NFL top 100 players 2017: 90-81

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 second installment, containing players 90-81.

90. Malcolm Butler, CB, New England Patriots

NFL Top 100

Malcolm Butler (photo by twitter.com)

Butler has gone from unknown out of the University of West Alabama, to Super Bowl hero, to one of the best corners in the league. He put his talents on display last season with 63 total tackles, four interceptions, 16 passes defended, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a sack.

He will pair with number 97 on our list, Stephon Gilmore, to create a great cornerback tandem. The Patriots had the best scoring defense in the league and ranked 12th against the pass. That rank will only get better this season with Butler improving from year to year and Gilmore on the other side of the field.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick get a lot of the praise, and deservedly so, but Butler and the defense are good enough to get some recognition too.

Comments: “I personally have Butler much higher on my list. Butler isn’t always asked to cover the elite receivers, but he’s proven to be excellent in coverage. Only 50 percent of the passes thrown his direction get completed. On average, he holds receivers well below their average in yards per game. He was essential to a Patriots secondary that played a major factor in getting New England a fifth Super Bowl ring.”-Blake Van Poucke

89. Josh Norman, CB, Washington Redskins

NFL Top 100

Josh Norman (Photo by washingtonpost.com)

It was a tumultuous, but effective first year in the nation’s capital for Norman. People criticized him for only playing one side of the field, not understanding what type of corner he is. He finished the season with 67 total tackles, three interceptions, 19 passes defended and two forced fumbles.

While Washington’s pass defense wasn’t good last year, ranking 25th in the NFL, Norman usually did a solid job of shutting down his side of the field. The rest of the Redskins’ secondary let the team down. In 2017, teams will still try to avoid throwing the ball to Norman’s side of the field because they can do so much damage throwing away from him.

Norman may get headlines for getting into scuffles with notable wide receivers, but he can play and it will show once again in 2017.

Comments: “Norman experienced maybe the biggest drop off from his first team all-pro 2015 with the Panthers after being moved to the Redskins. Nevertheless, he only experienced a small drop in production while taking on a smaller role on Washington’s secondary. He wasn’t the shutdown corner he was in 2015, but he was still very effective.”-Blake Van Poucke

88. Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys

NFL Top 100

Sean Lee (Photo by nfl.com)

Lee had a phenomenal 2017 with 146 total tackles, one pass defended and one fumble recovery. There is a noticeable difference when he is on the field and healthy for the Cowboys as opposed to when he is not.

One of the things Lee is known for the most is that he is injury prone, as he has never played all 16 games in a season. Staying healthy is a key for him to stay on this list, but if he does and performs like previous years, he will deserve his slot. Last year Dallas had the fifth-best scoring defense in the league and with an emphasis on drafting defensive players and controlling the clock on offense, Lee should be able to have another great season.

Playing under Rod Marinelli, Lee has thrived and there is no reason, other than injury, to think he won’t continue to thrive for the Cowboys.

Comments: “Sean Lee is one of the best linebackers in the league. The Cowboys look so much better on the defensive side of the ball when Lee is healthy. He is a tackle machine and is the heart and soul of the defense. If Lee can stay healthy, his spot on this list is almost guaranteed.”-Joe DiTullio

87. Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans

NFL Top 100

Marcus Mariota (Photo by titansonline.com)

In his second season in the NFL, Mariota threw for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 61% completion. His career is trending upward as he only won three games as a starter during his rookie season, but ended up winning eight in his sophomore campaign.

The Titans are starting to build a legitimate offensive threat around their franchise quarterback. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry provide two good running backs that keep each other fresh behind a good offensive line, which features Taylor Lewan. Tennessee selected Corey Davis with the fifth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and will pair him with Eric Decker, whom they have recently just signed, Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker.

With more weapons and another year of experience under his belt, look for Mariota to have a very successful 2017.

Comments: “Marcus Mariota is not getting the respect he deserves and is a top 45 player. He got injured in the 15th game and still put up 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Had Mariota stayed healthy I fully believe the Titans would have won the division. Mariota will be a top-five quarterback by the end of this season.” -Matthew Hagan

 86. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders

NFL Top 100

Marshawn Lynch (Photo by upi.com)

A guy who didn’t play last season makes the top 100. “Beast Mode” has given a lot of people reason to believe in him over the years, but had a disappointing and injury-plagued 2015 season before retiring. The 31-year-old has 9,112 rushing yards and will be looking to tack on as many yards as possible in his new silver and black uniform.

Live-game action is something that can’t be substituted, so Lynch may not have the greatest of starts, but he will have one thing that many running backs over the age of 30 don’t have, fresh legs. Another thing Lynch has going for him in 2017? His offensive line is among the best in the NFL and should be able to clear him a lot of space before he is contacted.

Lynch partially makes the list because of his great career, but also partially because of how great the guys in front of him will be.

Comments: “Similar to Brandon Marshall, Marshawn Lynch only made this list off of reputation. Lynch is 31 years old and didn’t even play last season. There will be some rust and he won’t be the every down back for the Raiders. I will be surprised if Lynch rushes for more than 700 yards.” -Matthew Hagan

“He lives up to his nickname Beast Mode. It seems impossible to tackle him. He can explode up the middle and have that big run like he had against the Saints that made him known as Beast Mode. With his new home with the Raiders I see him having the same success with the offensive line in Oakland. I think he could be a little higher on this list especially in front of Demaryius Thomas.”- Craig Stogdill

85. Jerrell Freeman, LB, Chicago Bears

NFL Top 100

Jerrell Freeman (Photo by chicagobears.com)

Freeman was suspended for his use of PED’s in 2016, but still put up impressive numbers. He was left off of the NFL’s top 100 player list, but because this list focuses on how well the players will do in 2017, he makes the cut. In 12 games in 2016, Freeman recorded 112 total tackles and four passes defended.

Assuming he can stay on the field, Freeman is by far the best player on the Bears’ defense. He is good at both stopping the run and in coverage, which makes him a three-down linebacker.

In 2017 Freeman will continue to be the best player on the Bears’ defense and make top 100 lists.

Comments: “Freeman didn’t make a lot of top 100 lists because of his PED suspension last season. In 2017 Freeman will return to form and have another great season. His ability to cover makes him a very valuable player.”-Joe DiTullio

84. Justin Houston, LB, Kansas City Chiefs

NFL Top 100

Justin Houston (Photo by cbssports.com)

Injuries have derailed Houston’s last two seasons, but in 2014 he had 22 sacks. He has had knee injuries, but now says he is healthy and ready to play. If he can stay healthy an regain his form he is one of the most dominant players in the league, but that is a big if.

Kansas City ranked 28th in sacks in 2017, but if Houston is healthy he should be able to help improve that number drastically. While knee injuries are never a good thing, Houston will be 28 this season, meaning that he should still be able to bounce back.

If Houston plays a healthy season, he will be on this list at season’s end, but if he gets hurt again, his best years are probably behind him.

Comments: “It’s a shame that Houston has only been able to play 16 games in the last two seasons. A fully healthy Justin Houston is still a top-five player in this league. 2013 is considered by many to be one of the greatest single seasons ever from a defensive end. He was still around a sack per game in 2016, but only got five games in. For the sake of entertainment, please stay healthy Justin Houston.”-Blake Van Poucke

83. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos

NFL Top 100

Demaryius Thomas (Photo by denverpost.com)

Thomas has made five straight Pro Bowls but saw his production dip last season. He had 1,083 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 90 receptions. These are all the lowest these stats have been since his second season in the league.

Most of this isn’t Thomas’ fault. He is still a good talent but has been playing with young quarterbacks who aren’t the most talented, yet. Evidence of this is his 62.5% catch percentage in 2016, which is the third highest in his career. Ultimately Thomas’ fate rests in the hands of the developing young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.

While Thomas is a player anyone would want on their team, his production and ranking in 2017 may not match his actual talent.

Comments: “Demaryius Thomas is a really good player but the quarterback situation in Denver hurts him. Neither Paxton Lynch nor Trevor Siemian will be good enough to keep Thomas as a top 100 player. Unfortunately for receivers, being a top player is somewhat out of their hands.” -Matthew Hagan

“Last year was rough for DT. He didn’t have Peyton Manning to throw him the ball and played injured last season. But Thomas is still a big target with great speed for his size. He has the size of a tight end with the speed, agility and ball skills of a wide receiver. He can get up there and make that acrobatic catch. I think DT is ranked way too high only because of his situation and that 2017 won’t look any better”- Craig Stogdill 

82. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL Top 100

Gerald McCoy (Photo by tampabay.com)

The Bucs have been lucky enough to have a consistently good player like McCoy on their team for seven seasons. Last year he continued his good production with 34 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered.

As a defensive tackle, his pass rushing numbers stand out with 42 career sacks in his seven seasons. In a division that features Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton, getting after the quarterback is a must. McCoy will have to be a great player once again to give the Bucs a chance to leap into the playoffs.

This season McCoy will be a top 100 player once again.

Comments: “This guy has been a stalwart on defense for the Bucs for a long time. He could be ranked higher just due to consistency. I expect that with his team finally in a real playoff push (last year a lot of things needed to happen for them to get in) he will exceed expectations, which are already pretty high.”- Robert Hanes

81. Phillip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

NFL Top 100

Phillip Rivers (Photo by espn.com)

In the Chargers’ last season in San Diego, Rivers had a solid season, despite not having the best talent around him. He threw for 4,386 yards on 60.4% completion, with 38 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

That might not be the best stat-line, but he was throwing to Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman for the most part, who were virtual unknowns before the season. In 2017 the Chargers will have Keenan Allen back (pending his ability to stay healthy), rookie Mike Williams, a reliable Antonio Gates and an up and coming Hunter Henry to go along with Williams, Inman and Travis Benjamin.

Rivers is aging and will be 36 this season, but he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. With a better cast around him in 2017, look for him to keep on climbing up in the record books and be a top 100 player yet again.

Comments:“Rivers had one of his worst seasons as a pro last year and being 35 years old doesn’t help. He threw 21 interceptions and was the leader of the offense that committed the most turnovers per game last season. As this year goes by, fans will start to realize that it is time for the Chargers to move on and look for their next franchise quarterback.” -Matthew Hagan

“What Rivers did last season with no offensive line and a crop of receivers that no one knew about is nothing short of amazing. Based on last year this ranking is justified, but looking ahead to this season, with his new weapons and a better team overall, Rivers is going to have a very good season and is better than a lot of players ahead of him on this list.”- Joe DiTullio

NFL Top 100 Players: 100-91

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It’s on the Haus: Ezekiel Elliott in trouble, Carolina Panthers fire GM, NBA Summer League championship and Jeremy Lin’s comments

It’s on the Haus is a daily installment of sports news from the past day. Rather than waiting an entire hour to see the big news on a television program or come to multiple stories on multiple websites to get your sports fix, It’s on the Haus gives you the biggest sports 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. Today’s SEO focus keyword for your viewing pleasure: Ezekiel Elliott Carolina Panthers GM NBA Summer League Jeremy Lin

Last edition: Spurs win, Trail Blazers’ new logo, LaVar Ball talked again and Matt Harvey

Ezekiel Elliott was #Wildin at a club

Ezekiel Elliott Carolina Panthers GM nba summer league Jeremy Lin

Will Ezekiel Elliott be able to hurdle the NFL’s punishments? Well, it’s hard to say (Photo: ESPN.com).

Reports surfaced yesterday morning that Ezekiel Elliott was straight getting after it in a Dallas night club on Sunday night. A 30-year-old man was reportedly assaulted in the club and suffered severe enough injuries to earn him a trip to the hospital. Although the man could not identify who assaulted him, Elliott is suspected to be part of the incident.

No arrests were made in connection to the incident, but the NFL is looking into if Elliott deserves to be reprimanded.

Although we’re yet to see a report that Elliott was in fact part of the altercation, every news outlet is treating the situation like he was. Elliott is already under fire for a domestic violence incident that the NFL still hasn’t ruled on, and he’s also been spotted in a marijuana dispensery and had too much fun in New Orleans (Google it if you aren’t learned).

This new situation won’t bode well for the man who finished third in MVP voting and second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting last season. If I were a betting man (let the record show I am not), I’d put money on Elliott missing time in 2017.

But at least Dez Bryant, a standup citizen in his own right, came to bat for Elliott yesterday afternoon. Bryant became a proud keyboard warrior and lit up a troll on his Twitter account, causing the troll to delete the tweet that sparked the outburst from Bryant.

This is quite a hairy situation, and Elliott most likely will not come out unscathed.

NFL players React to carolina panthers firing gm dave gettleman

The Carolina Panthers fired former general manager Dave Gettleman on Monday morning, and no one knows why. Gettleman took Carolina to its first Super Bowl since 2004 just two seasons ago.

Former Panthers running back and current NFL free agent DeAngelo Williams crossed Carolina off his list of teams he wouldn’t play for next season thanks to the firing, per his personal Twitter account.

Steve Smith, who spent the first 13 of his 16 NFL seasons with the Panthers, shunned the organization for letting go Gettleman. Although Smith rallying around his former general manager is respectable, he needs to work on his Twitter game. Hashtagging your own name, Steve? Really? And fix your grammar while you’re at it.

Former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman used emojis to convey his message like any self-aware millennial would.


The overwhelming majority of keyboard warriors on Twitter were surprised that Gettleman had been let go, and even though the Panthers just went 6-10 last season, Carolina still reached the Super Bowl with a 15-1 record in 2015.

Adam Schefter expects Titans director of player personnel Ryan Cowden and Panthers director of personnel Don Gregory to be in the running for the now vacant position.

NBA Summer League Results

The NBA Summer League sucks. It causes people to overreact about rookies and scrubs who will never make an NBA roster for more than 10 days as fans vulture for any news they can during the offseason. The summer league is filled with lackluster play and lacks any noteworthy talent. You don’t believe me? Look at this tweet from a very handsome man:

However, it’s my job to report to you that the Los Angeles Lakers have the least scrubby of all the scrubs in the NBA Summer League. The Lakers won the summer league final last night, 110-98.

Good for Los Angeles, I guess. The majority of the players that played in last night’s final will never see NBA minutes that mean anything, so I really don’t care that Jayson Tatum lit up players that wouldn’t make my intramural basketball team during the summer league.

We’re reaching for news about Lonzo Ball’s freaking shoes, folks. Let’s put the summer league behind us and never ever look back.

Jeremy Lin to be drug tested today

Jeremy Lin and his Brooklyn Nets went 20-62 last season, good for dead last in the entire NBA. Clearly all that losing has gone to his head.

Ezekiel Elliott Carolina Panthers GM nba summer league Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin probably doesn’t know up from down after making asinine comments about the Nets yesterday (Photo: Charles Wenzelberg).

In an Instagram Live post yesterday (follow me on my new Insta account, btw), Lin declared his Nets would make the playoffs this season.

“We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else tells me,” Lin said according to Kyle Boone of CBS Sports.

Lin said himself and newly acquired D’Angelo Williams would do some “serious damage” in Brooklyn, and because of Lin’s claims, I’m gravely concerned for his mental health. Lin has played in 17 playoff games in his entire seven-year career, so his experience in getting past the regular season is about as much as Floyd Mayweather’s in quantum physics.

The Nets lost their leading scorer and best player in Brook Lopez in a trade to the Lakers, but have acquired the aforementioned Russell and DeMarre Carroll, among others. In short, there’s virtually no playoff-caliber talent on this roster. There’s no way the Nets make the playoffs this season, and Lin thinks he can blatantly lie in Taiwan and get away with it.

Lin may be off the hook for now, but he shouldn’t be surprised when the NBA asks him to urinate in a cup for his puzzled thoughts.

 

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Is Dez Bryant a top fantasy option?

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

Throw up the X: 2011-14

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

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

Dez Bryant fantasy value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Injuries and quarterback issues: 2015-16

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: whatthebuc.net)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 outlook

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: sbnation.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Featured image from reddit.com

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Super Bowl Series: NFC East

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC East

Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl Series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl Series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. The first edition will be Super Bowl Series: NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Super Bowl Series: NFC East

(Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s not going out on a limb to say the Dallas Cowboys can win the Super Bowl. Last season, Dallas earned the number one seed in the NFC but lost to Green Bay 34-31 in the divisional round. The experience was valuable for a relatively young team.

The Cowboys are a talented offensive team. Dallas’ offensive line ranked second in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. This allowed rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot to lead the league in rushing with 1,631 yards. Fellow rookie Dak Prescott was named Rookie of the Year after throwing for 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

The second-ranked offensive line paved the way for the NFL’s leading rusher and they only gave up 25 sacks on the season.

To win the Super Bowl, the offense just needs to do what they did last season. If Elliot leads the NFL in rushing and Prescott protects the football, this offense will continue to be one of the best.

Winning the Super Bowl for the Cowboys comes down to their defense. Dallas gave up the fifth-fewest points last year (19.1) but a lot of that is due to a running game that kept them off the field.

Breaking down the Cowboys defense shows that they must improve their passing defense. The Cowboys ranked first in the NFL in rushing defense giving up only 83.5 yards per game. Dallas gave up 260.4 yards passing per game which ranked 26th.

In summary, the Cowboys offense needs to replicate their success from last season. Defensively, the Cowboys must continue to stop the run and bring down the passing yards allowed per game. This is what it will take for the Dallas Cowboys to win their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

New York Giants

Super Bowl Series: NFC East

(Photo Credit: AP / Bill Kostroun)

Similar to the Cowboys, it is not far-fetched to say the New York Giants can win Super Bowl LII. The Giants went 11-5 and earned a wild card berth. New York lost their wild card game to Green Bay 38-13.

Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP and champion and the leader of this offense. For the Giants to win the Super Bowl this season, Eli Manning will have to have a minimum of 30 touchdowns and 4,000 yards which he is capable of.

From that 4,000 plus passing yards, Odell Beckham needs at least 1,300. If Odell adds 10 touchdowns as well, then the Giants’ offense will be good enough to make the playoffs and compete for a Super Bowl.

As surprising as it is, the Giants will be led by their very talented defense. The front four is loaded and led by players like Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul and Damon Harrison. These guys will need to continue improve their pressure on opposing quarterbacks. New York ranked 14th with 35 sacks and that must improve to take that step towards a Super Bowl victory.

The weakest unit of the defense is the linebacking corp. If the linebackers are average they can still help the Giants have a top 10 defense.

New York’s secondary is one of the best in the league. Janoris Jenkins, Landon Collins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie combined for 14 interceptions. Continuing that kind of success will only help the Giants’ chances.

The Giants strength will be the defense and if the offense can keep up the Giants can win the Super Bowl.

Washington Redskins

Super Bowl Series: NFC East

(Photo Credit: Bleacher Report)

The Washington Redskins finished last season 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs. Making the playoffs is going to be a difficult task considering how good the NFC East is. It is going to take a lot for the Redskins to win the Super Bowl.

Washington will need Kirk Cousins to take the next step as a quarterback. That next step is becoming a Pro-Bowl and MVP-caliber quarterback which is asking too much of him. Last season he had 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Those numbers need to be 30-plus touchdowns and less than 10 interceptions.

Washington also has a running back by committee backfield and that must change. One of these running backs needs to step up and have a 1,200-yard season. There must be that go-to guy in crunch time.

The receiving corp is not going to blow your socks off. These guys will have to play over their head and take some of the pressure off of Jordan Reed to help this offense succeed.

Washington is going to be a project defensively. The Redskins don’t have starters listed on their depth chart at either defensive end spot or at strong safety. Josh Norman and Ryan Kerrigan are going to have to lead by example and carry this defense to a top-five ranking if the Redskins want to win the Super Bowl.

In short, for the Redskins to win Super Bowl LII, Kirk Cousins will need to be in the MVP discussion and the defense needs to play out of their mind as a top-five defense.

Philadelphia Eagles

Super Bowl Series: NFC East

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

Philly finished fourth in the NFC East with a record of 7-9 last season. Considering the Eagles had a rookie quarterback, it was a pretty good season. Philadelphia made a lot of moves to try and build a playoff team.

The acquisitions of LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery will go a long way to helping Carson Wentz avoid a sophomore slump. For the Eagles to win the Super Bowl, Wentz must have a huge year. What would that huge year look like? Wentz would have to double his touchdowns from 16 to at least 32 and cut down on his 14 interceptions.

Alshon Jeffery will simply have to stay healthy. Jeffery is elite when healthy but he has missed 11 games over the past two seasons. Torrey Smith will have to turn back the clock and mirror his 2013 season in which he caught 65 balls for 1,128 yards. Jordan Matthews will also have to step up his game.

The running game will need to take some pressure off the passing game. Blount led the NFL in rushing touchdowns last season (18) with the Patriots and repeating that will push the Eagles to a higher plateau. Ryan Mathews needs to stay healthy which may be impossible because he has never played a full season in his seven years in the NFL.

The Eagles defense is full of playmakers and stars like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks and Malcolm Jenkins. Last year Philadelphia ranked 12th in points allowed at 20.7 points per game. If the Eagles want to make the playoffs and win Super Bowl LII they must improve on that to alleviate pressure off of Carson Wentz and the rest of the offense.

If the Eagles remain healthy, get a huge jump in play from Carson Wentz and the defense allows fewer points than they did last season then the Philadelphia Eagles can win their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

 

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl Series: NFC East. Stay tuned the remaining editions of Super Bowl Series.

Super Bowl Series: AFC East

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Franchise Analysis – Carolina Panthers

It’s safe to say the Panthers Super Bowl hangover was real, as 2016 was not kind to this franchise. Coming off their appearance in Super Bowl 50, expectations were higher than ever. How did a team with the defending NFL MVP go from first to worst in their own division?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

With any team, a quarterback will get all of the credit, and all of the blame as well. It looked like Cam Newton finally realizd his potential and established himself as one of the next great quarterbacks. It was evident this season that something wasn’t right with the 2015 NFL MVP.

Overall, this offense finished 15th in points and 19th in yards. That’s a drastic drop off from finishing first and 11th in those respective categories in 2015. Was Cam Newton really to blame for this sharp decline in production? The answer: not entirely.

The 2015 Panthers ran the ball 526 times, which was more than any other team. Next season they only attempted 453 runs, good for seventh in that category. Many factors contributed to this decline. First, Jonathan Stewart missed three games. The Panthers averaged less than 100 yards rushing and three turnovers per game during that stretch.

Panthers Super Bowl hangover

Will Cam Newton try to reincorporate running the ball as part of his game for the 2017 season? (Courtesy of; ABC News Radio)

Second, Cam Newton failed to run the ball effectively. At times, he even seemed unwilling to run. Compared to his MVP season, he rushed the ball 42 fewer times and scored five fewer rushing touchdowns. This could be the result of the punishment he continually took this season. It’s smart for Newton to run less, but he’s always been more effective as a threat to run.

In the last two seasons, the Panthers are 14-5 when Newton has at least seven rushing attempts and are 6-2 when Newton runs at least 10 times. Double-digit rushing attempts is probably too much, even for Newton. He has to find a medium between running too much, and not at all. Since his completion percentage has never been above 60 in consecutive seasons, running the ball must be a part of his game.

Third and finally, the Panthers offensive line did not produce to the same level as they did in 2015. Michael Oher, Mike Remmers and Dan France couldn’t stay healthy enough or play well enough to maintain the run game.

Entering 2017, this offense needs to focus on rebuilding their running attack in order to shake off the Panthers Super Bowl hangover.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

If the 2016 Panther’s offense took a step back, then the defense fell off a cliff. This defense finished 26th in points and 21st in yards after being top 10 in those categories a year ago. Specifically, this team could not stop anyone through the air.

In 2016, opponents on average had three less passing attempts against the Panthers per game, but had more success. They gave up 34 more passing yards per game on average. That may not seem like much, but 34 yards equates to three more first downs per game. That impacts field position and scoring.

It’s evident that this unit missed Josh Norman. He’s not the sole reason for this decline. However, when this defense is still top 10 against the run and is decidedly worse against the pass, his absence played a role in contributing to the Panthers Super Bowl hangover.

Apart from inconsistent play from young but talented players, the Panthers’ defensive scheme needs tuning. This defense would routinely ask linebackers and defensive linemen to play an active role in coverage. Using less athletic defenders to cover tight ends and slot receivers should be used sparingly, not featured. If this defense can adjust their scheme to minimize the impact linebackers and defensive linemen have in coverage, they will undoubtedly improve.

Panthers Super Bowl hangover

Luke Kuechly’s return in 2017 will no doubt have a positive impact on this lackluster Panthers defense. (Courtesy of; Deadspin)

The Panthers also suffered from one of the most heartbreaking injuries of the season. It was painful to see Luke Kuechly miss the last six games as a result of a concussion. Kuechly is always one of the best linebackers against the run and is incredibly versatile in coverage. The Panthers will no doubt improve with a healthy Luke Keuchly back in the lineup.

What’s incredibly frustrating about this defense is that they finished second in sacks and 10th in third down defense and teams could still pass against them. This team needs more consistent play from all of their players. It’s clear they are capable of top defensive play, but they must become more consistent if they wish to return to the Super Bowl.

 

Divisional Analysis

Unfortunately, the Panthers reside in the NFC South. This division is the best in terms of quarterback play from top to bottom. What other division has a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, two MVP’s, and a rising star all at the quarterback position? Thus, the Panthers have to build their team to combat such players.

The Panthers are already capable of rushing the passer. They must upgrade their secondary to get more consistency against the pass. There are a plethora of good defensive backs in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the eighth overall pick, the Panthers will be able to address this need, should they make it a priority.

With players like Marlon Humphrey, Quincy Wilson, Marshon Lattimore, and Adoree’ Jackson available, the Panthers will have plenty of good options. Because there are so many good defensive backs, they could look to trade back and still be able to select one of these top prospects.

They could also use this pick to address their diminished rushing attack. The Panthers could make a splash and select Leonard Fournette. Infusing a talent like Fournette in this offense could allow the Panthers to return to their 2015 dominance.

The Panthers could also use this opportunity to address their left tackle position. If Cam Robinson is not on the board when the Panthers pick, I don’t see them selecting a tackle. There isn’t a player, besides Robinson, worthy of a top 10 selection at this point.

The point is, the Panthers were dominant when their offense was effective running the football. They were able to keep the opposing teams’ quarterback off the field, and thus limit their impact on the game.

Postseason Prospects

Clearly, the Panthers have certain strengths that give them the potential to be a playoff team. Here are the Panthers’ ranks in the following offensive and defensive metrics that can indicate postseason success.

Panthers Super Bowl hangover

It’s nearly impossible for an NFL team to be great in every facet of the game. Often, teams are very good at a few things, and are at least competent at the rest. For Carolina’s offense, they weren’t particularly good at any one part of the game. Yes, they finished top 10 in time of possession. Outside of that metric, they were mediocre in all other categories.

This doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t improve next season. However, the Panthers need to re-establish their identity as a run first team. If they are successful, they will have increased time of possession, third down conversion rate, and allow less sacks.

Panthers Super Bowl hangover

While the drop off for the defense was significant, they still show flashes of greatness. Finishing in the top 10 in three of these categories is great. However, they failed to even be average in terms of points and yards allowed. If they could have just been top 20 in both of these statistics, this team would have had a chance to make the playoffs.

Hopefully the Panthers will continue to build upon the defensive success that made them conference champions in 2015.

2017 Predictions

I see improvement in the Panthers future. They will be returning key players who missed time from injury, as well as acquiring new talent through the draft and free agency.

The only question is, will the coaching staff and quarterback be willing to regain their run first mentality? I think the answer is yes. However, with ascending teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta, the Panthers Super Bowl hangover will remain. I like Carolina to improve to 9-7, but miss the playoffs.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Pro Bowl Olympics

Every year it is the same sad story when people start talking about the Pro Bowl. It’s boring, the players don’t even try, or it’s a meaningless game that wouldn’t be missed if scrapped. The problem though is there needs to be some kind of recognition for the best players in the NFL. All other sports hold all-star games and it doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue.

(Photo: Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports)

Hockey isn’t as popular as the other major sports in America so there is not much of an emphasis on the all-star game and the problems it may create. Baseball has a home run derby during all-star weekend, plus the winner of the game earned home-field advantage in the World Series for their league through this season. It may be unfair to the team with the better record, but there was meaning within who wins the game. As far as the NBA is constructed, the all-star weekend has a skills competition, a three-point contest, and a dunk contest that get the fans excited about the all-star game. Football doesn’t have anything exciting like that. They have tried different kinds of mini-games or competitions that just does not get anybody super pumped up about meaningless football.

Many ideas have been constructed on how this game should be handled. Nothing has stuck or sparked interest and most people want to just do away with it. But what if it was turned into something similar to the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, in which NFL players got to display athletism on more than just the gridiron? Many ideas are outlandish but sometimes it takes an outlandish idea to strike gold.

 

 

A New Idea

Speaking of striking gold, why not turn the Pro Bowl into a weekend event and call it the Pro Bowl Olympics. There will be three events on Saturday that would display different skills that otherwise would not be displayed by players in the NFL. The regular game would still take place on Sunday. Players not trying or nobody caring about the game would no longer be an issue.

(NEW ORLEANS, LA – SEPTEMBER 30: Tight end Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints dunks the ball over the goal post after scoring a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 30, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

There would be three mini-tournaments in three different sports. The events would be a softball, flag football, and basketball tournament on Saturday with four teams each in participation. The teams would be split up into AFC offense, AFC defense, NFC offense, and NFC defense. Special team pro bowlers would be allowed to choose offense or defense but must remain with their conference. Each player voted to the pro bowl would be allowed to opt out of one of the three events on Saturday.

The goal would be to develop a point system so that three players from the Saturday events, would earn Pro Bowl Olympic Medals. Gold, Silver, and Bronze would go to the best three players at the end of the day who had earned the most points. There would also be a team that could win as the best team. For example, the NFC defense collectively scored the most team points, then all players who were on the NFC defense would win the team gold medals.

 

 

Softball

Many football players were multiple sport athletes in high school and/or college. Some were great basketball players and others were great baseball players. It would be highly intriguing to see the best players in the NFL square off in a slow pitch softball game. For softball, it would be a five-inning game, single elimination tournament.

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The first round would see the AFC offense vs. NFC Defense and the AFC defense vs. the NFC offense. It would be fun to see who could be pitchers and what other positions, players may play on the softball field. Wouldn’t you love to see Antonio Brown covering centerfield? How exciting would it be to see who the AFC defense would throw out there to pitch?

It would be fairly simple to set up the point system for softball. This list would explain how each individual player would score points towards their pro bowl olympic medal: a Single=1 point, a Double=2 points, a Triple=3 points, a Home Run=4 points, a Grand Slam=5 points, a stolen base=3 points, and striking out would result in losing a point. In the field, a pitcher striking a batter out= 3 points, players involved in a double play putout=1 point, winning pitcher=3 points, losing pitcher= a loss of 3 points. In softball there are not a lot of strike outs and in a game like this the fans would want offense, therefore, most of the scoring would come from batting.

As far as team points are concerned the team that won the tournament would get three team points and each team following in placement would receive a point less. For example, second place would get two points, and third place would get one point. The team who finishes last would end up with a goose egg.

Flag Football

Now alot of people would question, why would we want to see a flag fotoball game from football players? This game would be around to help fans see the athletism of the offensive and defensive line. The rules would state that the quarterback must be either an offensive or defensive lineman and each player could only play quarterback for a half. The halves would be only 10 minutes long. It would be seven on seven but there would be subbing allowed as well. It would be the same tournament format as softball for the match-ups.

(Photo: Getty)

Scoring towards medals as individuals would be as follows: Touchdowns= 6 points, Safeties=2 points, receptions= 1 point, completions= 1 point, interceptions throw= loss of 5 points, interceptions by defense= 5 points, deflections/pass breakups=1 point, and drops= loss of a point. Team scoring would be the same as it was in the softball event.

This would allow NFL players such as, center Rodney Hudson, or defensive tackle Fletcher cox, the opportunity to showcase passing or receiving skills that otherwise would go unnoticed.

 

Basketball

(http://www.sbnation.com)

The last event would be a basketball tournament. By now you get a sense of how this would play out. Five vs. Five with two 10 minute halves and once a player is subbed out they will no longer be allowed to reenter the contest. This allows multiple players to get in the game since both sides of the ball have quite a bit of players.

Scoring in this event would be easy as well. A player would receiving points for every single point they scored. For example, if linebacker Anthony Barr dropped 17 points in the basketball game, 17 points would go to his overall olympic score. A player also would receive 1 point per an assist, rebound, steal, or block. If A.J Green had 14 points, three assists, seven rebounds, two blocks, and a steal he would have 27 points towards a pro bowl medal.

 

 

Bite the medal

(http://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2016/9/25/13049130/josh-norman-odell-beckham-jr-giants-washington-nfl-ballet)

At the end of the three events the player with the most points total would be the Pro Bowl Olympics Gold Medalist. Second and third place would receive their silver and bronze, respectively. The team with the most points in standings would also be awarded Gold Medals.

There is no realistic chance of something like this happening and it is okay to admit that, but one can not read this and not be intrigued. It creates alot of strategy on how the players would approach which positions they play within the three events. The competitor in all of them would be brought to the surface as each and every single player would be chasing that gold. The Pro Bowl Olympics wouldn’t have to be limited to these three events. Golf, tennis, hockey and soccer could all be added or replace any one of these events and it would still bring about major excitement to Pro Bowl Weekend.

Yes, the idea might be far-fetched but can you sit there and really say that it wouldn’t be fun to see Alex Smith pitching to Landon Collins? Or to see Jadeveon Clownley playing quarterback? Or see Odell Beckham Jr. trying to dunk on Josh Norman in the basketball game? The Pro Bowl Olympics would turn Pro Bowl weekend into the most popular exhibition weekend in all of sports.

 

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The Underwhelming Crop of New NFL Head Coaches

With it all but confirmed that Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will be taking over as head coach of the 49ers when Atlanta’s season ends, all six of the NFL’s head-coaching vacancies are now filled. Some are stepping into better situation than others, but I find all but one of the head-coaching hires underwhelming. Quite frankly, that is putting it mildly. Here is a look at each:

Doug Marrone (Jacksonville Jaguars)

Of all the hires, this is the one that has a chance to work long-term. Marrone is an experienced coach at both the college and pro levels. He did a very respectable job for two seasons as the head coach of the Bills in 2013 and 2014 before a mutual parting of ways. In 2014, he guided the Bills to just their second winning season since 1999. EJ Manuel was his quarterback for most of his time in Buffalo. Not many coaches could get nine wins with EJ Manuel as their quarterback. He has barely seen the field since Marrone left. Marrone also turned Syracuse football into a competitive program during his time there ending a bowl game victory drought of nearly a decade

Photo courtesy of Jacksonville.com

The hiring of two-time Super Bowl winning head coach Tom Coughlin as an executive to oversee all aspects of the Jaguars organization is the biggest thing working in Marrone’s favor. Coughlin knows what it takes to win and will bring instant credibility and discipline to Jacksonville. These have been lacking ever since Coughlin left as head coach following the 2002 season. The Jaguars roster is not terrible at the moment and will have chances to improve through the draft and free agency. Whatever they have to work with, Coughlin and Marrone will get the most out of it. They both have done that for their entire careers in football.

 

Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills)

While McDermott’s stints as defensive coordinator in Carolina and Philadelphia were largely positive, his Panthers defense took a major step backward last year. They fell out of the top 20 in almost every statistical category after being one of the most dominant units in the league for the better part of two years. Some will point to the loss of Josh Norman. While it certainly did not help, I do not think it explains the entirety of Carolina defensive decline. No one player should mean that much to defense. If he does, there is something wrong with the system.

 

Combine this with the traditionally dysfunctional Bills front office and fairly new ownership that seems to think the roster is better than it actually is, and I see no way for McDermott to lead this team beyond .500, which is almost exactly the same record Rex Ryan had during his just under two years in Buffalo.

 

Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams)

 

 

Here is your classic case of too much too soon. Unlike most of the new hires, the unit McVay coordinated last year was quite good. The Redskins offense had the fewest three and outs in football last year. Even so, he is the youngest coach in league history. Moreover, he is inheriting a mess. Other than the defensive line, there is almost nothing here to work with. Additionally, this is another franchise struggling to find its relocation groove. That only makes McVay’s job more difficult. There are a lot of 60-year-old coaches who could not handle this job.

Photo Courtesy of nbclosangeles.com

 

While the Rams have done a great job surrounding McVay with quality assistant coaches, unless he can walk on water, it will be an extremely difficult task for him to get this franchise turned around. The one thing working in his favor is that the Rams gave Jeff Fisher plenty of time to get things going in the right direction. It did not work out, but McVay will need that same luxury to build a winner.

 

Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers)

This is the real stunner to me. Lynn spent most of last year as the offensive coordinator in Buffalo. While the Bills were the top rushing team in the league, it is impossible to be a legitimate contender in the modern NFL averaging under 200 yards passing a game like Buffalo did. Regardless of who is playing quarterback, you have to find a way to get more from your passing game than that. It certainly does not merit being hired as head coach.

 

Buffalo wanted to get an early look at Lynn. Thus, he was named interim head coach replacing Rex Ryan for the season finale. Not only were the bills routed by the Jets, but they were on the wrong end of a football folly for the ages. Watch it below thanks to the NFL’s YouTube channel. I have no words just watch.

 

After allowing a play like that to happen on his watch, under no circumstances would I hire Lynn as the head coach anywhere. Much less head coach of are relocating franchise trying (and mostly failing) to ingratiate itself to a new city. For those that will say a career of a coach should not be defined by a single play, fans and media do it with players all the time. Why should coaches not be held to the same standard? There is no way Lynn’s time in LA the lasts long or ends well.

 

 

Vance Joseph (Denver Broncos)

 

Strangely Joseph is the least qualified candidate of the new head coaches. Yet, he landed the best job with one of the NFL’s most consistent franchises over the last half decade or so. Following the sudden resignation of Gary Kubiak, Joseph has been handed the keys to a franchise that won a Super Bowl less than a year ago.

The Broncos roster is loaded with talent and ready to win now. The objective is to win Super Bowls. In theory, this is the objective for all NFL teams every year, but for most teams it simply is not realistic. It certainly is for the Broncos. They missed the playoffs this year for the first time in five years and still managed to post a winning record.

Given that standard of success, I just do not see how hiring a guy who spent one year as an NFL defensive coordinator and oversaw the 29th-ranked defense last year is going to accomplish that goal. I have no clue why multiple teams were interested in this guy as a head coach. He is clearly well thought of around the league. However, there is a difference between that and being a good head coach.

Joseph will likely be the most successful of the new head coaches early on based solely on the strength of his assistant coaches and general roster talent. Eventually, he will likely follow the same path as former Broncos and current Bears head coach Jon Fox who won a lot of games in Denver but was let go for not being able to get over the hump.

 

 

Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers)

 

Of the five hires who will be first-time head coaches, Shanahan was most deserving of a job. The work he has done with Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense this year is amazing. Unfortunately for him, he got the one job that nobody short of Vince Lombardi or Bill Belichick could make work right now. Shanahan will be San Francisco’s fourth coach in as many seasons. There was never any talent on the roster for Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula to begin with. Shanahan is the same boat. Kelly and Tomsula were given just a single season.

How any candidate could trust ownership with a track record like that is beyond me, but there are only 32 head coaching jobs to go around. So, I do not blame Shanahan for taking the gig. Ultimately though, his success or failure hinges on the 49ers finding a general manager who knows what he is doing and Shanahan being given enough time to figure out the quarterback position and the rest of the roster. I do not trust ownership to do either.

Every year when new head coaches are hired, I find myself asking the same question. Are these the best guys the NFL can come up with? Even the less glamorous franchises like the Jaguars are worth over $1 billion according to Forbes. Why a team does not offer someone like Nick Saban enough money to make him the highest-paid coach in the league is baffling to me.

 

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Week 15 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Last week was a good one. A 10-6 mark is nothing to sneeze at. An above .500 record is so close I can taste it. Being on the wrong side of a 16 point spread Thursday night leaves me sitting at 105-107-6 for the year. My picks are bolded, straight up upsets have an asterisk, and spreads are from rtsports.com. It looks like the vast majority of the games will be played in bitter cold. This week should be fun.

Dolphins (-2.5) at *Jets- The first Saturday night NFL game of the year will not be pretty, but is interesting. Matt Moore is now tasked with getting the Dolphins to the playoffs. He is a fine quarterback, but this is a lot to ask. The Jets defense is capable of eating mediocre quarterbacks alive. That is exactly what Moore is. This is not a defense I would want to deal with if I have not played in a relevant game in a few years. Also, the spark rookie quarterback Bryce Petty gave the Jets last week in their comeback win was very impressive, even though it was only the 49ers. The chance to put a division rival in a dire situation in regards to the playoffs is plenty of incentive for New York to come out and play well. NYJ 14 Mia 10

Browns at Bills (-10) – Rex Ryan cannot save his job with a win here, but a loss almost certainly seals his fate. Despite a mountain of fair criticism over the years, players have always loved playing for Ryan. Buffalo wins here. It will not be a walkover though. Buf 28 Cle 20

Lions at Giants (-4) – Do not bet this game. If anyone tells you they have a clue, they are lying. Going home and laying an egg after a huge win would be such a Giants thing to do. The Lions are a good team. However, the Giants defense combined with questions about Matthew Stafford’s health nudge me ever so slightly towards the home team. NYG 20 Det 13

Packers (-5.5) at Bears- You know it is a cold week when the Chicago Bears may play their coldest game ever. The way Green Bay manhandled Seattle last week was stunning. Thus, there is nothing that says the Bears will keep this close. I cannot see the outright upset. However, as a general rule, if 80% or more of the money is coming in on one side, go the other way. GB 24 Chi 21.

*Colts at Vikings (-4) – Indy’s playoff hopes probably ended last week, but they remain dangerous with a top flight quarterback. The Vikings are still hunting for a playoff spot and will get Adrian Peterson back. It has been very difficult for me to pick them all year. I have had mixed results. The fact is at least one of two conditions must be present for me to make them a solid pick, non-offensive touchdowns or playing Jacksonville. One is nearly impossible to predict and the other happened last week. So… Ind 21 Min 17

photo from duenorthsports.com

photo from duenorthsports.com

Jaguars at Texans (-5) – Jacksonville will have a major impact on the outcome of the AFC South race, just not in the way they hoped. Starting here, they play both teams vying for the division title. With the way Brock Osweiler has played, the Texans being where they are is astounding. Jacksonville is not much of a threat to them. It is looking more and more like their New Year’s Day game with the Titans will be for all the marbles. Hou 19 Jac 10

Eagles at Ravens (-6) – Despite last week’s loss in New England, Baltimore is still playing pretty well. At his very best, Joe Flacco is as good as any quarterback in the league. Meanwhile, the Eagles continue crashing back to reality after a hot start. Carson Wentz is in for a long afternoon against a Ravens defense that gives any team it faces a tough time. They even drove New England nuts at times. Bal 24 Phi 13

Steelers (-3) at Bengals- The Bengals are suddenly playing pretty well, even though they only played the Browns and Eagles. My view on the Steelers remains unchanged. The offense is really good, the defense petrifies me. Vontaze Burfict and company would love nothing more than to put their bitter rivals squarely on the playoff bubble. Vegas has wisely taken into account the rivalry game factor. The talent gap is too big, and the number too small for me not to swallow it. Pit 24 Cin 20

photo from steelersdepot.com

photo from steelersdepot.com

Titans at Chiefs (-5) – With no dominant team this year, a team like Kansas City may be lined up for something special. They do everything really well and just beat people up. Tennessee conducts business in a similar manor, but Marcus Mariota completed just six passes last week. Performances like that have not been terribly uncommon this year. The Titans lack of a consistent air attack will keep them from winning here, and ultimately reaching the playoffs. KC 16 Ten 9

Saints at Cardinals (-2.5) – Drew Brees has really struggled the last few weeks. I am not ready to write his career eulogy, but Arizona’s defense is not one quarterbacks can get right against. Also, if you have not seen Cardinals running back David Johnson yet, make a point out of watching him work before the season ends. Ari 31 NO 21

49ers at Falcons (-13) – Taking this big a number is not a good idea most of the time, but San Francisco is just awful. They are on a 12 game losing streak for a reason. Since they are in the playoff hunt, the Falcons should send a very nice holiday card to whoever decided they would play the Rams and 49ers back to back in December. Atl 34 SF 17

Patriots (-3) at Broncos- Much like the Bengals/Steelers game, I am trying to find a reason to take the underdog, but there is not one. Denver is putting up a ton of yardage and not enough points in recent weeks. This plays right in to New England’s hands. Recent history points towards Denver, but the world champs will need to play 60 solid and complete minutes here. Although Trevor Siemian will continue to impress, I don’t think the team as a whole is capable. The path to the playoffs narrows slightly for the rushing starved Broncos. NE 24 Den 19

Raiders (-3) at *Chargers – The Raiders were finally somewhat exposed last week in Kansas City. If the offense is off one iota, they are helpless. Given the way Derek Carr threw the ball, it is reasonable to speculate that his pinky finger is a bigger issue than the coaching staff would like to admit. A dinged up quarterback and minimal margin for error is enough for me to lean towards San Diego, who can play with anyone. They just do not win often enough. They will here. SD 34 Oak 28

Bucs at Cowboys (-7) – Great job by the league flexing this game into prime time. I am officially in on the Bucs, but that does not mean I like their chances here. Prior to last week, Dallas had shown that they are capable of winning even when Dak Prescott struggles. The dirty little secret in the entire NFL right now is how poorly Prescott has played for the last month. He has not broken 200 yards in a game since early last month. The Cowboys are no longer winning games because of him, but rather in spite of him. Fortunately for Dallas, it has the better roster to begin with. Also, this is the biggest game for Tampa Bay in almost a decade. I expect mistakes to doom them, but they remain right in the middle of the playoff race, even with a loss here. Oh, and if Prescott continues to struggle, going back to Tony Romo should be a no-brainer. With a real shot at winning it all, Dallas cannot afford to leave its $100 million bullet in the gun. Dal 28 TB 17

MNF: Panthers at Redskins (-6.5) – The Josh Norman Bowl takes center stage here. The world is still paralyzed by last season’s version of the Panthers. For whatever reason, this year’s version is simply a bad football team. The same cannot be said for the Redskins, who still have everything to play for. Their balanced offense should be enough to keep them in the playoff hunt with a win. Was 30 Car 17

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The NFL Needs Celebrations

(http://mattlunsford.blogspot.com/2016/07/sportstown-kentucky.html)

(http://mattlunsford.htlm)

A 12 year old boy is in a park yelling to himself. “Red 82. Red 82. Set, hut.” The boy then throws the ball up in the air just out of his reach so he can run under the ball and dive to catch it himself. He dives and makes the catch. His jeans get grass stains from diving and then he yells, “touchdown! we win the Super Bowl!” The boy then dances and pretends the football is a basketball and fake dunks it over the imaginary goal post. The boy is having fun pretending he made the game winning catch in a Super Bowl. He gets a euphoric feeling and precedes to dance and celebrate as a kid would do.

This type of reaction isn’t applicable to just football, but to all sports. Isn’t that what we do when we accomplish something great? Celebrations aren’t something that ever go away. As a kid we celebrate everything, no matter how small or how big. As we grow older we celebrate less and less but we still do so. We celebrate graduating, weddings, birthdays, holidays and work promotions. There is a little kid inside all of us waiting to celebrate at any chance we get.

Sports are fun and we learn it at a young age. Football has taken this away and at the end of the day, the game these men play on the gridiron is just that, a game. Fans loved Brett Favre more for his little boy demeanor sometimes even more than for his play. His actions made watching him enjoyable. Every week Favre showed that he truly loved the game and he wasn’t just playing for the money.

The NFL use to be fun as well. On a Sunday once upon a time, you could turn on the T.V. and see T.O grabbing a cheerleader’s pom poms and start dancing after scoring a touchdown. You could see Joe Horn lift up the padding around the goal post and grab a cell phone to make a pretend phone call. There was a possibility Chad Johnson “Ochocinco” would be putting on a gold jacket predicting his future hall of fame induction.

(http://www.thecoli.com/threads/nfl-players-of-have-made-lasting-negative-contributions-to-the-game.138599/)

(http://www.thecoli.com/threads/nfl-players-of-have-made-lasting-negative-contributions-to-the-game.138599/)

There was so much drama and excitement over what might be done next. Fans sat on the edge of their seat waiting for every touchdown to see what the next creative idea would be. Ochocinco gave CPR to the football, Randy Moss mooned the fans in Green Bay, T.O. grabbed popcorn from a fan, or who could forget Steve Smith changing the diaper of the football. It added something extra to the game that brought uniqueness and creativity. It showed us the little kid inside all of these amazing athletes.

There was so much entertainment, but now the National Football League stands for the No Fun League. Allowing a man to celebrate in a kids game would help the ratings. It would be highly entertaining to see what kind of prop Odell Beckham could turn the football into after he takes one of his slants for 60 plus yards to the house.

What would be even more fun than seeing what Odell would do would be to see what a defensive back like Josh Norman would do in response. Players would be trying to one up another and the drama of it would have any fan hooked. All players can do now is dance, and although some of the dances are good, most are eye sores. As a fan of the game it would be better to see the old celebrations of the likes of Steve Smith, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. It is wishful thinking but c’mon NFL, stop being the no fun league and give us the personality and entertainment these players can provide.

Giants Walking Fine Line With Beckham

Freakishly talented Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. imploded again Monday night with another taunting penalty that killed a drive. It was just one installment in his constant back and forth jawing battle with Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes clearly frustrated Beckham who finished with a career low 23 yards.

Beckham’s antics are becoming better known throughout the league. It all started when he tangled with then Panthers corner back Josh Norman last year. Beckham was flagged for three unnecessary roughness penalties and once for offensive pass interference. Even though Norman was just as guilty as Beckham in inducing the fist fight pictured below, only Beckham was suspended for a game. It should be noted that Beckham’s Giants faced Norman’s Redskins in Week 3 without drama.

photo from page2sports.com

photo from page2sports.com

 

That would serve as a wake up call for most players. However, Monday night proves that OBJ still has some maturing to do. In fact, since he entered the league in 2014, over half of the penalties called on OBJ have been dead ball fouls (delay of game, taunting, unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, etc.). Executing plays well in the NFL is hard enough. Thus, anything that happens in a dead ball situation to negate a good play really hurts and can drive a coach insane. Even teammates are tiring of Beckham’s stupid infractions. Quarterback Eli Manning was quoted as saying that his favorite receiver needs to “be a professional” Beckham is simply too good for the Giants to cut ties with him. That means someone in the organization has to reel him in. He does not strike me as a complete jerk, but rather just an emotional player. So, I believe it is possible to reel him in. However, the Giants had better be real careful when doing it.

 

As I have watched the media blister OBJ all week, something hit me. Almost every single receiver with a Hall of Fame level of talent in the last 20 or so years has had some very childish and stupid moments. Chad Johnson changed his name and politicked his way out of Cincinnati, Terrell Owens did sit-ups in his driveway and once uttered the phrase “I love me some me”, and Keyshawn Johnson wrote a book called “Give Me the Damn Ball.” Guys like Randy Moss and Steve Smith also fit this bill. Of course, there are exceptions like Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison, but they are just that, exceptions. The so-called “diva” mentality is far more common amongst great wide receivers in the modern NFL. Though Beckham’s career is still quite young, I would lump him in the “diva” group. Also, he absolutely has Hall of Fame level talent. Check out the video below from the NFL’s YouTube channel to remind yourself how good he is.

 

I would speculate that receivers like Beckham’s predecessors were the way they were because they believed that they were the best and that getting them the ball was their team’s best chance to win. I believe Beckham is the same way and all his antics and the antics of those before him stem from immense self-belief and the frustration. There is nothing wrong with either of those things. Like most fans, I am not big on the childishness, but I feel I understand where it comes from. So, the Giants need to find a way to polish OBJ, but they cannot lose what makes him tick in the process.

 

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