 yards. Entering a contract year, it’s not exactly the best situation for Landry, though coach Adam Gase is known for feeding his playmakers. Landry is still a WR2 but Cutler at quarterback hurts his draft stock just a little bit.

Final verdict

It’s safe to say that Cutler has had his highs and is lows. Who hasn’t in Chicago lately? He does have a track record of getting hurt and also being unreliable as a fantasy passer for several years. But there is some potential for Cutler in this offense with better weapons surrounding him. He’s worth a look in a two-quarterback league and also as a backup in deeper leagues.

 

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Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

It’s been a rough training camp for the Miami Dolphins. Jay Ajayi has a concussion and now Ryan Tannehill has gone down and might be done for the season with a knee injury. The worst part of his injury is that it was the same knee he injured in week 14 and he wasn’t touched on the play where he was rolling out. There was no structural damage, however, reports Thursday night indicated Tannehill could need season-ending knee surgery.

Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

Matt Moore (Photo by: heavy.com)

On Friday, Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Matt Moore “is our quarterback” for the time being in a press conference. The Dolphins just signed former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler yesterday, meaning he’s likely the best bet to be Miami’s starter in week one.

Cutler worked with Gase in Chicago in 2015 and had his best career year with Gase in that season.

Now everyone is going to start to panic not just because of Tannehill but about the weapons in Miami as well. The Dolphins have three prominent receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills along with tight end Julius Thomas.

Now the big reason for this is to not panic. Landry and Parker shouldn’t lose any value with Tannehill gone. And Stills might benefit even without a familiar quarterback to catch passes from.

Jarvis Landry

Start with Landry, whose average draft position (ADP) on Fantasy Pros is currently in Round 4 in all leagues. He has been ranked around 18-25 as a wide receiver and our own Cameron Palikuca ranked him as the 23rd receiver in his rankings.

Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

Jarvis Landry (Photo by: dailydolphin.blog.palmbeachpost.com)

In four games with Moore last year including the playoff game against the Steelers, Landry had 26 catches for 315 yards and two touchdowns on 33 targets. If you project his final four games over 16 games he would’ve had Landry would have finished with 104 catches for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns on 132 targets. The touchdowns and yards would be a career highs. And catches and targets would be the second best of his career. For 2017, I don’t see Landry matching these stats.

The final three games of the season he had two double digit outings. In the season finale, Landry caught nine passes on 12 targets for 76 yards and a touchdown from Moore. Then in the playoffs, he had 14 targets into 11 receptions for 102 yards. Things seemed to click after those two games.

I don’t expect Landry to suffer with Moore under center. I also expect with Landry in a contract year to play at a high level.

Devante Parker

Many believe that Parker could have a breakout season. His ADP is Round 8 in PPR as the No. 37 receiver, and he’s going as the No. 42 receiver in Round 9 in standard leagues. He is the 37th receiver by Palikuca but many believe he will play better then where he will be drafted.

Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

Ryan Tannehill and DeVante Parker (Photo by: thedeependmiami.com)

Parker was a receiver that struggled with Moore. In their four games together last season, Parker only had 14 catches for 202 yards and one touchdown on 22 targets. Going back to the projections, he would’ve had 56 catches, 808 yards and four touchdowns on 88 targets over a full season, which is basically what he did in 2016 (56 catches, 744 yards and four touchdowns on 87 targets).

I think Parker can do better then his 2016 numbers. He has potential and could be Moore’s favorite weapon and I especially see him as a presence in the red zone at 6-3. Two of his touchdowns came within the 10-yard line. He will also be a valuable deep-threat in favorable matchups as he had two touchdowns of 40-yards plus.

Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas

First with Kenny Stills, he thrived with Moore. Stills had 13 catches for 210 yards and three touchdowns on 23 targets. He scored at least eight fantasy points in a standard league in every game.

Miami Dolphins fantasy football situation

Kenny Stills (Photo by: sun-sentinel.com)

The projections over 16 games would’ve been 52 catches for 840 yards and 12 touchdowns on 92 targets. That would be an improvement on his actual stats from 2016 when he had 42 catches for 726 yards and nine touchdowns on 81 targets.

The problem that comes with Stills is that he’s likely the third or fourth target especially if Parker improves and Thomas makes an impact. But the chemistry can’t be ignored between him and Moore. Stills is definitely worth a late-round flier given his ADP, which is Round 15 in PPR and Round 18 in standard leagues.

As for Thomas, I predicted he would be a sleeper to watch before the Tannehill injury. There’s nothing to go on for Thomas as this his first season in Miami but he has played with Gase before in Denver. With Gase as the offensive coordinator in Denver, Thomas had 24 touchdowns combined in 2013-14 and was a top 10 Fantasy tight end both years. He’s worth a late-round flier in all leagues now that he’s back with Gase.

Final verdict

From a non-fantasy view, the Dolphins should be okay. From a fantasy perspective, no one should panic picking Dolphins players. One player that could thrive is Ajayi. His role will increase some especially with the Tannehill situation. He could sneak into the first round in some leagues due to concerns with the quarterback.

But the Dolphins should be ok with Moore and the good thing for him is that he has familiar faces he played with last season as well as the same system. He will keep Landry, Parker and Stills playing at a high level for fantasy owners this year.

As of Sunday August 6, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network has reported that Cutler has come out of retirement and agreed to a contract with the Miami Dolphins.

 

Featured image from nflspinzone.com.

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NFL top 100 players 2017: 80-71

The NFL season is right around the corner and all the lists of top players of the NFL are out. There is only one problem with these lists: they look back on the 2016 season too much. This list will look forward to the 2017 season and predict who will be the top 100 players for the 2017 season. The Game Haus staff compiled their lists together to rank who they think will be the top 100 players this upcoming season.

This is the third installment, containing players 80-71.

80. Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins

NFL Top 100

Jarvis Landry (Photo by theredbeat.com)

Landry has done a lot in his three seasons in the NFL, but he isn’t talked about as a top receiver in the league quite yet. Last season he had 94 catches for 1,136 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He added a very impressive catch percentage of 71.8%.

The last two seasons Landry has been in the top ten in receptions in the NFL and it doesn’t look like 2017 should be any different. First year head coach Adam Gase helped turn Miami from a bad offensive team to an average one last season. If the players around Landry keep progressing, it should only help him have continued success.

With his flexibility to play in the slot and on the outside, Miami will be able to get the ball to Landry a lot in 2017. If he can capitalize on that he will be a top 100 player in 2017.

Comments: “Landry is a reception machine who can line up anywhere and be effective. Ryan Tannehill hasn’t been a top quarterback in the NFL and Landry has still produced. With Adam Gase getting the offense rolling, Landry  should have another productive season.”-Joe DiTullio

79. Eric Weddle, S, Baltimore Ravens

NFL Top 100

Eric Weddle (Photo by espn.com)

In his first season in Baltimore, Weddle was nothing short of amazing. He finished the season with 89 total tackles, four interceptions, one forced fumble and one sack.

Weddle will be 32 during this season, which gives some room for pause, but he is coming off one of his best seasons yet. The signing of Tony Jefferson should make the back end of the Ravens’ defense stronger. He was left off of the NFL top 100 list, but he makes this one.

Although he might not have too many years left as an elite player, you can bet on Weddle having a good 2017 season.

Comments: “I truly have no clue how he made the list and managed to be only one spot behind Harrison Smith? Weddle is not even a top five safety anymore and at 32 years old he will start to see his play diminish.” -Matthew Hagan

78. Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings

NFL Top 100

Harrison Smith (Photo by wjon.com)

After his second straight Pro Bowl season, Harrison Smith has started to get the respect he deserves. In 2016 he totaled 91 tackles, two passes defended and two fumbles recovered in 14 games played.

Smith was one of the best players, if not the best, on the fifth best scoring defense in the league. He didn’t get any interceptions, but his combination of good coverage skills and run support make him one of the league’s best safeties. He will likely be one of the best players on one of the best defenses in 2017 again.

Turn on a Vikings’ game in 2017 and Smith will prove why he is a top 100 player.

Comments: “If Harrison Smith did exactly what he has been doing on the Seahawks or Patriots people would be putting Harrison Smith in their top 25. He has 411 tackles in just 67 games. He is a versatile safety, amassing 7.5 sacks and 12 interceptions in his career. Smith has also found the endzone four times. Harrison “The Hitman” Smith is one of the top 25 players in the NFL.” -Matthew Hagan

77. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

NFL Top 100

Jalen Ramsey (Photo by jacksonville.com)

Ramsey was one of the most impressive rookies in the 2016 class and will be looking to improve on that. He started off his career well in 2016 with 65 total tackles, 14 passes defended two interceptions, one forced fumble and a touchdown.

The entire Jaguars’ defense should elevate their games with the signings of Calais Campbell, Barry Church and A.J. Bouye. If he can glean anything from these players and benefit from their good play as well, Ramsey will be better in 2017 than he was in 2016.

Not only does Ramsey look like he will be a top 100 player in 2017, but also looks like he has a bright future beyond that.

Comments: “Ramsey stepped right into the NFL and went toe to toe with the game’s best wideouts. He is going to be a superstar and as he gains experience his game will improve. Ramsey is going to be one of the top three corners in the NFL this season and this ranking is going to look very disrespectful.” -Matthew Hagan

76. A.J. Bouye, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

NFL Top 100

A.J. Bouye (Photo by jaguars.com)

One spot later and Ramsey’s new teammate shows up. Bouye went from an undrafted free agent to one of the best corners in the league. Last year for the Texans, Bouye totaled 62 tackles, 16 passes defended, one interception and one sack.

Bouye will be able to shut down his side of the field in 2017 and improves the Jaguars defense drastically. Life hasn’t always been great for the Jaguars, but With him and others signing, the Jaguars are looking to win the AFC South title. The match-ups he will have with T.Y. Hilton, Deandre Hopkins, Corey Davis and others should help him show how good of a player he is.

There won’t be many balls thrown in Bouye’s direction in 2017, which shows his value.

Comments: “Sometimes stats don’t tell the entire story. Despite only having one interception, Bouye was a top five corner last season and the Texans are going to miss him. Pairing him alongside Jalen Ramsey will force teams to choose which corner they would rather throw at. Either option is dangerous.” -Matthew Hagan

75. Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders

NFL Top 100

Amari Cooper (Photo by Raiders.com)

Cooper is one of the best young receivers in the league and has gotten better in each season he has been in the NFL. In 2016 he had 83 catches for 1,153 yards and five touchdowns to complete a great sophomore year.

The young Raiders, including Cooper and Derek Carr, have grown up quickly. The combination is destined to keep producing with a great offensive line and Michael Crabtree across the field from Cooper. All of the components of the offense, Cooper included, makes the Raiders a team that is AFC Champion-caliber.

At 23, Cooper still has a lot of room for improvement and could really rise up this list with another productive year.

Comments: Amari Cooper had the second highest grade on go routes last season, putting up a wide receiver rating of 137.2. The 23-year-old has a tendency to disappear towards to end of the season, but he’s reportedly bulked up during this offseason which should help his body stay in better shape throughout the season. Cooper has all the tools to be a superstar in the NFL, and with Derek Carr throwing to him, there’s no reason why he won’t be an elite receiver this season.” –Tim Miller

74. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

NFL Top 100

Leonard Fournette (Photo by Jaguars.com)

The one and only rookie on this list is Leonard Fournette. Other lists don’t allow rookies, but there is a good chance that a rookie, especially in this loaded rookie class, could be a top 100 player in 2017. Fournette totaled 3,830 rushing yards in three seasons at LSU.

Jacksonville doesn’t have the greatest offensive line, but tried to upgrade it by acquiring Brandon Albert. Last season they ranked 22nd in rushing yards, but that should improve with the addition of Fournette and Albert. The Jaguars have an aging Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, who has never lived up to expectations, so Fournette should be able to shoulder most of the load and be productive.

While not many people will have Fournette in their top 100 lists before the season, he will likely show up on more by season’s end.

Comments: “Leonard Fournette shouldn’t even be on this list. Sure, he’s one of the best running backs in his draft class, but that doesn’t mean anything now that he’s in Jacksonville. Fournette is an in between the tackles runner and needs a fullback in order to be successful. The Jags ran the second most plays out of the shotgun last season, which won’t bode well for Fournette. Unless Jacksonville changes their offensive scheme, don’t expect the LSU product to be very productive this season.” -Tim Miller

73. Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins

NFL Top 100

Jay Ajayi (Photo by phinphanatic.com)

No one’s stock rose more than Jay Ajayi last season. He started the season as a healthy scratch, but then came on and finished the season strong. After rushing for 117 yards in the first four weeks, Ajayi finished the season with 1,272 yards and completed a Pro Bowl season.

Adam Gase helped the Dolphins’ offense get a lot better in year one, and should help continue that growth in year two. Miami may not have as good of an offensive line, losing Albert to the Jaguars, but Laremy Tunsil had a good rookie season and is moving to tackle. The line may not be as good, but Ajayi will progress.

In 2017 Ajayi will have the whole season to prove his worth and prove that he is a top 100 player.

Comments: “Ajayi had an interesting season, but came on strong and cemented himself as the starting running back. His footwork is impeccable. With a full season as a starter this year, Ajayi should produce big time.”-Joe DiTullio

72. Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons

NFL Top 100

Devonta Freeman (Photo by heavy.com)

Freeman is coming off of his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season and is a part of one of the best offenses in the league. He had less carries in 2016 than in 2015, but was more productive. Last season he finished with 1,079 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

In the Falcons’ offense, Freeman is not only a great runner but also a great receiver out of the backfield. With Matt Ryan chucking the ball all over the field, Freeman gets to catch a lot of passes and it helps keep the defense from stacking the box. The offensive line is solid and should continue to open up holes in the running game in 2017.

Tevin Coleman does take away some of Freeman’s carries, but keeping him fresh is a priority for the Falcons because of his immense talent.

Comments: “An important part of the Falcons’ offense, Freeman had 4.8 yards per carry and also provides a good receiver out of the backfield. With a good offensive line in front of him and a balanced offense, Freeman will have another good season in 2017.”-Joe DiTullio

71. Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints

NFL Top 100

Cameron Jordan (Photo by nflmocks.com)

The Saints’ defense hasn’t been good in years, but Cameron Jordan has been a consistently good player for them. Jordan just doesn’t have a lot of good players around him. In 2017 he finished with 7.5 sacks, 58 total tackles, a forced fumble and six passes defended.

2016 marked a down year in terms of sack totals for Jordan, but he did play solidly in other areas. New Orleans will likely struggle on defense again in 2017, but they do have a solid young secondary that should be helped by rookie Marshon Lattimore. If their coverage is better, it will give Jordan a couple more seconds to get to the quarterback.

Look for Jordan to have another great year on another sub-par defense in 2017.

Comments: Cameron Jordan’s sack numbers don’t impress the average NFL fan, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a menace. Jordan had 79 quarterback pressures last season, which is exactly as many as Von Miller. Jordan received an elite grade from PFF, with a 92.4 score which is good for third among edge rushers last season. The Cal product also tied for the lead the NFL in tackles for loss last season, chalking up 17. Jordan is ranked too low for my taste, and this season will prove that.” – Tim Miller

NFL top 100 players: 90-81

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Fantasy Football Tight End Sleeper: Julius Thomas

Fantasy football tight end sleeper: Julius Thomas

The 2017 season is approaching and tight end Julius Thomas begins a new chapter with the Miami Dolphins. His two seasons in Jacksonville were a bust, but being reunited with former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator and current Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, he is my pick as the top tight end sleeper.

Adam Gase Connection

Gase became the offensive coordinator in Denver under head coach John Fox in 2013. 2013 was also the year Thomas became the starting tight end with Peyton Manning and company. Thomas broke onto the scene with 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He would finish as the third tight end in fantasy that season.

He also excelled as one of Manning’s favorite targets in the red zone. From inside the 20-yard line, he finished seventh in receptions (14), second in yards (112) and sixth in touchdowns (8). He finished fifth in yards (33) and sixth in touchdowns with five from inside the 10-yard line.

Fantasy Football Tight End Sleeper: Julius Thomas

Julius Thomas (Photo by:nfl.com)

The following season, Thomas slipped a little but still had another good season. Although his numbers in receptions (43) and yards (489) dropped from the previous season, Thomas recorded 12 touchdowns for the second straight season. Thomas still finished seventh in fantasy under tight ends.

He was efficient in the red zone especially inside the 20-yard line. He was seventh in receptions (13), eighth in yards (94) and third in touchdowns with nine. From the 10-yard line, he improved to fourth with seven receptions and six touchdowns.

In the two years under Gase in Denver, Thomas reached elite status. He finished no worse than the number seven fantasy tight end in standard leagues over that span, combining for 108 catches for 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Down production in Jacksonville

Fantasy Football Tight End Sleeper: Julius Thomas

Julius Thomas (Photo by:profootballtalk.nbcsports.com)

In 2015, Thomas got his big pay day as he signed a five-year, $46 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. What people forget is that Thomas wasn’t going to have the same amount of success he had in Denver. Not having Manning was a a big factor to some for Thomas’ decline.

In the 2015 season, he had a stretch of four straight games in which he caught a touchdown. He finished with 46 catches, 455 yards but only had five touchdowns. Catching touchdowns was part of the popularity with Thomas in fantasy. Most of the targets went to wide receiver Allen Robinson. Players like Robinson, Blake Bortles and Allen Hurns improved in fantasy and this hurt Thomas’ production as an elite fantasy player.

The following season, Thomas caught four touchdowns from weeks 1-11 before missing the rest of the season due to injury. His four scores in that span were tied for second among all tight ends.

Thomas had moderate stretches of success while in Jacksonville, but injuries plagued seasons (missing 11 games in two seasons) and limited him to 21 games with nine touchdowns and 35 yards per game.

2017 Outlook

Fantasy Football Tight End Sleeper: Julius Thomas

Julius Thomas and Adam Gase (Photo by:oregonlive.com)

The move to Miami could be the best situation for Thomas as he reunites with Gase. He was a fantasy stud in Denver, and Gase could be a big reason why, given his track record with tight ends.

In 2015 as the offensive coordinator in Chicago, Gase helped Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller combine for 87 catches for 878 yards and eight touchdowns, which would have been the number seven Fantasy tight end in standard leagues.

Last year with the Dolphins, the combination of Dion Sims, Jordan Cameron, MarQueis Gray and Dominique Jones had 55 catches for 551 yards and six touchdowns. It would’ve been good for the number 10 fantasy tight end. So there is some optimism for Thomas to bounce back.

However, there could be some problems for Thomas. Dolphins’ running back Jay Ajayi had a breakout season, and they have a core of young receivers in Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker along with re-signing Kenny Stills. Thomas will have a role in the offense, especially closer to the red zone, but he will likely be the third or fourth option in a balanced offense with a lot of guys to feed the ball to.

If Thomas stays healthy, he could reemerge as a top fantasy tight end. He’s worth a late-round flier as a second tight end. There’s little risk and plenty of reward with Thomas and Gase back together.

 

Featured image from miamidolphins.com.

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2017 fantasy football running back rankings: 10-1

Here it is, the final list of my running back rankings. This list mainly consists of first round and early second round picks that will be the backbone of your fantasy football team this year. Here it is, 2017 fantasy football running back rankings: 10-1.

 

10. Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams): Todd Gurley is the perfect example of a sophomore slump. The touches are still there for Gurley, as he averaged 17.4 attempts per game last year. He ranked fifth in carries and 12th in targets but the Rams offense just fell apart. He rushed for 885 yards on a terrible 3.2 yards per attempt.

The main reason for Gurley’s disappointing season is the poor play at quarterback for the Rams. If Jared Goff can be more successful and have a much better second year, he can take the pressure off of Gurley. The Rams did bolster their offensive line by adding tackle Andrew Whitworth. If Goff plays better and the offensive line holds up this season, we can expect a bounce back season for Gurley.

fantasy football running back rankings

(http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/todd-gurley-wins-offensive-rookie-of-the-year-has-message-for-rams-fans/)

9. Jay Ajayi (Miami Dolphins): Jay Ajayi broke out in a big way in 2016. Ajayi became the fourth running back in NFL history to rush for 200 yards in three games in a season. Ajayi found himself to be one of the most efficient backs last season, ranking third in yards after contact with 484 yards and sixth in yards after contact per touch with 1.7.

With the addition of Julius Thomas, the Dolphins could be in line for more of a passing offense in 2017, especially with Thomas’ poor blocking ability. But along with the addition of Thomas, the Dolphins added a high end blocker in Anthony Fasano. The Dolphins offense is in its prime right now and Ajayi is a prime piece in the offense, expect another good season from him.

8. Devonta Freeman (Atlanta Falcons): The other half of the two-headed monster in Atlanta has made his appearance on this list. Devonta Freeman has been very consistent over the past two years with 11 rushing touchdowns and at least 1,000 yards.

We did see Freeman’s rushing touches decrease last year, with 40 less attempts and 20 less receptions than he had in 2015. Freeman still had 462 receiving yards and two touchdowns last year. He is also a top ten running back in terms of efficiency, as he ranked eighth in yards after contact.

The only concern with Freeman is how the Falcons use Tevin Coleman. Coleman is the most important backup running back in football and he can put up flex/RB2 numbers any week. Draft Freeman and expect a nice season, just handcuff Coleman if you do.

fantasy football running back rankings

DeMarco Murray’s time in Philly came to an accelerated ending after tensions arose in 2015. (Photo by Philly Influencer)

7. Demarco Murray (Tennessee Titans): Murray returned to RB1 status in 2016. In his first year in Tennessee, he rushed for 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns. The Titans elite offensive line helped him out as the smashmouth approach worked well for the Titans last season.

Murray found little competition from Derrick Henry last season, as he ranked third in snap share and sixth in the league for total team running back touches. Draft Murray as a late first or early second round pick this year.

6. Jordan Howard (Chicago Bears): People don’t realize that last season, Jordan Howard was the second-best rusher in the NFL. He rushed for 1,313 yards, only second to Ezekiel Elliot last season. He is the focal point of the Bears offense now that Alshon Jeffery is gone.

The only problem with Howard is his lack of touchdowns. Chicago ranked 23rd in the NFL in red zone scoring (touchdowns only) by scoring touchdowns on 51% of their opportunities last season. Howard may see an increase in his receiving yards this season in his first full season as the lead back, but definitely expect another great rushing season for him in Chicago.

5. Melvin Gordon (Los Angeles Chargers): Melvin Gordon found success in his second season in the NFL. He was three yards away from 1,000 yards while only playing in 13 games. He hasn’t played a full season in the NFL yet, missing three games last season and two the year before, but that shouldn’t stop you from drafting him.

With the departure of Danny Woodhead, Gordon should see an increase in his role as a passing back and he can develop into a full-time three down back this year. The thing that is very intriguing about Gordon is his touchdowns. Last season he had ten touchdowns in 13 games and that number should increase if he plays a full season.

4. LeSean McCoy (Buffalo Bills): McCoy had a bounce back year with the Bills last season, finishing the season as the No. 3 ranked running back. He rushed for 1,267 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. The Bills rushing attack falls on McCoy’s back now that they didn’t match the offer sheet for Mike Gillislee and he should have an ample amount of carries this upcoming season.

The problem with McCoy is that the Bills spent their offseason acquiring Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco. They have the ability to take many goalline touches from McCoy. McCoy should be a first round pick this season, with the rushing yards continuing to be there but a decrease in touchdowns.

fantasy football running back rankings

(http://www.espn.com/nfl/player/_/id/12514/lesean-mccoy)

3. Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys): The rookie phenomenon proved he was the real deal in 2016. Elliott had 1,631 yards (first in the NFL) and 15 touchdowns last season. Elliott tore up opposing defenses last year and he should do the same this upcoming season.

Not only was he the No. 1 running back in terms of rushing yards and carries, he was also one of the most efficient backs. He ranked second in breakaway runs and third in evaded tackles, while finishing the season as the fourth-best running back in terms of yards after contact. Zeke shouldn’t fall past the third pick in any draft this year.

2. David Johnson (Arizona Cardinals): If you had David Johnson on your fantasy team last year, congratulations. DJ was insanely effective in the passing game and as a runner, rushing for 1,239 yards and twelve touchdowns and 879 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He is the definition of a dual-threat back.

He was the most productive back in the receiving game, as he was ranked first in receptions, receiving yards and total touchdowns among running backs. David Johnson is the center of the Cardinals offense and should enjoy another amazing season as the first or second pick in fantasy this year.

1. Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh Steelers)- Bell’s running style of cuts and hesitation running has found immediate success in the NFL. Last season, he had 1,268 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He is key on the Steelers high-powered offense and should continue to see 20+ touches a game. He missed four games last season and still finished as the number four fantasy running back.

fantasy football running back rankings

(http://www.espn.com/nfl/player/_/id/15825/leveon-bell)

Not only is he used as a rusher, but he is used immensely in the passing game for Big Ben. He had 75 receptions for 616 yards and two touchdowns last season and there’s no indication that those numbers should decrease.

The problem with Bell is his injuries and off the field antics. Last season he was kept out of the first three games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and he’s gone through multiple major knee injuries in his career. If he can stay on the field, and not have any problems off of it, he can be the No. 1 ranked running back in fantasy next year, and that’s exactly where he should be drafted.

 

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Under the Radar Fantasy Running Backs

Under the radar fantasy running backs to watch

This season there are fantasy running backs worth watching. These five running backs may not be the biggest names in the NFL, but they can be valuable assets for your team this upcoming season.

Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

Under the Radar Fantasy Running Backs

Jordan Howard (Photo by: chicagobears.com)

The first running back that everyone should keep an eye on is Jordan Howard. When starter Jeremy Langford got hurt last season, Howard took the starting job and didn’t look back. Not only was he good, he was dominant.

As a rookie, Howard rushed for the second-most yards in 2016 with 1,313, behind another rookie in Ezekiel Elliot. Howard also finished second in yards per carry with a 5.2 average. Howard averaged 87.5 rushing yards per game that ranked third in the league and just outside the top 10 in attempts (252).

Howard only scored six touchdowns, which ranked 20th in the NFL. Howard is on a team in which they have to come from behind which leads to passing situations on almost every down. This means that Howard doesn’t get the ball late in games to improve on some of his numbers.

Howard’s numbers will improve, especially in touchdowns. I also don’t expect Howard to have that sophomore slump. Howard will be a first round pick and could still rise to a top-five pick.

Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

After Arian Foster retired early in the 2016 season, Ajayi had his chance to play and went all in. Three times did he have a 200-yard or more rushing game, including back-to-back weeks. Miami did rank 18th in rushing attempts, but in those attempts Ajayi ran the ball with intensity and purpose.

Ajayi’s 1,272 rushing yards ranked fourth among rushers in the league. Ajayi also ranked fifth in yards per game at 84.8, ninth in rushing attempts with 260, seventh in rushing yards per attempt (4.9) and just outside the top 10 in touchdowns with eight.

Although the Dolphins ranked 18th in rushing attempts, they did rank ninth in rushing yards which means Ajayi has an effective offensive line that should help deliver a repeat performance in 2017. Ajayi’s ADP (average draft position) is around the eighth to ninth running back picked, which means look for him second or third round.

Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound bruiser known as Leonard Fournette will be the new man in the Jacksonville Jaguars backfield. Fournette is a running back who can punish defenses with power and get chunks of yardage with speed. He’s not the most agile running back, but when he has a running lane, he accelerates quickly and can hit a home run.

Fournette won’t give you many catches, that’s not his game. His backups T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory don’t pose any threat other than a carry here and there to give Fournette a blow. Yeldon will be the pass-catcher and Ivory is the same type of back Fournette is. Although the Jaguars ranked 17th or lower in every rushing category, Fourette should help those numbers because of the ability he has.

I see Fournette as a guy like Ezekiel Elliot. A physical, breaking tackles and hit the home run guy once in open space back. The Jaguars will use the fourth overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft to protect quarterback Blake Bortles from having to drop back 40 times a game. I would rate Fournette a high-end RB2 with the potential to be a solid RB1. He will be a second round pick in most fantasy drafts.

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

under the radar fantasy running backs

Joe Mixon (Photo by: cincinnati.com)

The good part about the Cincinnati Bengals running game is that they have ranked top-ten in the NFL in both rushing attempts and red-zone carries in each of the past three seasons. However, the Bengals running game for yards and consistency has been dreadful ever since Jeremy Hill’s rookie season in 2014.

Hill has declined and has delivered fewer than 60 rushing yards per game. Hill doesn’t catch the ball either. Giovani Bernard is working back from a torn ACL and will mostly be used in the passing game.

Fans should be excited to see Joe Mixon from a fantasy perspective rather than his off-the-field issues. Mixon has the potential to be a better runner than Hill, and a solid pass-catcher like Bernard. I look at Mixon and I see a David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell type player who has great ability to run and catch the ball.

Hill will probably be the starter and end up getting a good number of touches. Mixon will eventually take over somewhere in the middle of the season but don’t count him out to take the job sooner. If he’s there by the fourth to fifth round he could be a steal as he has the potential to be a RB1 but will start likely as a RB3 if he is the backup.

Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots

My dark horse running back is Mike Gillislee of the New England Patriots. With the departure of LeGarrette Blount, the Patriots signed Rex Burkhead to a one-year contract and still have James White and Dion Lewis. What separates Gillislee from the others is that he can pound the ball between the tackles.

He will fill the shoes that Blount filled last year. He was LeSean McCoy’s backup in Buffalo last year and finished with only 101 carries but ran for 576 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. His 5.7 yards per carry ranked first among all running backs with at least 100 carries.

The Bills didn’t have a great offensive line as it ranked 16th in run blocking but Gillislee’s 3.34 yards after contact per attempt was third best in the NFL. He was also a machine within the 10-yard line as seven of his eight touchdowns came from within that range.

We know Gillislee can be valuable for touchdowns, but be cautious because of the other running backs the Patriots have around him. Gillislee will get his touches as the Patriots ranked third in rushing attempts in 2016. Gillislee’s ADP right now is around the fourth to fifth round as a RB3 mostly because he enters as the starter.

 

Featured image from bigcatcountry.com

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks Against the Spread

The playoffs are here. 12 teams still have dreams of a trip to Houston for Super Bowl LI. Now the phrase “win or go home” becomes real. I will continue picking games against the spread throughout the playoffs. I simply find it more fun and challenging than picking games straight up. As usual, my picks are bolded with an asterisk denoting an outright upset. I finished the regular season with a less than stellar 124-135-7 record. However, my record starts all over again at 0-0 for the playoffs as well. Here it goes.

Saturday:

Raiders at Texans (-3.5) – Somehow, the record will show that Brock Osweiler started a playoff game in Houston this year, while the Broncos did not qualify. While I have great respect for Connor Cook’s college track record and his ability to win a lot of games at Michigan State, this is not college. Houston’s defense is one of the best in the playoffs and Oakland is also banged up on the offensive line. What a tall task for Cook in his first career start. It is truly a shame that we will never know what this year’s Raiders could have achieved with a healthy Derek Carr. Houston has its own issues on offense, but will do enough to win an eyesore of a football game. Hou 17 Oak 6

Lions at Seahawks (-8) – The Lions have played in really close games almost every week this season. That is all this pick is based on. Many of Matthew Stafford’s passes have been sailing high on him since he injured his finger. He had been playing at an MVP level. Without Earl Thomas, the Seahawks defense is not the buzzsaw we are used to seeing. The offense continues to be consistently inconsistent. Despite all this, the Seahawks have been here before and know how to win games like this. Expect them to find a way to win. There is still time for Seattle to put it all together as well. Sea 27 Det 21

Sunday:

Dolphins at Steelers (-10) – Swallowing ten points in a playoff game is foolish, but I am going to do it. The Steelers finally have their entire “big three” healthy for a playoff game. Meanwhile, Miami is on the road, in the cold, and starting a backup quarterback with a beat up offensive line. Also, the Steelers defense has really stepped it up since Jay Ajayi and the Dolphins ran wild on them in October. Adam Gase gets my surprise vote for Coach of the Year for getting a Miami team with middle of the road talent this far. However, this is the wrong matchup at the wrong time. Pit 34 Mia 17

Photo courtesy of upi.com

*Giants at Packers (-4.5)- This Sunday afternoon tilt is no doubt the crown jewel of the weekend on paper. I have gone back and forth about four times this week. The Packers have played as well as anyone since most folks (including me) buried them. It has been a long time since any quarterback has been as hot as Aaron Rodgers is right now. However, I generally believe the better defense wins cold weather playoff games. That belongs to New York by a long ways. Combine that with Eli Manning’s tendency to get hot on the road in the playoffs and the Giants will do just enough for the upset. NYG 24 GB 21

Photo courtesy of newsday.com

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Week 14 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Well, my hot streak only lasted a week. I fell back to a very mediocre 7-8 against the spread last week. The Lions made me look smart, the Jets not so much. With the Chiefs win Thursday night, I am a game to the good for this week as we head in to Sunday. My season record now sits at 95-100-6. It is nice to still have so many meaningful games this late in the season. Outright upsets have an asterisk. Spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Let’s roll.

Cardinals (-2) at*Dolphins- Miami got whitewashed last week, but that happens. They are the better team here. The Dolphins big weakness is stopping the run. David Johnson of Arizona is a true workhorse back, a rarity in today’s NFL. Miami’s Jay Ajayi is no slouch though. He, along with the rest of Miami’s offense should be able to keep Johnson on the sidelines just enough. Arizona’s lack of consistency and depth on offense has hurt them all year and will continue to do so here. Mia 21 Ari 20

Bears at Lions (-7) – Matthew Stafford is a legit MVP candidate and the Lions are going to make the playoffs. However, there is something about this matchup. Despite being atrocious, the Bears play well in their division, notching two of their three wins on the season in such games. This includes knocking off the Lions. That will not happen again. The Lions have too much to play for, but I refuse to believe they can blowout consecutive opponents. Also, Chicago is playing its best football of the season (relatively speaking) behind third string quarterback Matt Barkley. Det 30 Chi 27

Bengals (-5) at Browns- This is one of a precious few games that have absolutely no playoff implications this week, but it is not lacking a story. Robert Griffin III is now healthy. He will get a chance to resurrect his career down the stretch and save the Browns from going winless beginning with this game. Cincinnati’s season has been a total bust when you consider preseason expectations. Strangely, the Browns have much more to play for here. Thus, an upset would not shock me. However, the gap in roster talent is just too large for me to call it. Cin 24 Cle 16

photo from ooyuz.com

photo from ooyuz.com

*Broncos at Titans (-1) – This could wind up being an elimination game in terms of the playoffs. As presently constructed, these teams are pretty much even. Tennessee has an edge just about everywhere on offense, but the same can be said for Denver on defense. When it is this close in terms of personnel, track record comes into play. Denver has spent the last half decade playing games like this, and usually winning. This is uncharted territory for the Titans. Denver finds a way to get it done and stay very relevant in the hotly contested AFC West race. Den 17 Ten 13

Texans at Colts (-6.5) – Credit Houston for being in the race in December despite horrendous quarterback play, but it has finally caught up with them. The better quarterbacks win games and divisions more often than not. Andrew Luck > Brock Osweiler. Ind 31 Hou 17

Vikings (-3) at Jaguars- Here you have two offenses that have not been able to do much all year. The Vikings remain alive in the playoff race thanks to their defense and special teams. Jacksonville is not so fortunate. Minnesota seemed to find something in a losing effort last week against Dallas. They are a little bit better than Jacksonville across the board. Quite frankly, the pregame legends of wrestling event may be more entertaining than the actual game. I wish I lived in Jacksonville so I could see some of my childhood heroes like Ric Flair in action. Oh well, the Vikings are a strong bet here. Min 20 Jac 12

Steelers (-2) at *Bills – The Steelers secondary is prone to giving up the big play. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor can extend plays with is legs. Both teams are scraping to reach the playoffs. As a whole, the Steelers are probably a tick better. However, the big play potential is enough for me to take a flyer on the upset. Buf 27 Pit 21

Chargers at Panthers (-1.5) – These are possibly the two most talented teams with bad records I have ever seen. Everything that could go wrong for these teams has. To me there is nothing that says Carolina will win, especially with all the drama that has gone on this week. However, I have been burned enough by that thought process this year. I will go the other way. Car 24 SD 21

Redskins (-2) at Eagles- It took a while, but the Eagles are finally starting to look as bad as we all thought they would before the season started. Meanwhile, the Redskins are desperate to keep their hopes for a wild-card playoff spot alive. With that offense, they are still very dangerous. If they do somehow sneak in to the playoffs, they will not be a comfortable matchup for anyone. Was 31 Phi 20

*Jets at 49ers (-2.5) – No doubt this is a terrible game between two awful teams, but I will add some spice to it. This is my favorite NFL pick of the year. I do not care that the Jets decided not to show up last week and are now starting Bryce Petty at quarterback. The 49ers should not be a favorite over anybody. NYJ 14 SF 10

Rams at Falcons (-6.5) – Watching the Rams play offense is just painful. They are averaging 12 points a game and have not reached the playoffs since their glory days in St. Louis. Yet, everyone in leadership positions just got new contracts. By no means am I crazy about the Falcons, but they will probably win their division by default and I have zero faith in the Rams. Atl 21 LA 9

*Saints at Bucs (-2.5) – The young Bucs continue to impress, but I continue to expect a letdown at some point. The Saints remain dangerous as long as Drew Brees is taking snaps. The Bucs hot streak has really come from nowhere. This is a whole new ballgame for most of their key guys. It is reasonable to speculate that they will eventually be overwhelmed by the occasion of big-time December football. NO 28 TB 27

Seahawks (-3) at Packers- Depending on other results, the Seahawks could lock up a division title here. Last week, they did what they always do, follow up the occasional clunker that they are somewhat known for with a dominant performance. If running back Thomas Rawls can finally stay healthy and give them the ground game they thought he would at the start of the year, this team becomes all the more dangerous, if that is possible. Even with Aaron Rodgers suddenly doing a much better job of carrying the Packers franchise again, a great football team always beats a great quarterback surrounded by 52 other random dudes. Sea 27 GB 17

photo from profootballfocus.com

photo from profootballfocus.com

Cowboys (-3.5) at Giants – The half-point makes me nervous here. This game is always close. The Giants remain the lone blemish on the season for the Cowboys. I am nowhere near as down on Eli Manning as the rest of the world after his shaky performance last week in Pittsburgh, but there is not a single thing the Giants do better than Dallas on a consistent basis. The only chance they have is Manning playing at his very best. This is always possible, but not likely. Dal 27 NYG 23

MNF: *Ravens at Patriots (-7) – The Ravens have had more success than anybody in New England over the years. Additionally, I would suggest Baltimore is at least equal to the Patriots at every position apart from quarterback right now. The gap at that position is not wide enough to prevent me from calling for the upset. Bal 28 NE 27

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Sudden Change is a Huge Part of the NFL’s Charm

As I was looking at the NFL playoff picture earlier this week, the stories of two teams jumped out at me. Both are examples of another characteristic that differentiates the NFL from any other sport in America. We are barely a month into the NBA season and teams like the Mavericks and Nets are already pretty much done. Similarly, the Braves and Twins were toast before the calendar in the long baseball season even flipped to May. In college football, losing a single game is the end of national title hopes for many teams.

The NFL is a whole different ballgame though. There are two teams this year that are almost unrecognizable from the start of the season. Here is a look at each sudden turnaround.

Miami Dolphins

I was in attendance to watch this team struggle to break 200 yards of total offense in a Thursday night loss in Cincinnati. The loss dropped them to 1-3. At that point, I was not sure they would win another game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked lost and rookie head coach Adam Gase seemed to be in over his head.

A spark on the ground from little known running back Jay Ajayi completely changed this team’s fortunes. Ajayi was not even on the active roster when the season began. He rattled off a string of 100+ yard games and led them on a hot streak.

NFL

photo from washingtontimes.com

Even with last Sunday’s blowout loss at Baltimore, Miami still sits at 7-5, and just a game out of the final AFC wild-card spot. Tannehill is a more than adequate starting quarterback when he does not have to make plays all on his own. The ground game of Ajayi has helped control the clock and keep the defense fresh as well.

Whether they make the playoffs or not, Dolphins fans have gone from hopeless to hopeful in about two months. All it took was some very small changes in personnel and philosophy. Again, to see such a dramatic turnaround so quickly in any other sport is extremely rare, but in the NFL, the Dolphins are not the only great turnaround story this year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quite a few folks thought Tampa Bay may be a pleasant surprise heading into the season. Despite the optimism, a 1-3 start that included a home loss to the hapless Rams seemed to be a death nail for their season.

NFL

photo from news965.com

Unlike the Dolphins, it is difficult to pinpoint the roots of this turnaround, but somewhere along the line everything started to click. The play of young quarterback Jameis Winston stabilized under the guidance of rookie head coach Dirk Koetter. He committed just a few less turnovers and started to carry this team to a few wins, all while dealing with a revolving door of starters at running back.

However, the big story in Tampa Bay is the defense. Over the last three games, the Chiefs, Chargers, and Seahawks have all been held under 25 points. That is as impressive a three-game stretch as you will ever see from a defense, particularly when you consider that the Kansas City game was on the road.

The line backing and secondary groups have some of the most low-profile good football players in the entire NFL. I am talking about guys like Lavonte David and Bradley McDougald.

The Bucs are holding down the last NFC playoff spot. They are also very much alive in the NFC South division race. Much like in Miami, even if Tampa Bay does not make the playoffs, this season has to be considered a massive step in the right direction.

Falling Franchises

Turnarounds in the NFL can be just as quick and dramatic in the other direction. The Eagles and Vikings were surprise hot starters this year and are now sinking faster than the Titanic, but that sudden nature is part of what makes the NFL so fascinating. There are a few of these stories every year.

Reversals in NFL fortune can take place over the long haul too. Two years ago, the Raiders flirted with going winless. They are now legitimate Super Bowl contenders behind Derek Carr. The Broncos were 4-12 in 2010 before John Elway came back into the picture as an executive. They have not missed the playoffs since.

So, if you like where your team is at, enjoy the view while it lasts. If you are an unhappy fan, all it takes is a few good moves to get things going in a good direction. Even the Browns will be good someday… I promise.

 

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Week Eleven NFL Picks Against the Spread

Week 11 in the NFL started with a familiar script, special teams dooming the Saints and me being on the wrong side of a Thursday night spread, even though it was by just a half point. I posted a 7-7 mark last week. Highlights were calling the Broncos’ and Seahawks’ upset wins. 71-77-6 is where I start the week. My picks are bolded, upsets have an asterisk and all spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Let’s go.

*Cardinals at Vikings (-2.5) – I have no feel for this game at all. Despite their four game losing streak, the Vikings defense is still giving up just 17 points a game. Again, they are on a four game losing streak. So, what that really means is the offense cannot move the ball against anyone at the moment, including the hot and cold Cardinals… I think. Ari 17 Min 12

*Ravens at Cowboys (-7.5) – This is one of two games I feel very strongly about this week. Folks, I have been saying it all year as well as before the season. The Ravens are a really dangerous team that will be around in January. The offense has come alive after two divisional wins. With Joe Flacco and those receivers, it was just a matter of time. On the other side of the ball, gone are names like Ray Lewis, Chris McAllister and Ed Reed, but they have finally been suitably replaced by names like CJ Mosley, Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan. This is easily the best defense the Cowboys have seen all year. They are top-ranked against the rush.

 

As a general rule, great defense stops great offense. As good as Dak Prescott has been, Ezekiel Elliott will be at least somewhat neutralized here. I do not think Prescott can do it all on his own. The Cowboys are a good football team, but other good football teams should be able to exploit their flaws. They finally run into one of those here. Bal 31 Dal 20

Bills at Bengals (-2.5) – I am excited to be going to this game. It is a coin flip. These teams are similar. Both are loaded with firepower, particularly on offense, but they find themselves fading in the AFC playoff race. This is an elimination game. Buffalo’s back may already be broken. They really outplayed Seattle last time out, but have nothing to show for it. Given preseason expectations, the Bengals should be more desperate and play well. As a native Cincinnatian (who is by no means a fan), that is terrible logic to use when evaluating the Bengals, but it is all I have got. Cin 27 Buf 23

Bears at Giants (-7.5) – We are getting late enough into the season that it is not a bad idea to start looking at trends. There is one that made me change my pick here. This season, all but one of New York’s games have been decided by seven points or fewer. The Bears are awful and after getting annihilated last week in Tampa Bay, the resurgence of Jay Cutler appears to have only lasted one week, but a trend like that should never be ignored. NYG 23 Chi 17

Jaguars at Lions (-6.5) – With division rivals Green Bay and Minnesota limping along at the moment, this may be Detroit’s year to make a real run at the big time. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing at an MVP level. I have seen nothing from Jacksonville this year that makes me think this will be close. Det 40 Jac 21

Steelers (-7.5) at BrownsFor the first time in my almost 24 years of life, the Steelers are flat out bad on defense. Giving up 380+ yards per game including well over 100 yards per game on the ground will not get you in the playoffs. It does not matter how good the offense is. There are major issues that need correcting in Steelers country. Fortunately for them, the Browns are all that is on tap this week. The Steelers are still plenty good enough to handle that task. Pit 34 Cle 24

Bucs at Chiefs (-7.5)- Boy, there are certainly easier places to go than Arrowhead Stadium if you are trying to build off a win last week the way the Bucs are. Kansas City continues to win games by playing mistake free football, having an opportunistic defense, and doing just enough on offense. As always, that style may have a ceiling on it come playoff time, but it will do the trick for now. KC 20 TB 10

Titans at Colts (-3)- It has been a very long time since I whiffed on a football game as bad as I did be Tennessee/Green Bay game last week. The Titans are a legitimate contender in that division and a lot better than I thought. Also, it is so nice to see running back DeMarco Murray back in a system that suits his skill set. However, much like the Titans, the Colts may have really found something their last time out, which was also against Green Bay. In what could be a shootout between two young and hot quarterbacks, I trust Andrew Luck a bit more than Marcus Mariota. Ind 30 Ten 24

Dolphins (-1) at Rams- This is the other game I feel very strongly about. In my house, we call this a “Nova game.” A game my dad and I would bet our beloved dog, Nova on. Thankfully, this is only hypothetical. We would have lost her many times by now. In all seriousness, Miami is rolling behind Jay Ajayi. Conversely, while his debut does add a layer of intrigue here, one can only assume that there is a good reason why Jeff Fisher and the Rams had to be dragged, kicking, and screaming to start top draft pick Jared Goff at quarterback. Mia 35 LA 17

photo from oddshark.com

photo from oddshark.com

Patriots (-13) at 49ers- As good as the Patriots are, the 49ers are that bad. However, the match-up is not terrible for them here. Without Rob Gronkowski, none of New England’s pass catchers are to be feared. The extra attention defenses must pay to Gronk creates more favorable match-ups for everyone else. Chip Kelly’s Eagles gave Bill Belichick’s Pats fits last year. These two things are enough to make this much closer than most people think. NE 35 SF 30

Eagles at Seahawks (-6.5) – The NFL’s surprise of the year is the way the Eagles have played. With a rookie head coach and quarterback, they are right there in the playoff race, but this is a tall order for Carson Wentz and company. With Russell Wilson finally healthy and the defense playing up to their capabilities, Seattle gets my vote for the best team in football right now. I am not sure how much the opponent matters to the Seahawks at the moment. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they get a rookie quarterback in their building. This week will be the start of Seattle catching Dallas for the number one seed in the NFC. Sea 31 Phi 17.

*Packers at Redskins (-3) – I am giving the Packers one more week before I bail on them. The good news is Aaron Rodgers and the offense were not the problem last week. If you give up 47 points, you are not going to win. The Redskins always put up huge yardage numbers, but really struggle in the red zone. They will lose by kicking one too many field goals Sunday night. GB 35 Was 32

MNF from Mexico City: Texans at Raiders (-5.5) – If the NFL is insistent on playing games outside our borders, this is how it should be done, in Mexico featuring two teams from cities with significant Mexican populations. As for the game itself, I struggle to buy into both these first place clubs long term. The Raiders are still committing way too many penalties. Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler is the weak link in Houston. You can’t hide the quarterback forever in this league. Houston’ defense is carrying them and the Raiders offense is doing the same in Oakland. This will be really close. The team with the MVP candidate at quarterback will do just enough to get over the finish line, but taking the points is smart here. Oak 24 Hou 21

photofromamericanfootballinternational.com

photofromamericanfootballinternational.com

 

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