Fantasy football bold predictions: AFC East

We continue our fantasy football bold predictions. This time we breakdown the AFC East. And don’t worry, it’s not all about the Patriots.

Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor Is Not a QB2

Tyrod Taylor enters as the 18th fantasy quarterback.

Fantasy football bold predictions: AFC East

Tyrod Taylor (Photo by: espn.com)

Taylor surprised a lot of people coming back to Buffalo this season. More surprising is that Buffalo traded away their top receiver Sammy Watkins and acquired Jordan Matthews in a separate deal.

Taylor finished 2016 as the No. 18 fantasy quarterback. However, he did score at least 20 fantasy points in standard leagues in seven of 15 starts. He also had at least 17 fantasy points in three other games, so he only really struggled for five games on the year. But that’s 2016.

In 2017, his two receivers are Matthews and Zay Jones. Not the best tandem let alone they are new to Buffalo.

So far this preseason Taylor has struggled in the new offense. He had a two-interception outing in Buffalo’s preseason loss to the Eagles on Thursday.

A report from Joe Buscaglia of ABC 7 Buffalo stated that there was concern about who will start at quarterback in week 1. Head coach Sean McDermott said they will go with Taylor as the starter. That alone causes concern on how ready Taylor is.

He has success without Watkins but he’s relying on a rookie and a new receiver to the offense to act as his main targets. It’s risky to even draft Taylor. I also predict that Taylor will not finish the season as the starter.

Miami Dolphins: Julius Thomas will have double digit touchdowns

Julius Thomas was traded from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Miami Dolphins this offseason. He currently ranks as the 18th tight end in fantasy.

Fantasy football bold predictions: AFC East

Julius Thomas (Photo by: miamidolphins.com)

In a previous article, he is my tight end fantasy sleeper and I still believe that. His time in Jacksonville was dreadful but in Miami he rejoins Adam Gase from his playing days in Denver.

He only had nine total touchdowns with Jacksonville in two seasons. His big break in 2013, he had 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He would finish as the third tight end in fantasy that season.

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. Even though his quarterback was some guy named Peyton Manning in Denver, Thomas excelled in Gase’s offense.

He was very efficent in the red zone. In 2013 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. The year after, he was seventh in receptions (13), eighth in yards (94) and third in touchdowns with nine from the 20-yard line. From the 10-yard line, he improved to fourth with seven receptions and six touchdowns.

Gase has had success helping his tight ends after Thomas. Even though he won’t have Ryan Tannehill, he will have Jay Cutler throwing the ball.

In 2015 when Gase coached Cutler in Chicago, tight end Zach Miller led the team with five touchdowns. With a better supporting cast, Thomas should be the top option in the red zone and should improve from the days in Jacksonville.

New England Patriots: Mike Gillislee becomes the next LeGarrette Blount

The Patriots signed Gillislee, a restricted free agent from the Buffalo Bills, after a season of 101 carries for 577 yards and eight touchdowns.

Fantasy football bold predictions: AFC East

Mike Gillislee (Photo by: profootballweekly.com)

The Patriots are known to like their workhorse backs. Gillislee averaged more yards per carry (4.2) than LeGarrette Blount (3.3) against eight or more defenders in the box last season.

Gillislee now takes over as the starting back, a role that produced 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016 from Blount. He produced nine total touchdowns as the backup to LeSean McCoy in Buffalo last year and being in the top offense in the NFL should only help him.

Now the Patriots do have a lot of running backs with Rex Burkhead, James White and Dion Lewis. New England backs can see a hefty market share in the offense. But that didn’t stop the starters for having good seasons.

Last year, Blount carried 62.03 percent of New England’s touches, good for the ninth-highest share in football. He saw a similar per-game rate in 2015 (he missed four games, but paced towards a 57 percent market share), and in 2012, Stevan Ridley ended the year with a 55.45 percent rushing attempt market share for the Pats. 

It’s not unreasonable to think Gillislee, who has a skillset that’s broader than Blount’s and has shown a ton of upside. He is currently the 24th running back in fantasy.

New York Jets: Bilal Powell will be a top-15 running back

Despite opening last season as the No. 2 running back for the Jets behind Matt Forte, Bilal Powell might have been the best running back in New York in 2016.

Fantasy football bold predictions: AFC East

Bilal Powell (Photo by: bleacherreport.com)

He finished as the No. 23 fantasy running back in standard leagues, which was just three spots behind Forte. He had 131 carries for 722 yards (5.51 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, and 58 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns.

Powell had career highs in rushing yards, yards per carry and receptions. He outperformed 31-year-old Forte, producing almost as many plays better than 15 yards (14) as Forte (16) despite 59 fewer touches. Powell had a higher average of yards per carry after contact and more missed tackles.

In his final seven games, Powell had at least 14 fantasy points in standard leagues in four of those outings. Powell becomes dual-threat running back this year as he will be a top target in the passing game with Quincy Enunwa out for the season.

Only David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and White garnered more targets in the passing game for running backs last season. The offense isn’t great, but Powell could get around 250 touches next season if he stays healthy.

He’s going to get his share of touches and he’s a solid No. 3 fantasy running back to target with a mid- to late-round pick, with his value higher in PPR.

 

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Le'Veon Bell or David Johnson

Fantasy football number one pick: David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell?

The number one pick is both the best and the worst pick in fantasy football. You have the opportunity to pick the best of the bunch but pick carefully because it could end poorly for you. Take last year for example. If you took someone like Todd Gurley with the first overall pick, your season probably didn’t end up great. This year it’s a fairly easy decision, you either choose David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell. There’s a case to make for both of them.

Le'Veon Bell or David Johnson

David Johnson (Photo by:thelab.bleacherreport.com)

David Johnson- The Arizona Cardinals running back had a breakout season in 2016. With a total 20 touchdowns and over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, Johnson ended the season as the number one fantasy running back.

But should he be your number one pick? The Cardinals don’t have the hardest schedule in the league. In the first eight weeks they face the 49ers, Colts, Buccaneers and Eagles. All of which have sub par defenses in the NFL today especially in terms of defensive line.

Schedule isn’t much of a factor for David Johnson however, as he is the lead rusher on the team and is arguably the main receiver. Larry Fitzgerald is getting older and older and can’t keep up the production he’s had in the last couple of years.

Not only is David Johnson productive, but he’s also efficient. He was second in the NFL last year in terms of yards after contact with 486 and fifth in the league for running backs with only four drops.

David Johnson is coming off of a pretty big knee injury but the Cardinals have high hopes for their offensive line and Johnson should benefit from that immediately.

Le'Veon Bell or David Johnson

Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Le’Veon Bell- Le’Veon Bell is a frustrating player to own in fantasy football. He has off the field issues and a long injury history that has kept him off the field for long periods of time.

Last year Bell missed three games due to suspension and one due to rest by the team. Even with four missed games, Bell ended the season as the number five fantasy running back.

However, 42 out of his 231 points came in one week. Bell may be the best dual-threat running back in the game today and that goes a long way in the NFL. One cause for concern that comes with drafting Bell is his current contract situation.

According to media reports, Le’Veon Bell will report to the team before the first regular season game so there’s not too much concern that comes with that. The Steelers have the fourth easiest schedule in the NFL in 2017 and if the Steelers offense can remain healthy for an entire season then Bell is the clear cut number one overall pick.

 

At the end of the day you won’t go wrong taking either of these guys, but I believe that Le’Veon Bell is the right person to take at number one. Being the centerpiece of a high-powered offense and arguably the best dual threat back in the game, he’s in line for a huge year in Pittsburgh.

 

 

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A Look At Ezekiel Elliott’s Draft Stock After The Suspension

Where Will He Land?

It was announced yesterday (August 13) that Dallas Cowboys second year running back Ezekiel Elliott will be suspended for the first six games of the 2017 NFL season. He’s coming off a stellar rookie season finishing first in rushing yards and third in rushing touchdowns. Many people had Elliott as the unanimous number one pick in fantasy football leagues before the suspension but after the decision by commissioner Goodell where will Ezekiel Elliott go in your fantasy draft?

Drafting during an Appeal:

Ezekiel Elliot suspension

(Photo by foxsports.com)

If your fantasy draft is scheduled to happen before the appeal of Ezekiel Elliott is concluded you are in a really tough spot when it comes to drafting Elliott. Based on last year if you had the number one pick of this years fantasy draft in your league and did not select Ezekiel Elliott you would be considered a crazy person, but now with the suspension looming over his head is he a safe bet? Looking at recent suspensions in the NFL appeals usually take forever and never really make any sense.

Tom Brady was suspended for four games of the 2016 season for something that happened back in 2015, he played an entire season fighting the NFL in court. In 2016 Tom Brady’s average draft position dropped down to 69th while facing his suspension according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com.

There is another example one can look at from last season in Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’veon Bell and his suspension he faced. His average draft position in 2016 fell down to 11th in the NFL which on paper was a big drop as he was considered to be the number one running back fantasy-wise at the beginning of the 2016 season and his suspension was only three games.

What does this mean for Elliott and people who want to pick him this year? It means that there is a chance that the appeals process takes so long that Elliott is allowed to play until the process is completed. But there is another risk going this route if Elliott is allowed to play until the appeal process is finished: What happens if the appeal closes halfway through the season and you lose your number one fantasy producer for the playoffs? This also means he will drop down boards but when is too early or too late to go for the stud sophomore.

Taking A Risk:

As we have seen with other suspended players in the past they will drop down draft boards because of the loss of production not being able to play. With a player the caliber of Ezekiel Elliott it’s hard to see him dropping out of the top 15 even with the potential loss of six games. The reason is because when he does inevitably return he is in the best situation for a fantasy running back in the entire league.

The Cowboys arguably have the best offensive line in the NFL and a young capable quarter back in Dak Prescott that will continue to put Elliott in a position to excel. It will be interesting to see where he will go as the appeal process continues and as of today (August 14) Ezekiel Elliott is currently averaging the 8th pick in 2017 fantasy leagues but I am not sure if it’s counting leagues that drafted before the suspension was handed out.

Conclusion:

This is probably the biggest shakeup in fantasy football I have ever seen, right before most leagues are set to draft, the fate of one of the best players in football is uncertain. When I draft I will certainly be looking out for Elliott to drop around the tenth pick and would certainly pull the trigger on a late first round pick for the running back. If it was certain he would not be suspended then I would take him at anywhere in the first three picks and couldn’t see him dropping past that. With the suspension I could see him dropping as far as the 15th pick, but for him to drop further than that would be a big surprise to me. Overall, the situation with Ezekiel Elliott is strange and only time will tell how many games the star running back will play this year.

 

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NFL super teams: Could it work?

Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors have ruined the NBA for the foreseeable future thanks to their new super team. The Warriors will dominate for years to come and will have the greatest dynasty in sports history when it’s all said and done. That said, the question of whether or not NFL super teams could be formed is an intriguing one to address.

The New England Patriots are the closest thing in the NFL to a super team, as the 2017 edition of the squad is the frontrunner to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, and some even think they could go 16-0.

But the fact is that the NFL does not truly have a super team. Sure, the Patriots are most likely the best team on paper going into 2017, but there’s still no guarantee that they’ll even win the conference championship game.

We’ve seen this issue talked about before, so why not join in on the fun and give a hot #take myself?

There’s a couple different aspects to dissect when looking into NFL super teams. First, and most crucial, is the money. Even though the NFL is the most popular sport in the United States, the 53-man roster leaves less money for each player compared to the NBA. When forming a super team, every single star player would have to take a pay cut in order to allow other stars on the team. NFL players have already complained about the the discrepancy between NFL and NBA contracts, so taking even less could be a tough pill to swallow for many players.

The next concept to consider is that NFL teams have very specific schemes. The offense ran in New England was much different from the one that the Dallas Cowboys ran last season, yet each were top-five offenses in the league. Not only would NFL super teams need stars at every position, but it would also need the right personnel to fit the scheme.

Finally, we must ask if there’s even enough time for NFL super teams to form a dynasty. The shelf life of a running back is already limited, and the prime of many players in the NFL can be shorter than that of an NBA player. Even if it all came together for an NFL team, would there be enough time for them to win multiple Super Bowls with the same core?

Money talks

Every year, NFL players holdout and skip training camp in order to get leverage in earning more money. There can’t be an argument made that NFL players are more greedy than NBA players, but it does go to show that the top talents in the NFL will put their team and preparation at risk in order to get a couple more million dollars.

What a hard life NFL stars live.

NFL super teams

Photo: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Le’Veon Bell is at least the No. 2 running back in the NFL, if not the best (David Johnson may have something to say about that). He’s putting his team’s success in jeopardy this offseason by deciding to holdout. The most significant problem for NFL super teams is whether or not players will put their pride aside to take pay cuts, even though they may be the most elite at their position.

Every elite NFL player will do his best to suck all the money out of his organization he can. Heck, even players that aren’t elite, like Kirk Cousins and Joe Flacco, have tried this (and been successful) in the past.

This poses a threat to NFL super teams when trying to get the best of the best in one uniform. But this is only the start of the problem.

NFL super teams’ Schemes make for an even more complex problem

Dak Prescott and Drew Brees are two very different quarterbacks. Prescott resided in a run-heavy offense in Dallas, as the Cowboys ran the ball more than any other team last season (48.7 percent of plays). The Cowboys’ offense was built by its powerful line which counteracted its lack of skill players on the outside. This allowed Ezekiel Elliott to run all over (and away) from defenses in his rookie campaign.

The Saints’ offensive attack was much different from the Cowboys. Drew Brees had great weapons on the outside in former Saint Brandin Cooks, who used his deep-threat abilities to become Brees’ best downfield target. Rookie Michael Thomas managed to put together one of the best rookie seasons a wide receiver has ever produced, and was Brees’ possession target to look to.

Even Willie Snead, Coby Fleener and Josh Hill were utilized in the pass-first offense that allowed Brees to air it out on 63.4 percent of plays, good for fifth-most in the NFL last season.

The point is that NFL super teams need the perfect combination for an offense to work. The offensive coordinator, quarterback, skill players and offensive line must all be in sync and comfortable with the system in order to reach optimal success. And it’s the same way with the defense.

Not only do the star players at each position need to take pay cuts to form a super team, but they also have to fit with the scheme of whichever side of the ball they play on.

The player pool for a super team continues to shrink with these requirements.

Father Time waits for no man, not even NFL super teams

Barring a select few, most NFL stars are only elite for a couple years. Injuries cut their time of stardom even shorter (Jamaal Charles knows about that), which makes it even harder to field a star team.

Sure, the best of the best can sometimes manage to be stars for over half their career, but remember the requirements already talked about. Finding a star who is willing to take a pay cut and fits in the scheme is hard enough, so the pool of players has already dwindled.

NFL super teams

Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tom Brady may play until he’s 50, but top players at other positions have missed time in the past couple seasons. If Le’Veon Bell could stop smoking weed and quit getting injured by the Bengals, he’d have a chance to be on Tom Brady’s list.

Antonio Brown missed three games last season, Julio Jones has played in 16 games in a season once in his six years and A.J. Green has missed ten games in his six-year career while finding his way on the mid-week injury report seemingly every week.

This goes to show that even the most elite players can’t escape the injury bug.

And if the top players earn as much money as they want on a theoretical super team, the bench will be filled with aging veterans who are ring-chasing and don’t have enough talent to suffice the loss of a star.

This continues to prove that forming NFL super teams may be nearly impossible.

NFL super teams: Making one is #hard

The San Francisco 49ers currently have the most cap space in the NFL. A lot will change come March 2018, but one thing that will most likely remain is that the 49ers will suck this season. They won’t be the most attractive franchise to build a super team with.

However, the team with the fifth-most cap space is the Houston Texans. Houston has $24.3 million in free cap space, and made the playoffs last season. The Texans seem to be just a few pieces away from being a Super Bowl contender, so we’ll use them as a possible super team.

There’s been a lot of changes to the NFL landscape from last season, and that trend will continue in each offseason. Let’s try to make the Texans a super team through 2018 free agency.

Finding a quarterback

The Texans’ most glaring need is at the quarterback position. Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins and Matt Stafford are the only notable names that will be free agents come 2018.

Photo: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Cousins can be taken off the list right away, as it seems he’s been fighting to get a huge contract from Washington since he was in diapers.

Drew Brees and Matt Stafford both make sense due to the fact that they’ve had great years, yet Brees has just one ring, and Stafford has no playoff wins. It comes down to who would be the best fit in Bill O’Brien’s offense, assuming he stays on staff next season.

O’Brien’s scheme is based around the power-run game and using two tight end sets. The formations used in O’Brien’s system forces the quarterback to make crucial and complicated pre-snap reads. That said, Brees would be the better fit in Houston. His ability to run multiple formations in New Orleans could quite possibly translate to Houston.

If Brees were to make this move, he’d have to be fine with a pay cut since he’d be ring chasing and forming a super team. Let’s say he cuts his salary in half and earns $12 million with Houston.

Receiving a pass catcher

That only leaves $12 million and change in the bank for Houston. Houston has Lamar Miller, who should be an above average back for now. At wideout, the Texans have an elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, but could use some help on the receiving end. The wide receiver market is grim in 2018, but a familiar face for Drew Brees will be on the market in 2018 at tight end.

The Drew Brees-Jimmy Graham love affair in New Orleans was art. Graham will be on the market in 2018, and even though he’s had a history of wanting money, let’s assume he wants a ring and to play with Drew Brees more.

We’ll assume Graham will settle for a mere $8 million a year with Houston, which is only $2 million less than he got in Seattle. I for one hope that in this theoretical world, Jimmy Graham makes it in this tough world with only $8 million a year to come home to.

Room for one more player

With $4 left, the Texans could grab a proven veteran for cheap, or a lesser-tier asset. The Texans need help on the offensive line, specifically at tackle. The best player on the market in 2018 is Donald Penn, but he’s currently holding out of Raiders’ camp, so he has to be off the list. Nate Solder could be an option, but the likelihood that he takes a paycut to leave New England is as likely as Johnny Manziel not drinking tonight.

Allen Barber was the No. 16 guard last season according to Pro Football Focus. Although he’s mostly played left guard in the past two seasons, he’s seen time at tackle with the Eagles early in his career.

Barber wouldn’t be a blockbuster move at all, but he could end up being a nice find for Houston to help what’s been a bad offensive line.

NFL super teams: Could it work?

The idea of NFL super teams is far-fetched and there’s too many hoops to jump through for it to work. There’s too many stipulations not seen in the NBA like a much larger roster, less time to be in the peak of a career and scheme fits.

Although the NBA has made it work before, the Golden State Warriors’ mega-team and soon to be dynasty will only work in the NBA. NFL front offices have far too many hoops to jump through.

For now, let’s just enjoy hating the New England Patriots for being better than all of our teams and speculate other things, like how Bill Belichick can pull a homeless man off the street and turn him into a heroic wide receiver or cornerback in a Super Bowl.

 

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Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

One of the more frustrating positions in fantasy football are the running backs. There are only so many that are elite and can be considered No. 1 backs. There are not many starting running backs in the NFL that are reliable. The key is to get the number one running back early and get another solid one in the middle in the draft. These are the five running backs you don’t want to miss out on for your team.

No. 5 Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

This could come as a surprise but after being a rookie bust, he rebounded in his sophomore season.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

Melvin Gordon (Photo by:sandiegouniontribune.com)

Before a season-ending hip injury in week 14, he entered that game with 12 touchdowns and third at the position in fantasy points. Gordon was the No. 8 fantasy running back in standard leagues last year with 254 carries for 997 yards (3.93 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He also had 41 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.

Gordon registered 17 carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line (third most) and his 419 receiving yards ranked ninth. He benefited from Danny Woodhead’s injury and Woodhead is now in Baltimore.

Gordon should have more success with new head coach Anthony Lynn who has been a running backs coach for four teams in 11 years. As well as being a running backs coach, he got promoted to assistant head coach with the New York Jets in 2013.

During his time as the running backs coach from 2009 to 2014, Lynn’s rushing attack ranked outside the top 10 only twice out of the six years with the Jets and his team finished first in his first year as running backs coach with the Jets. In his last two years with the Buffalo Bills as offensive coordinator, his rushing offensive finished first in rushing twice.

The Chargers don’t have anyone on the roster to take Gordon off the field. He will be a standout No. 1 fantasy running back coming into the season and he should be an early second round pick.

No. 4 LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

One of the more experienced backs in the league, LeSean McCoy turned 29 in July but his age didn’t seem to slow him in 2016 and he ranks fourth on my list.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

LeSean McCoy (Photo by:buffalobills.com)

He was the No. 3 fantasy running back in standard leagues in 2016 with 234 carries for 1,267 yards (5.41 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns. McCoy also had 50 catches for 356 yards and one touchdown. McCoy ranked in the top six in rushing yards for the fourth time in six years.

The blocking in Buffalo was part of his success as his 5.4 YPC ranked fifth among backs. McCoy scored double digits in fantasy points in standard leagues in 12 of 15 games. He also caught 50 of 55 passes (91 percent).

Some of the concern that comes with McCoy is his age. His time as an elite fantasy running back could be coming to an end, but it looks McCoy isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The addition of fullbacks Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert should help McCoy as well as new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.

Dennison has had success in the run game as the offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans at the time Arian Foster broke onto the scene. From 2011-12 his rushing offense ranked in the top 10 in attempts, yards and touchdowns.

His last job with the Denver Broncos was less successful, ranking 15th and lower in those categories, but his west coast offense should help McCoy stay healthy and be an effective runner and reliable in the pass game.

McCoy should be the No. 4 running back off the board behind Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott.

No. 3 Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

A big part of his success was the great offensive line in Dallas and he took full advantage. He led the NFL with 322 carries and 1,631 rushing yards while finding the end zone a total of 16 times last season (one receiving touchdown). Elliott finished as the No. 2 fantasy running back in standard leagues and scored double digits in fantasy points in every game he played. Only David Johnson ranked higher.

He had seven games with at least 20 points in standard formats. Elliott’s rushing prowess, combined with Dallas’ terrific offensive line and run-heavy scheme, will keep him near the top of the running back rankings.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

Ezekiel Elliott (Photo by:espn.com)

Some concern is always the sophomore slump. He will need to work on his pass catching skills as Lance Dunbar is no longer with the Cowboys.

The other concern is a possible suspension due to a domestic violence incident. Even though he wasn’t charged, the NFL continues its investigation and he could likely miss the first two games of the year according to ESPN reporter Adam Schefter.

Elliott should be a top-three pick in most standard leagues, and a top ten pick in PPR only because he is not a pass catching back like Johnson or Bell. In dynasty leagues he could be the top pick because he’s only 22. In this offense, he could be the best running back in the NFL for the foreseeable future.

No. 2 Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

Even though he was suspended for the first four games last season, Bell established himself as arguably the most dangerous and productive all-around running back in the league.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

Le’Veon Bell (Photo by:upi.com)

Bell managed to finish fifth at the position in rushing yards, as well as second in targets, receptions and receiving yards. He’s been good for 10-plus fantasy points in an unbelievable 85.3 percent of his games over the past three seasons. B

ell has been on the field for at least 86 percent of the team’s offensive snaps during 25 consecutive games in which he wasn’t injured or limited in. In those 25 games, he was on the field for 95 percent of the snaps and handled 22.2 carries and 6.7 targets per game. This allowed him to have a top-14 fantasy week during all 12 of his outings last season.

But why he falls to No .2 on my list is not participating in camp due to contract issues. This is like last year except we knew he would miss four games. This time it could be longer.

Bell held out from the start of Steelers training camp and could sit for several weeks according to an NFL Network report. Bell could be a risky number one pick if this doesn’t get resolved. But he is still worth a first round pick as we hope by mid-August he will be back. If you take Bell, likely go after presumed backup James Conner.

No. 1 David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

Some players after a good rookie season have the sophomore slump but not David Johnson. He thrived for a breakout 2016 season in Arizona and is my No. 1 running back for 2017.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

David Johnson (Photo by:thelab.bleacherreport.com)

To start, he was the No. 1 running back in all formats. He was a fantasy stud in every sense of the description last year with 293 carries for 1,239 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns, as well as 80 catches for 879 yards and four touchdowns on 120 targets. This totaled 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns on 373 touches.

He is a force not just in the running game but also in the passing game. Johnson paced all backs in targets, receptions, receiving yards and end-zone targets (four). It seems Johnson could do everything.

He can run with top speed, catch the ball and pound the ball in between the tackles. He carried the ball inside the 5-yard line 22 times (second most) last season. Johnson scored double digits in fantasy points in standard leagues in 15 of 16 games last season.

He averaged 23 touches a game last season but head coach Bruce Arians said he would like to give him around 30 touches in 2017. While this should excite fantasy players, it could come as a concern with his health. In week 17, he suffered an MCL sprain but he’s fine heading into training camp.He won’t slow down with an increased role and he should continue to dominate.

Johnson is a top three pick in all leagues and has a case being the first overall pick in leagues with Bell’s contract issues.

 

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NFL top 100 players 2017: 20-11

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 ninth installment, containing players 20-11.

20. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs

NFL Top 100

Eric Berry (Photo by youtube.com)

Berry is a winner in every sense of the word and his ability to come back after beating cancer and still being one of the best safeties in the NFL, is incredible. In 2016 Berry totaled 77 tackles, nine passes defended, four interceptions, a forced fumble and two touchdowns.

With other players on the Chiefs’ defense getting hurt the last few years, Berry has been the best player on the defense. This season, Kansas City should have a good defense once again with a lot of their players healthy. They employ the bend don’t break mentality, so they give up a lot of yards (5,896), but not a lot of points (19.4). With Berry coming off one of his best seasons as a pro and a good defense returning, he will prove once again how good of a safety he is .

The Chiefs are fighting to make it to an AFC Championship Game or Super Bowl and if they get there, Berry will be a major reason why.

Comments: “This man can do it all. Beating cancer and beating down his opponents. This Chiefs defense has been great and will continue to be great while he is roaming the field.”- Robert Hanes

19. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

NFL Top 100

Drew Brees (Photo by denverpost.com)

There are a lot of quarterbacks on this list, but they may not be as important to their teams as Brees is to the Saints. He was 37 in 2016 when he threw for 5,208 yards, 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions on 70% completion and will be 38 going into this season.

People have predicted that Brees would fall off for years now, but he keeps producing. He had his fifth 5,000 yard passing season last year and also recorded his second highest passing yards per game in his career. The Saints do lose Brandin Cooks, who they traded to the Patriots, but Brees still has Michael Thomas, who shows some real potential. Brees has done a lot more with a lot less.

Brees might start slowing down a little bit, but even if he does, his stats will still blow other quarterbacks out of the water.

Comments: “There is nothing bad I can say about Dree Brees other than he is aging. The fact of the matter is he is still producing. He should be higher on this list just because I think he is a better quarterback than Matt Ryan. He will have another season in which he passes for 5,000 yards and become closer to being the all-time passing leader. -Matthew Hagan

18. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

NFL Top 100

A.J. Green (Photo by cbssports.com)

Because of injury, Green had his first season of under 1,000 receiving yards in 2016. He only played ten games and still amassed 964 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Had he played a full 16 games and kept up his average receiving yards per game, he would have finished with a whopping 1,542 receiving yards.

The Bengals had a down year and only had Green on their offense as a dynamic playmaker. For the 2017 season, they have added John Ross and Joe Mixon to bring some life to the offense. Tyler Boyd had an impressive rookie year and will try to build on that in his second season. If Andy Dalton has time behind a shaky at best offensive line, he will find Green, much like he has since their rookie seasons in 2011.With a speedster in Ross on the other side of the field, Boyd in the slot and Tyler Eifert in the middle, Green should see more single coverage than last season with Brandon LaFell as the second leading receiver on the team.

Green has some offensive reinforcements this year, which should really open up the offense and allow him to have a great year.

Comments: “When healthy Green is a lock to put up great numbers, even though he sees double coverage most of the time” – Dylan Streibig

17. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns

NFL Top 100

Joe Thomas (Photo by sportingsorta.com)

It is unfortunate that Thomas has played on the Browns his whole career and hasn’t had an opportunity to win anything. He is one of the most consistent players in the NFL. In his first ten years in the league, he has never missed the Pro Bowl and has six All-Pro team appearances.

The Browns won’t be expected to win the division this year, but they should be much improved. Thomas will continue blocking for Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson and hope that the passing attack that ranked 28th in the league improves. The starting quarterback may change, but they will have Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman and David Njoku as their main targets.

Thomas will continue to do his job at an elite level, but it once again will not result in a good win total for the Browns.

Comments: “This man is extremely loyal and I hope that Browns fans truly appreciate that. He has been a top 3 LT for years and has done it with bad everything else around him. Cleveland finally has good o-line pieces around him which could put them as a top offensive line for the first time in Thomas’ storied career”- Robert Hanes

16. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals

NFL Top 100

Patrick Peterson (Photo by patrickpeterson21.com)

Peterson made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season of 2011 and hasn’t looked back. He has six straight Pro Bowls and has made the All-Pro team three times. Last season he recorded 50 total tackles, six passes defended, three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

The Cardinals defense gave up the fourth least passing yards per game in 2016 and Peterson was a big reason why. They will be without Tony Jefferson, who signed with the Ravens, so a lot will fall on the shoulders of Peterson and Tyran Mathieu. Peterson will be required to shut down opponents’ best receivers and will do a great job once again.

At age 28 Peterson will be in his prime and ready to roll for the 2017 season.

Comments: “Peterson is consistently one of the best corners in the NFL. He shuts down opponents’ best receivers and is a ball hawk when the ball is thrown his way. This season Peterson will once again prove to be a premier talent at corner.”-Joe DiTullio 

15. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Top 100

Le’Veon Bell (Photo by espn.com)

The only problem with Bell is his ability to stay on the field, as he has only played 18 games in the last two seasons. Part of the reason he misses games is injury, the other being a suspension. In his 12 games, last season Bell had 105.7 rushing yards per game and nine total touchdowns.

Pittsburgh’s offense is going to be a juggernaut once again with the talent they have returning. Ben Roethlisberger will be back after contemplating retirement. He will have Antonio Brown, who will be ranked in one of the next 14 spots, and a few other good targets to throw to, helping keep the offense balanced. The offensive line has been solid the past few years and will open up holes for Bell.

Adversaries can’t stack the box against Bell because of how talented the rest of the offense is, meaning that he has a chance to put up a lot of big numbers in 2017.

Comments: “It is comical that Bell is ranked this low. Bell is clearly the best running back in the NFL and a top five player. He was the first player in NFL history to average 100 yards rushing and 50 yards passing. Averaging 150 yards from scrimmage is straight stupid. If this was my list he would be much higher.” -Matthew Hagan

14. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders

NFL Top 100

Derek Carr (Photo by twitter.com)

Carr will have to recover from his broken leg that knocked him out of last season, but he has had an impressive first three years as a pro. If he can keep on progressing and help the Raiders win some meaningful games, the sky is the limit. In 2016 he threw for 3,937 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions in 15 games.

The biggest thing Carr has done since arriving in Oakland is help increase the win total. In his first year the Raiders won three games, seven the second year and they won 12 of the 15 games he started last year. The offense should continue to be dynamic with one of the best offensive lines in football. They also have Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree as good targets for Carr. The offensive line will block well for Marshawn Lynch and any other back Oakland plans on using, which will help create the balance that offensive coordinators love.

The Raiders will have a great offense once again and Carr will be the trigger man making things happen in 2017.

Comments: “Let me get this out of the way, Derek Carr is a stud. But, is he a top 15 player in the league right now? No, he still has to prove that he can do this consistently. He has plenty of potential and showed last year he can get the job done. If he can do that again this year, then he will be deserving of a top 15 spot.”-Robert Hanes

13. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

NFL Top 100

Rob Gronkowski (Photo by washingtontimes.com)

Injuries are the only thing holding one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game back. He hasn’t played a full 16 games since his second year in the NFL, but did play 15 games in 2015. He had eight games played in 2016. In those eight games he had 540 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

If Gronk is healthy he can have a big year in 2017. The Patriots added Brandin Cooks, another outside threat. Defenses will have to make up their minds about double covering Gronk, or one of the other productive receivers. The defenses will likely choose to double cover Gronk most of the time and he will still make them pay. If they focus their attention on one of the receivers, Gronk might have a career day.

Health is the biggest concern with this ranking, but when he is healthy Gronkowski is one of the best players in the NFL.

Comments: “One can only wonder how much higher Gronk would be on this list if he could stay healthy. If he can for the rest of his career he will easily go down as a top 5 TE of all time.”- Robert Hanes

12. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

NFL Top 100

Matt Ryan (Photo by twitter.com)

Ryan had the best season of his career in 2016 and it really isn’t even close. He took the Falcons to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1990s and won the MVP award. On top of that, he threw for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The Falcons’ offense will be dynamic again in 2017. Julio Jones, who will be ranked within the next 11 players, is one of the biggest matchup problems in the league. Mohammed Sanu also provides a good option. The offensive line is good and will protect Ryan well enough for him to survey the field. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman do a good job running the football and Freeman adds the ability to catch out of the backfield.

He may not win the MVP in 2017, but Ryan will be the man in charge on one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL.

Comments: “I’m of the minority that Matt Ryan gets too much love. I am not a believer in him as much as others. He has been gifted with talent around him. He is a solid quarterback but  I think he is a fringe top 25 player.” -Matthew Hagan

11. Luke Keuchly, LB, Carolina Panthers

NFL Top 100

Luke Keuchly (Photo by si.com)

It is unfortunate that Keuchly had concussion problems and missed six games, but he still had a good year that resulted in his fourth Pro Bowl. He also has three appearances on the All-Pro first team. In ten games last season Keuchly had 102 tackles, two sacks, six passes defended and an interception.

Keuchly’s versatility makes him great. He has great instincts that allow him to play the run and is one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL. Carolina’s defense wasn’t good last season, ranking 25th in scoring. Having Keuchly for a full year will drastically change that number for the better. They allowed 24.6 points in games he played and gave up 27.8 points per game without him. With all key players back and healthy and Julius Peppers on board, the Carolina defense can vastly improve.

If Keuchly is able to play he will be a top player in the NFL without a doubt.

Comments: “Luke Keuchly is the best pure linebacker in the NFL. He has great athletic ability and instincts, which he uses to his advantage. His instincts help him near the lead in tackles in the NFL every year he is healthy. The athletic ability helps him cover. He is also a very cerebral player that raises the level of play of the entire defense when he is on the field.”-Joe DiTullio

NFL Top 100 Players 2017: 30-21

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Top five 2017 fantasy wide receivers

In fantasy football, the deepest position is wide receiver. Teams have a plethora of different receivers and many of them have different skillsets. Some are the dominant number one options, some are the big red zone threats and others the speedy slot receivers.

But these five receivers separate themselves from the rest and these are the top five fantasy wide receivers in 2017.

No. 5 A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Wide Receivers

A.J. Green (Photo by:www.sbnation.com)

Green has been dominant ever since he came into the league in 2011. In his first five seasons, he posted over 1,000 yards every year. He joins only Randy Moss in that category.

Twice he has finished as a top-five receiver in fantasy and once in the top-10 in those five seasons. He has also been Andy Dalton’s favorite target as he has seen over 100 targets in each of those five seasons.

In PPR leagues, he has finished in the top-nine at the position during three of the past five seasons.

However, in 2016 Green struggled with injuries and missed out on 1,000 yards. He averaged 96.4 yards per game on 6.6 catches per game (both personal bests) before a hamstring injury sidelined him for six games. He still managed to have 100 targets and caught 66 passes for 964 yards and four scores in 10 games. Green still ranked in the top-30 in standard leagues.

Green is finally healthy and expect him to still be a target machine for Dalton. There is a little concern due to Tyler Eifert finally being healthy taking away some targets from Green. That shouldn’t be enough to shy away from Green as a roster asset. Green is a no-brainer No. 1 receiver that is a high second-round pick if not a end of the first round.

No. 4 Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

The best fantasy wide receiver last year, Jordy Nelson ranks fourth on my list for 2017.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Wide Receivers

Jordy Nelson (Photo by: chicago.cbslocal.com)

The Comeback Player of the Year recipient also deserves the nod for fantasy comeback player of the year. He led fantasy scoring over 16 games and posted 10-plus points in nine of them. A lot of that last year was because the Green Bay Packers threw the ball 62.7 percent of the time thanks to a depleted run game.

He finished the 2016 campaign with a career-high in targets (152), and caught 97 passes for 1,257 yards and league-high 14 touchdowns.

But what puts Nelson on this list is his play in the red zone. He led all receivers from inside the 20-yard line with 29 targets, 19 catches, 127 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also led receivers inside the 10-yard line in targets (15), catches (11), yards (45) and touchdowns (9).

Nelson has been known to have very good hands and in the red zone he seems unstoppable. Some of that credit goes to Aaron Rodgers, but Nelson was on a mission in 2016 after missing 2015 with a torn ACL.

I don’t expect Nelson to have the dominant year he had in 2016 due to the improvement of their ground game in the draft and the signing of tight end Martellus Bennett taking some targets away especially in the red zone. I do believe Nelson will have a solid season still racking up over 1,000 yards, over 90 receptions and double digits in touchdowns.

When drafting Nelson, he is a No. 1 receiver and should be drafted by the second round.

No. 3 Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

When it comes to being a big play highlight reel, Odell Beckham Jr. doesn’t disappoint. The New York Giants’ star ranks third for wide receivers in fantasy.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham Jr. (Photo by: giants.com)

In 2016, Beckham had a slow start compared to what he did in 2015. But Beckham finished strong and had career bests in both targets (169) and receptions (101). He still maintained well over 1,300 yards and double digits in touchdowns.

In a three-year average he has 96 receptions for 1,374 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s finished as a top-seven fantasy wide receiver in each of those three years. He also ranked seventh in the NFL with 15 end zone targets last season (up from 11 in 2015) and led the league target percentage in the red zone from inside the 20-yard line.

The numbers and records he has at age 24 is historic and he is just getting started.

This coming season, Beckham should only improve and the ceiling for him is high. Even though the Giants signed Brandon Marshall, have second year receiver Sterling Shepard and drafted tight end Evan Engram, this should benefit Beckham in the long run. With the plethora of weapons for opposing defenses to cover, Beckham should get his reps and my bold statement is that he very well could finish the year as the best fantasy player in 2017. He is a definite middle pick in the first round.

No. 2 Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Even though his numbers were down in 2016, Julio Jones is still a top two fantasy receiver.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Wide Receivers

Julio Jones (Photo by:thefalconswire.usatoday.com)

When you compare Jones’ stats from 2015 to 2016, you can’t expect him to repeat those numbers especially the way the Atlanta Falcons offense played in 2016. His targets dropped by over 30 percent, his receptions by nearly 40 percent and his yards by nearly 25 percent. He also missed two games with a toe injury.

But it was the evolution of the Falcons’ offense that really dropped Jones’ stats. Players on the Falcons stepped up and helped Matt Ryan to not force the ball in Jones’ direction.

Jones was the league leader in 100-plus yard games at the receiver position with seven. He still managed to thrive in this offense as the sixth fantasy wide receiver. Jones has finished as a top-11 fantasy receiver during four of the past five seasons.

There is some concern though that comes with Jones. The first is his durability as he’s missed at least one game during four of his six NFL seasons. The other is former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan leaving to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

The team hired Steve Sarkisian, a former college head coach who hasn’t been in the NFL since 2004. Sarkisian saw success as the Oakland Raiders quarterback’s coach, compiling more than 4,000 passing yards, ranking eighth out of 32 NFL teams in passing yardage.

Jones should continue to be a no-brainer as a reliable fantasy receiver as a middle pick of the first round pick.

No. 1 Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

You don’t have to be an expert in fantasy to know that the number one receiver is Antonio Brown.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Wide Receivers

Antonio Brown (Photo by: linkedin.com)

Compare his numbers from 2015 to last year and you will see that his numbers went down. He had 106 catches for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns. Even with the missed game he had, he still topped wide receivers in fantasy points for the third consecutive season.

He finished top-five in targets, receptions and receiving yards for the fourth straight year and Brown has delivered 10-plus fantasy points in 70.2 percent of his games over the past four seasons.

Brown should have another great season with Martavis Bryant back from a year suspension on the other side of him. With his addition, along with other targets, it will be impossible to double-team Brown all the time.

He’s averaged over 11 targets per game over the past four years and should repeat this stat again in 2017, even with the Steelers’ deep receiving corps and Le’Veon Bell at running back. He will remain Ben Roethlisberger’s top target and fantasy’s most consistently dominant wide receiver. He is worth taking in the top four picks and potentially the number one pick in PPR leagues.

 

Featured image from nj.com.

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Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

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

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

Johnny Manziel

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

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

Jacksonville

Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

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

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

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

New Orleans

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

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

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

New York Giants

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

Colin Kaepernick

Pittsburgh

Possible destinations for Manziel and Kaepernick

(Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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

Baltimore

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

Jacksonville

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

Other

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

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

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

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Super Bowl 52

If not the Patriots, then who in the AFC?

To call the Patriots heavy favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LLI is a gross understatement. Additions like Brandin Cooks have made a team that already ran roughshod over the conference last year even better on paper heading into 2017. However, sports are a funny thing.

What if the Patriots are finally derailed by the injury bug or just simply pick a bad day to have a bad day in the playoffs? Here are four teams ready to pounce.

Kansas City Chiefs

Ever since Andy Reid came to town, the Chiefs run the ball, play solid defense and do not beat themselves. This is a good formula for winning. However, when that formula comes up against a buzz saw like New England, it is also easy to end up in too deep of an early hole.

Tyreek Hill

Photo: kansascity.com

The divisional playoff matchup between the two teams following the 2015 season was a perfect example of this. Despite holding New England to just 14 points in the first half, Kansas City managed just two field goals and never got caught up.

While Tyreek Hill has provided a much needed boost to KC’s ability to strike quickly, half of their scoring drives in last year’s playoff loss to Pittsburgh were over ten plays. While those are nice, striking quickly is almost a must against the Patriots.

Hope for the Chiefs in a matchup with New England lies in Hill and their pass rushers, led by Justin Houston. With three double digit sack seasons under his belt, Houston is more than capable of wrecking a game for Brady and company, similar to what Von Miller did on Denver’s Super Bowl 50 run.

Kansas City’s opening night matchup with the Super Bowl LI champs will be a nice measuring stick for them.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos have questions at quarterback. Ordinarily, that would disqualify them from an article like this, but the Broncos happen to be the only team Tom Brady has a losing record against.

Von Miller

Photo: dailysnark.com

Denver has beaten New England with Jake Plummer, Brock Osweiler and an aging Peyton Manning at quarterback over the years. Knowing that, why not Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch?

Denver invested most of its offseason resources into bolstering the backfield and offensive and defensive lines Thus, the two biggest weaknesses on this team have been addressed.

If the additions help Denver run the ball and stop the run consistently, Miller, Shane Ray and the rest of the defense will keep Denver in almost every game like they have for the better part of the last two seasons. Against New England, that is half the battle.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have not given the Patriots any trouble in recent years. If last year’s AFC title game was a boxing match, it would have been stopped early. The last Steelers’ victory against New England was in 2011.

However, any team that has Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and flirts with putting up 30-plus points every time out is always dangerous. The bad news for Steeler fans is that the Steel Curtain has been made of feathers in recent meetings with the Pats. Twenty-seven points is the fewest New England has scored during its ongoing four game winning streak against Mike Tomlin’s crew.

With the cast of characters basically the same on defense, the only way Pittsburgh beats New England this year is in a shootout. It is unlikely, but not impossible. They are one of very few teams with the firepower to beat New England in that way.

Indianapolis Colts

This inclusion to the list might surprise some, but the AFC is nowhere near as deep as the NFC. Something has been off in terms of the head coach/management dynamic in Indianapolis for the last two years. General manager Ryan Grigson is gone. With former players tweeting in response to the move, one can only assume that Grigson was a significant part of the problem.

One guy who is not part of the problem is quarterback Andrew Luck. Despite near constant drama in the front office and a flawed roster, the Colts have never posted a losing record under his on-field leadership. However, they have missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons.

Staying healthy has been a challenge for Luck, but 132 touchdowns to just 68 interceptions in almost five full years as a starter are the numbers of a quarterback who can carry a team on his back. The roster still lacks elite players outside of Luck. Also, Indianapolis has been obliterated by the Patriots in two fairly recent playoff meetings.

Even so, the Colts finally fall on the right side of one of a precious few things that is always true in the NFL. If you have a stable front office and a top-notch quarterback, you have a chance every single time you take the field.

Texans and Raiders miss the cut

Two teams that many people would have expected to see in this article are the Texans and the Raiders. They were each left out for very specific reasons. Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson battling for the starting quarterback job means that the Texans will not even be able to spell Super Bowl, much less get there.

Las Vegas Raiders

Photo: USA Today

Anyone who tries to lump Denver’s quarterback situation into the same category as Houston should watch what Trevor Siemian was able to do on the road in Cincinnati and New Orleans last year. The home game against Kansas City also speaks volumes about Siemian’s potential.

As for the Raiders, it is also fairly simple. Derek Carr is no doubt a special quarterback. Despite that, Oakland’s ongoing stadium and relocation drama is worthy of its own article. It is hard not to see it dragging down the on-field product.

Also, even when they were the talk of the league last year, the Raiders still led the world in penalties and got shredded by the opposing quarterback almost every week.

 

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Super Bowl series: AFC North

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North

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. This is the fourth edition, Super Bowl series: AFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North

(Photo Credit: Matthew Healey/ UPI | License Photo)

The Pittsburgh Steelers were one game away from making it to the Super Bowl. Getting to the Super Bowl this season isn’t improbable. After finishing the season 11-5, Pittsburgh dismantled Miami 30-12 in their wild card game. In the divisional round, the Steelers squeaked by the Chiefs 18-16. The downfall of the Steelers was running into the New England Patriots, who went on to win Super Bowl LI.

Pittsburgh should be the favorite to win the AFC North this upcoming season. They have won 10 or more games for three straight seasons. The Steelers’ offense was one of the best in the NFL last season and all their key pieces are returning. Ben Roethlisberger had a solid season throwing for 3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions in just 14 games. Starting running back Le’Veon Bell was the first player in NFL history to average 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game in a single season.

The final major offensive piece, Antonio Brown, will still be around as well. Last season he helped the Steelers rank in the top 10 in multiple offensive categories with 106 receptions, 1,284 yards and 12 Touchdowns. Due to the stellar play of these core players, Pittsburgh was seventh in scoring, averaging 24.9 points per game. Their dynamic passing game ranked fifth in the NFL at 263.2 passing yards per game. This lead to the seventh overall ranked offense as the Steelers averaged 372.6 total yards per game.

For Pittsburgh to win Super Bowl LII they must improve their 14th ranked rushing attack which averaged 110 yards per game. Growth from the offensive line will help with the improvement in the run game. Pro Football Focus is projecting the Steelers to have the third best offensive line in the NFL based on how well they played down the stretch last season.

Speaking of playing well down the stretch, Pittsburgh ranked seventh in fourth quarter scoring last season, averaging 8.2 points per the fourth quarter. If Pittsburgh needs to come back or put away a game late, they have proven to have the capability to score late in games.

On the defensive side of the ball, there is also room for improvement that will help with a Super Bowl berth and possible victory. Pittsburgh ranked 10th in points allowed per game at 20.6 and their first half defense was to thank. In the first half of games, the defense only gave up an average of 9.2 points, which was second best in the NFL.

Pittsburgh must learn to get off the field. Getting off the field quicker will allow the defense to carry over that kind of dominance into the second half by being less gassed. Last season their defense spent too much time on the field. The Steelers ranked fifth in opponents offensive plays with 62.1. The offense can help by putting together longer drives but ultimately the defense must get off the field.

Despite being on the field for that many plays, the Steelers ranked 10th in total yards with 339.2. Their rush defense carried them by ranking eighth as opponents only averaged 93.2 yards on the ground against them. In order for the Steelers to win the Super Bowl, their pass defense must improve which is why they added Coty Sensabaugh in the offseason.

The Steelers must build off of last year’s success on offense. Big Ben has enough experience and talent to lead this offense to some amazing performances. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will continue to shatter record books and this offense will be Super Bowl worthy. If the defense can hold up and improve at stopping opponents passing attacks then the Steelers will hold up the Lombardi Trophy for the seventh time in franchise history.

Baltimore Ravens

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North

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

The Baltimore Ravens stumbled to an 8-8 record last season despite having a very strong defense. In order to make the playoffs this season, Baltimore must fare better on the road as they were 2-6 in road games last year. They must also get a win in October. Going 0-4 in the middle of the season can really set a team off course.

Baltimore’s defense was clearly the team’s strength. The Ravens ranked ninth in points allowed at 20.1 points per game. This top 10 scoring defense was a result of dominant first half play. Baltimore only gave up 9.5 points per game in the first half last season.

In terms of yardage, the Ravens ranked seventh in the NFL in total defense giving up only 322.1 yards per game. Their rush defense led them to this high ranking as they ranked fifth  giving up 89.4 yards per game. To make the playoffs, and ultimately win the Super Bowl, the Ravens need to continue playing strong defense.

The loss of Elvis Dumervill shouldn’t hurt the Ravens too badly. At age 33, his best days are behind him. Dumervill only had three sacks in eight games last season. Losing Dumervill shouldn’t affect the Raven’s pass rush at all due to his lack of production.

Baltimore did add safety Tony Jefferson from the Cardinals. Jefferson is strong in coming up to support the run. He also added two sacks from the safety position. Baltimore’s defense should remain elite and as the old saying goes, defense wins championships.

In order for the Ravens to truly become Super Bowl contenders, they must improve offensively. Baltimore struggled to score points despite scoring the fourth most field goals per game last season with 2.4. Overall, the Ravens only scored 21.4 points per game which ranked 21st in the NFL.

The biggest reason the Ravens’ offense was so bad was because of their running game. Baltimore ranked last in run percentage, running the ball only 34 percent of the time. This led to the 28th worst rushing offense at just 91.4 yards per game. Despite having such a bad rushing game the Ravens were able to control the clock. The Ravens held the ball for nearly 31 minutes a game last season.

If the Ravens are able to continue playing elite defense and run the ball more often, and effectively, then winning Super Bowl LII becomes a real possibility.

Cincinnati Bengals

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North

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

The Bengals were expected to make the playoffs for the sixth straight season but they fell apart. Cincinnati finished 6-9-1 and they didn’t get a shot to end their 26-year winless playoff drought.

Winning the Super Bowl is going to be no easy task for the Bengals. First, they must find a way to get in the playoffs while in one of the toughest divisions in football. Second, they must find a way to get over that hump and end the drought of simply winning a playoff game.

The Bengals offense does have some talent but did lose two major pieces along the offensive line. Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler both departed this offseason. Losing lineman of Pro-Bowl caliber will not be a good thing and in order to succeed in the NFL, you must have a good offensive line. The Bengals reacquired Andre Smith to help with this problem. Smith was with the Bengals for seven years but went to Minnesota for a year before returning.

One thing the Bengals’ offense did well last season is score early. Cincinnati was third in the NFL in first quarter scoring averaging 6.1 points. Sustaining that quick start was a problem because they went from third in first quarter scoring to 27th in second quarter scoring. Altogether the offense only scored 20.3 points per game.

Improving the consistency of the offense, along with filling the voids on the offensive line will be key in the Bengals pursuit of a Super Bowl title.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals were much better than their counterpart. Cincinnati ranked seventh in points allowed per game at 19.7. This is a closer measure of how good the Bengals’s defense was than their 17th ranked defense (according to yards given up per game, 350.8). The reason the Bengals gave up so many yards is because they were on the field a lot. The Bengals were on the field for an average of 64.9 plays per game, which was eighth most in the NFL.

Kevin Minter will be an upgrade from Rey Maualuga who also departed the Bengals. Maualuga played in 14 games and only had 27 tackles while Minter had 81 in 16 games of action. The defense should play up to the same caliber as last season allowing for the Bengals a chance to contend for the division title.

In order for the Bengals drought to end, and eventually win Super Bowl LII, the Bengals offensive line must allow the rest of the offense to become elite. If all these things fall into place then the Bengals win end up as Super Bowl champs.

Cleveland Browns

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North

(Mandatory Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Pigs are going to have to fly and unicorns are going to have to dance for the Browns to go from 1-15 to celebrating a victory in Super Bowl LII. In all seriousness, the Browns will have their work cut out for them. They were dreadful on both sides of the ball.

Cleveland did have a solid draft and acquired a few established players in free agency. Brock Osweiler and Kevin Zeitler may improve the Browns offensively, but only time will tell. The Browns struggled to score points averaging 16.5 points per game which ranked 31st. Cleveland needs to find a way to improve the amount of plays they run and time of possession which ranked 27th and 31st respectively.

Osweiler, if named starter, should be able to help improve the Browns passing attack which averaged 204 yards per game. In 2015 with Denver, he was able to average 245 yards per game. His production dropped in Houston but Hue Jackson has been known to bring the best out of quarterbacks.

The ground game was a bit better ranking 19th in the NFL. Improving the entire offensive production can help the Browns get closer to the playoffs.

Cleveland focused on the defensive side of the ball in the first round of the NFL draft. They drafted Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers to help the 31st ranked defense in the NFL. The Browns also signed defensive back Jason McCourty to help in the secondary.

The Browns were on the field a lot which is why the gave up so many yards and points. Cleveland is going to be young but talented on defense and if they can begin to slow opposing offenses down, they can win some more games.

It is very unlikely the Browns win a Super Bowl this season. In order for this crazy event to happen, Osweiler is going to need to become a top three quarterback. Along with that, the defense must become feared. Jabrill Peppers and Myles Garrett will have to play at a pro-bowl level for the Browns to even make the playoffs. If pigs can fly, then the Browns will find a way to win Super Bowl LII.

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl Series: AFC North. Stay tuned the remaining editions of Super Bowl series and check out the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.

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Feature image courtesy of http://www.steelcityunderground.com/2016/09/10/2016-nfl-predictions-afc-north/

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