Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

Fantasy football bold predictions: NFC West

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

Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer will Bounce Back in 2017

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

Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

Carson Palmer (Photo by: si.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

Sammy Watkins (Photo by: dailynews.com)

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Football Bold Predictions NFC West

Carlos Hyde (Photo by: sfgate.com)

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

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

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

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

 

Featured image from calvinayre.com.

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2017 NFC West division preview

2017 NFC West division preview

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

4: San Fransisco 49ers

Last season: 2-14

Strength of Schedule: 20

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

2017 NFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: USA Today)

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

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

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

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

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

3: Arizona Cardinals

Last season: 7-8-1

Strength of Schedule: 23

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

2017 NFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2: Los Angeles Rams

Last season: 4-12

Strength of Schedule: 17

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

2017 NFL West division preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1: Seattle Seahawks

Last season: 10-5-1

Strength of Schedule: 25

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

2017 NFC West division preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews fantasy value following trade

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

Sammy Watkins to the Rams

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

Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews Fantasy Value After Trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jordan Matthews to the Bills

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

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

Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews Fantasy Value After Trade

Jordan Matthews (Photo by: phillysportsnetwork.com)

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

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

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

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

Who will do better in 2017?

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

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

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

 

Featured image from wday.com

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NFL top 100 players 2017: 10-1

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 final installment, containing players 10-1.

10. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

NFL Top 100

Odell Beckham Jr. (Photo by nj.com)

Beckham Jr. gets a lot of press for his antics, but he produces at a Hall of Fame level so far in his career. His 2016 season was no different as he recorded 101 receptions for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Giants have other offensive weapons that should take off pressure from Beckham Jr. Evan Engram and Brandon Marshall were brought in this offseason and Sterling Sheppard had a solid season in 2016. With so many targets, Beckham will likely face a little bit less attention than in previous years.

He wants to be the most paid player in the NFL and with a good season in 2017, he can be the top paid wide receiver in the league at the least.

Comments: “Some love him, the rest hate him but what you can’t deny is that he is a stud on the field. He is also one of the most exciting players to watch. Ranked at 10 seems perfect for Odell and I can’t wait to see what he does this season as he has started to put together a career that could one day head to Canton.” -Matthew Hagan

9. David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

NFL Top 100

David Johnson (Photo by latimes.com)

He was little known of Norhtern Iowa and the Cardinals didn’t even want to draft him as they preferred other running backs. That hasn’t stopped Johnson from becoming one of the premier running backs and players in the NFL. In 2016 he rushed 1,239 yards had 879 receiving yards and finished with 20 total touchdowns.

Johnson can do it all and is entering his second full season as the top back in Arizona. The rest of the offense wasn’t particularly productive, but Johnson made the most of an average offensive line and a struggling quarterback. This season Johnson will continue his progression and have an impact on the game in a variety of ways.

Fantasy football shouldn’t be used to judge real football most of the time, but there is a reason he is going in the top three of most drafts.

Comments: “He is a complete back and has thrived behind a line that isn’t great. If he doesn’t pick up his yards on the ground he will get the ball thrown to him. He has a chance to have another good season as the focal point of the Cardinal offense.”-Joe DiTullio

8. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

NFL Top 100

Aaron Donald (Photo by masslive.com)

Donald is by far the best interior lineman in the NFL and has been the best player on a lackluster Rams’ team for years now. This is all despite being in the NFL for only three years. Last season he finished with 47 tackles, five passes defended and eight sacks.

His best asset is his quickness off of the snap. He continually is the first one to make his jump at the snap of the ball and that is not something that will diminish in 2017. One thing to be weary of is that Donald will play more defensive end this season in the Rams’ new 3-4 defense. With Donald’s skill he should be able to make the adjustment and continue to be one of the top ten players in the league.

The 2017 season may not be too kind to the Rams, but Donald will continue to perform.

Comments: “Aaron Donald is unblockable just put on the tape. He hasn’t gotten the love because the Rams have been horrible. Donald is a top 3-5 player and once the Rams become relevant, people will soon realize that ranking him eighth is just not good enough.” -Matthew Hagan

7. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Dallas Cowboys

NFL Top 100

Ezekiel Elliot (Photo by wfaa.com)

Elliot does benefit from a great offensive line, but he had a great season for a rookie in 2016. He rushed for 1,631 yards and had 16 total touchdowns. Those stats are especially impressive when taking into account that he only played 15 games because Dallas rested their starters for their season finale to stay healthy for the playoffs.

The thing that will hold Elliot back is his off the field issues. This list was compiled before rumors had started about a possible suspension. If he is on the field Elliot is going to be one of the most productive backs in the league. He has a great offensive line and enough natural talent that he will be shine. Even if he has a sophomore slump and does a little worse than 2016, he is still going to have an excellent season.

If Elliot is suspended it may hinder his rating on this list, but he will still be a great player for the games that he does play in.

Comments: “Elliot does benefit from a great offensive line, but most great running backs do. His vision and athletic ability make him elusive. Going into year two, he will have another big season if he can stay on the field.”-Joe DiTullio

6. Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos

NFL Top 100

Von Miller (Photo by usatoday,com)

His ability to sack the quarterback is what makes Miller such a great player. 2016 was no different for Miller, as he finished the season with 13.5 sacks, 78 tackles, three passes defended and three forced fumbles.

If Miller plays at least 15 games in a season, the end product is 11 or more sacks. He constantly harasses quarterbacks and will do so again in 2017. The Bronco defense will be strong again in 2017, with the strengths being the secondary and the pass rush. The secondary will be helped by the pass rush getting after the quarterback, forcing him to make bad decisions. Miller and the pass rush will be aided and gifted with a few coverage sacks this season.

Miller will make his sixth Pro Bowl and be the best player on one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2017.

Comments: “Miller and Mack could easily be flip flopped. Miller is surrounded by better talent on defense, which elevates him. Despite that Miller would rack up double digit sacks for any team in the NFL”- Dylan Streibig

5. Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland Raiders

NFL Top 100

Khalil Mack (Photo by raiders.com)

Mack, like Miller, is this high on the list because of his ability to get after the quarterback. His ability to do so has landed him on two straight All-Pro first teams. Last season he recorded 11 sacks, 73 tackles, five forced fumbles, three fumbles recovered, three passes defended, one interception and one touchdown.

He is entering his fourth season in the NFL and big things are expected of him, especially after he had 15 sacks in 2015. Mack doesn’t have the luxury of a good secondary, so he needs to get to the quarterback quickly for most sacks. The defense will likely not be too improved in 2017, which means Mack will need to continue to produce at an elite level.

He is entering his prime, so there is no reason not to expect Mack to have a great season in 2017.

Comments: “Khalil Mack is the best player in the NFL. That’s right, I said it. Mack is the only player in NFL history to be named an all-pro at two positions and that is enough proof for me. When you can split the time between two positions and be that great at both you are the elite of the elite. Mack is going to have a huge year. I expect close to 20 sacks this season.” -Matthew Hagan

4. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Top 100

Antonio Brown (Photo by sbnation.com)

Like a lot of players in this top ten, Brown came from humble beginnings in the NFL and had to work his tail off to get this far in his career. He was a sixth round pick in the NFL Draft and has made the Steelers happy to have drafted him. In 2016 he had 1,284 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

The yards were down last season, but the touchdowns were up, which still made him very productive. Ben Roethlisberger’s decision to play this season after contemplating retirement, will help Brown greatly. A good offensive line and Le’Veon Bell will help keep the offense balanced. Martavis Bryant is coming off of suspension and should draw some attention away from Brown. Brown’s touchdowns may go down as a result, but he should have more yards.

Brown’s work ethic is great so unless quarterback play drops off completely, expect him to be a top receiver in the NFL.

Comments: ” Four straight seasons with 100+ catches says it all. Opponents know the ball is going to Brown and still can’t stop him”- Dylan Streibig 

3. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

NFL Top 100

Julio Jones (Photo by atlantafalcons.com)

Jones is the ultimate matchup problem in the NFL and is the reason why the Falcons’ offense is so dynamic. He makes Matt Ryan a better quarterback. Last season he not only helped the Falcons get to the Super Bowl, but had 1,409 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

The 2017 season should be another great one for Jones. Ryan is back at quarterback coming off of his best season yet. The offensive line is also good and two good running backs are running behind it. Mohammed Sanu and Austin Hooper provide decent targets to take the pressure off of Jones. Even if all these things weren’t in place for Jones, he would still be a great player in the NFL.

With Jones on an offense, a defense has to make him the main focal point of their game plan because he is so talented and productive.

Comments: “Jones is the ultimate mismatch. He could be higher on his list and it wouldn’t be too surprising. He makes the Falcons’ offense so good. He makes Matt Ryan a better quarterback. If you are picking players in a schoolyard draft, Jones is going to be one of the top picks no question.”-Joe DiTullio

2. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

NFL Top 100

Aaron Rodgers (Photo by nytimes.com)

For some reason Rodgers has gotten a lot of criticism over the last few years, but he is still an elite quarterback. In 2016 he threw for 4,428 yards and a league best 40 touchdowns. Rodgers is very reliable, while still putting up big numbers with an interception percentage of just 1.1% last season.

Rodgers has had to undergo a lot of changes with his offensive personnel the last few years. Ty Montgomery has had to switch from wide receiver to running back which has gone decently well. Offensive lineman have come and gone, but the unit is still good. Jordy Nelson has dealt with injuries, but is back to form, while Randall Cobb has regressed. Davante Adams stepped up last season, which is encouraging. The Packers also signed Martellus Bennet to give Rodgers a very good tight end target. He has done a lot more with a lot less in past years and will put up good numbers in 2017.

Rodgers ranks second on this list, but with another good season and a possible retirement/regression from the person at the top spot, he can claim the best player in the league title.

Comments: “Rodgers would make an uninterested person, interested in football. He is that good. He buys time with his legs and has the accuracy down the field to make unbelievable throws. He only has one Super Bowl, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a couple more before retiring.”- Joe DiTullio

1. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

NFL Top 100

Tom Brady (Photo by wbur.com)

Brady is 40 years old, but still is at the top of his game and the top of this list. He has showed no signs yet of taking a step backwards. His 2016 season was shortened by the “Deflategate” suspension, but he still had a great season. In the truncated season he threw for 3,554 yards and just two interceptions on his way to leading New England to its fifth Super Bowl Championship.

Protecting the football is also one of Brady’s strengths as he only threw two in the 2016 regular season. This season, the offense got better. They added Brandin Cooks to their receiving corps, to go with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan. Rob Gronkowski also figures to come back and be dynamic if he can stay healthy. The offensive line has played well only allowed Brady to be sacked 15 times in 2016.

With no signs of regression and more talent on the team, Brady holds on to the number one spot on this list.

Comments: “I have a problem with Brady at one. Yes, he has accomplished amazing things and has been the best quarterback of all-time, but this list is suppose to be predicting the upcoming season. At his age, Brady will not be the best player in the NFL in 2017.” -Matthew Hagan

NFL Top 100 Players 2017: 20-11

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NFL top 100 players 2017: 70-61

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 fourth installment, containing players 70-61.

70. Casey Hayward, CB, Los Angeles Chargers

NFL Top 100

Casey Hayward (Photo by boltbeat.com)

Hayward may not be as known as he should be, but has had five solid seasons in the NFL. Last year, his first season playing for the Chargers, Hayward 57 total tackles, seven interceptions, 20 passes defended and one touchdown.

In 2016 Hayward made his first Pro Bowl as he starts to enter his prime. The Chargers’ team will be markedly better this season, including their defense. With Hayward and Jason Verrett as corners and Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram getting pressure on the quarterback, it’s hard to imagine the Chargers’ defense not getting better.

Hayward should benefit from the players around him and be a top 100 player again.

Comments: The Chargers’ defense is becoming a sneaky good unit, and Casey Hayward is a huge part of that. Last season, Hayward clowned around to the tune of a passer rating of 53.4 when he was targeted. Hayward also allowed just one touchdown last season and led the NFL in picks last season with seven. Hayward enters his age 28 season in 2017, and expect him to fight for the crown of best corner in the NFL this season.” –Tim Miller

69. Andrew Whitworth, OT, Los Angeles Rams

NFL Top 100

Andrew Whitworth (Photo by ocregister.com)

After playing for the Bengals for the first 11 years of his career, Whitworth will now be a Ram after signing with Los Angeles in free agency. At age 36, Whitworth made the third Pro Bowl of his career and is aging well.

Now Whitworth’s job is going to be protecting Jared Goff’s blindside and clearing holes for Todd Gurley. The offense may not be the greatest in 2017, but Whitworth will turn in a good campaign. Age is a concern and Whitworth will show signs of aging, but he is still good enough to turn in a solid season.

Whitworth brings a ton of experience to a young offense and could be the piece that helps them grow and get better.

Comments: “This guy ages like fine wine. Unless age finally catches up with him, I could actually see him being ranked higher. Left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line and he is easily one of the best”- Robert Hanes

“Whitworth will always be criminally underrated as one of the consistently best tackles in football. The numbers speak for themselves: 14 pressures given up in 570 offensive snaps in 2016. I’m not sure why he constantly gets overlooked, but he’s maybe the most steady offensive tackle behind the great Joe Thomas.”-Blake Van Poucke

68. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami Dolphins

NFL Top 100

Ndamukong Suh (Photo by cbssports.com)

Suh may not be racking up the stats like he did earlier in his career, but he is still playing solidly in Miami. In 2017 he finished with 72 total tackles, five sacks, six passes defended and one fumble recovery.

The Dolphins chose Charles Harris Jr. with their first round pick. Putting him with the likes of Suh, Cameron Wake, William Hayes and others should create more threats for opponents’ offensive lines. The defensive front will be strong and Suh will get more one on one looks in 2017.

He does more than the numbers show you and will continue to do so in 2017.

Comments: “Suh is the forgotten superstar after he signed in Miami. Even with the second least amount of sacks in his career, he was still as productive as he’s been in years past. He’s vastly improved the Dolphins run game and has been the linchpin of one of the most improved defensive units in 2016. As his sack numbers drop, his effectiveness in other areas rises.”-Blake Van Poucke

67. Michael Bennett, DE/DT, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Michael Bennett (Photo by sportspressnw.com)

Although he had only five sacks in 2016, his lowest total since 2011, Bennett still played solidly. He missed five games last season, which severely hindered the amount of stats he was able to total.

If he can stay healthy in 2017, Bennett will return to be a force on the field. He has the added value of playing defensive end on running downs and sliding into defensive tackle on passing downs. He matches up with several different types of linemen and uses whatever competitive advantage he has over them to get to the quarterback.

With Bennett fully back in 2017, he will be a top 100 player yet again.

Comments: Michael Bennett is a character off the field, and he channels his minor case of the crazies onto the field. Bennett was the best run stopper in the NFL last season, earning a grade of 93.0 last year against the run. He played 354 of his 689 snaps as a tackle last season, further adding to his value as a versatile lineman. The Texas A&M product tallied 16 tackles for loss, which was good for tied second in the NFL last season. Bennett will continue to okie-doke sorry offensive linemen this season and help lead a perennially stout Seahawks defense.” –Tim Miller

66. Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers

NFL Top 100

Greg Olsen (photo by nj.com)

Greg Olsen has gotten better as he has gotten older. The last three seasons he has had over 1,000 receiving yards each year. Last season he had 80 receptions for 1,073 yards and three touchdowns.

He may have found it hard to get in the endzone in 2016, but he still had the second most receiving yards of a tight end. Cam Newton had a down year and he still found Olsen often. In 2017 it should be expected that Newton will bounce back and still be looking to find his favorite target, Olsen.

The Panthers will continue to feature Olsen and he will perform well in a division not known for playing great defense.

Comments: “The fact that this man is still overlooked baffles me. He will go down as one of the best tight ends to play the game.”- Robert Hanes

Olsen could be considered the most important player, outside of Newton, for the Panthers. He’s been such a reliable target for Cam Newton and a guy that seems to make every play. He eclipsed the 1,000 yard receding mark for the third straight season and continues to improve his hands and route running as a tight end. The Panthers passing game without him is a giant mess.”-Blake Van Poucke

65. Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles

NFL Top 100

Brandon Graham (photo by philly.com)

The Eagles’ defense has been much better since getting rid of Chip Kelly. Without having to be on the field for what seems like an eternity, players have stepped up. One such player is Brandon Graham. He finished 2016 with 59 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, one pass defended, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovered.

Graham will be coming off his best all around season as a pro and will be looking to add to it in 2017. Philadelphia was a good defense in 2016, allowing just 20.7 points per game, but they have added some key pieces to the mix. Derek Barnett, Chris Long and Sidney Jones were all acquired in the offseason and will make the Eagles’ defense better. A lot of attention will still be paid to Graham, but the other quality players on the defense will take some pressure off of him.

Graham will continue to create a good tandem with Fletcher Cox on the Philadelphia defensive line in 2017.

Comments: “Brandon Graham is a solid edge player but Fletcher Cox takes huge pressure off of him. Graham has never had more than 6.5 sacks in a season and it looks like that is his ceiling. There are many players better than Graham and he should be in the 90’s” -Matthew Hagan

“Graham deserves to be much higher on this list. His effectiveness doesn’t necessarily show up on stat sheets, but he gets QB pressures more than nearly every player in football. 83 in 2016 is an insane number. Only Khalil Mack had more last year. The guy makes it incredibly difficult to get anything going against that Eagles defensive front.”-Blake Van Poucke

64. Danielle Hunter, DE, Minnesota Vikings

NFL Top 100

Danielle Hunter (photo by sportingsota.com)

Hunter is the only player on this list that played in the NFL last season and did not record one start. How did he do it? He put up solid numbers and got after the quarterback. His future looks very bright. In 2016 he recorded 12.5 sacks, 54 tackles, one pass defended, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered and one touchdown.

He still has his fair share of improvement to do in stopping the run, but Hunter has made the most of his opportunities to rush the passer. The 2017 Vikings’ defense should have another good year and Hunter will get more snaps, meaning the potential is there for him to have even more of a breakout year.

The 2017 season will tell us a lot about the third year man out of LSU, but if his first two seasons indicate anything, it is that he is on the right track to be one of the best defensive ends in the league.

Comments: “Danielle Hunter had 12.5 sacks without a single start and only played 57 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Hunter is going to be the sack champion as he and Brian Robison switch roles. By the end of the 2017-18 season, NFL fans will be debating if Hunter is the best defensive end in the NFL.” -Matthew Hagan

63. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

NFL Top 100

Larry Fitzgerald (photo by si.com)

This will be the 14th season for Larry Fitzgerald in the NFL, but he is still producing.The ageless wonder has remodeled his entire game to be able to stay productive in the NFL for as long as possible. Last season he had 107 receptions for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns.

Fitzgerald isn’t just putting up numbers, he has also been a great run blocker, which is an underappreciated trait in a wide receiver. Carson Palmer didn’t have a great season last year and Fitzgerald still had a big season. If the quarterback play is similar or better, Fitzgerald will be able to put up another 1,000 yard receiving season and justify his spot on this list.

Father time may work against Fitzgerald, but he has done a great job of doing everything he can to produce at a high level, so that should be expected again in 2017.

Comments: “Every year, football nerds try to paint Larry Fitzgerald as old and feeble. Fitzgerald, however, does not care about the haters. Fitzgerald dropped just seven of his 223 targets in the past two seasons, good for the second best catch rate in the NFL (97.9 percent). He was graded as the No. 9 wide receiver in the NFL last season, and will continue to be one of the best wide receivers in the league until he hangs it up, which seems like it won’t come until he’s 45. Father Time waits for no man, sans Larry Fitzgerald.” –Tim Miller

62. Dont’a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots

NFL Top 100

Dont’a Hightower (photo by bostonglobe.com)

Everyone talks about the Patriots’ offense, but they also had the best defense in the NFL last season. Hightower is a player that doesn’t get a lot of recognition, but has been an anchor in the middle of the New England defense. In 2016 Hightower totaled 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two passes defended, one forced fumble and one safety in 13 games played.

The Patriots have added Stephon Gilmore and rookie Derek Rivers to the mix, which should make them a top NFL defense once again. Hightower won’t always have the most eye-popping stats, but if you watch the games he has an impact beyond that of his stats.

With more talent around him in 2017, Hightower will be in a good position to have an even better year in 2017.

Comments: “Hightower’s value is incredibly high as one of the leaders on that Patriots defense. In terms of absolute value (AV), he had the highest of any Patriot on defense. The guy flies around the field and has ridiculous closing speed. Patriots try and use him in many different ways but still outline his strengths by rushing the passer 30% of his snaps. He causes plenty of problems for opposing quarterbacks.”-Blake Van Poucke

61. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

NFL Top 100

Dez Bryant (photo by wfaa.com)

Bryant is another player that didn’t put up video-game level stats last season, but is still a great talent. In 13 games Bryant recorded 50 receptions for 796 yards and eight touchdowns.

A lot was made out of Dak Prescott’s favorite receiver being Cole Beasley, but Bryant had a decent season. He has also had to fight off a lot of injuries in his career, but when he is healthy, he is dynamic. A full offseason with Prescott should help improve his 52.1% catch percentage. Even if Prescott has a sophomore slump, Bryant should be able to put up enough numbers and draw enough attention to help the rest of the offense.

The connection between Prescott and Bryant is expected to be much better in 2017 and if it is, Bryant should have another great season.

Comments: “Bryant is on a team that is built to run the ball and that hurts him. He also has missed 10 games over the past two seasons. If Dak takes a big leap, and Dez can stay healthy, then he will prove to be better than this rank.” -Matthew Hagan

“Based on talent, Bryant should be higher, but he hasn’t meshed with Prescottt enough yet. His production will go up and he will have a better season in 2017. With Ezekiel Elliot facing a possible suspension, Bryant will be what opponents want to stop the most.”-Joe DiTullio

NFL Top 100 Players: 80-71

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

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 series 2017: NFC West

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC West

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 seventh edition, Super Bowl series: NFC West.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are coming off a 10-5-1 season in which they lost in the playoffs to the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. This franchise has become one of the most consistent in the NFL, making the playoffs for five straight seasons and six of the last seven.

Winning Super Bowl LII is not as daunting of a task as it may be for other teams. There are some issues the Seahawks need to fix though in order to win the Super Bowl.

Seattle is led by its defense and everyone knows it. The Seahawks finished the season giving up just 18.2 points per game, which ranked third in the NFL. They also finished in the top 10 in rush defense (seventh, 92.9 yards per game), pass defense (eighth, 225.8 yards per game) and total defense (fifth, 319.6 yards per game).

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC West

(Photo Credit: https://www.richardsherman25.com)

In the 2017-18 season, Seattle’s defense should be even better. Up front, they drafted defensive tackle Malik McDowell from Michigan State to play along side Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and even Frank Clark. Seattle also has one of the best linebacking corps led by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. The Seahawks’ front seven will be extremely talented which will allow the Legion of Boom to continue their dominance.

Speaking of the Legion of Boom, the unit will get some much-needed help back at safety. Earl Thomas will be returning from his leg injury and that couldn’t be better news for this secondary. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor have proven to be great players, but Earl Thomas may just be the heart and soul of this defense.

Before Thomas went down with a broken leg, the Seahawks were only allowing 16.2 points per game. After Thomas went down, that number jumped to 23.3, an entire touchdown more per game. As long as this secondary can remain healthy, it will be safe to assume that Seattle will have a top five defense capable of leading this team to a Super Bowl berth.

The offensive side of the ball is where fans should worry. Getting back to the Super Bowl is going to require going back to their original identity. The Seahawks were known as a defensive team that could run the ball. Last season, that changed dramatically.

Seattle only ran the ball 40.7 percent of the time. They also ranked 20th in rushing attempts per game at 25.2. That number dropped from 2014 when they averaged 31.8 attempts per game, and from 2015 in which they averaged 31.2 attempts per game. Running the ball less resulted in the 21st ranked rushing attack in the NFL at just 103.8 yards per game.

The Seahawks made many moves to address their running game. Seattle’s offensive line was pretty awful last season in both run and pass protection. This led to the signing of Luke Joeckel and the selection of center/guard Ethan Pocic from LSU in the NFL Draft. They also signed running back Eddie Lacy from Green Bay.

The Seahawks hope these additions will bring back the identity that led them to two straight Super Bowl appearances.

If Seattle can become a dominant rushing team again, then they will continue making deep playoff runs. The Seahawks also need to earn home-field advantage. Over the past five seasons, Seattle has gone 39-6 at home, including the playoffs. They must also become more disciplined as a team. Seattle had the seventh most penalties per game at 7.3. As long as Seattle does these things, then the Seahawks can once again become Super Bowl champions.

Arizona Cardinals

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC West

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona Cardinals may be the most overlooked team in the NFL. They did finish second in the NFC West last season at 7-8-1 but missed the playoffs. Carson Palmer looked old, yet the offense was still able to be successful. Defensively, the Cardinals dropped off a bit from previous years. So, what is it going to take to see Arizona win its first Lombardi Trophy?

Answering that question takes us back to the saying that defense wins championships. Carson Palmer can’t lead this team to a Super Bowl at the age of 37, but the defense can. Arizona’s defense is going to hurt from the losses of Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson.

They are hoping that rookies Haason Reddick and Budda Baker can fill these holes, but that will be a tough task. Rookies don’t always make immediate impacts so the Cardinals made moves in free agency to help with these departures as well. Arizona signed Jarvis Jones, Karlos Dansby and Antoine Bethea.

In order to win a Super Bowl, these roster changes must improve on the 22.6 points allowed per game last season. Arizona struggled to stop opponents mostly in the second half of games, allowing the 21st most points per second half at 11.8 per game. Not every area of the Cardinals defense was bad. They only gave up 305.2 total yards per game last season which was second-best in the NFL.

If Arizona’s defense can turn these small yardage totals into fewer point totals, then they can easily make the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl. But as is the case for every team, they need some help from their counterpart.

Arizona must balance out their offense. The Cardinals only ran the ball 36.7 percent of the time last season. They have to put the ball in David Johnson’s hands and take it out of Carson Palmer’s in order to make a deep playoff run. 24.9 rushing attempts for 108.2 rushing yards per game will not be enough in the NFL. The best teams in the NFL still run the ball well even though it is a passing league.

Although they pass the ball too frequently, it has led to a lot of points. Arizona averaged the sixth-most points in the NFL at 26.1 per game. The offense has been really good but balance will be the key. If the Cardinals do this and can improve on allowing fewer points per game, then Arizona will be the next Super Bowl champions.

Los Angeles Rams

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC West

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

The Los Angeles Rams are going to need a miracle season to win Super Bowl LII. After going 4-12, there have been many changes within the organization.

Head coach Jeff Fisher was rightfully fired in favor of Sean McVay. McVay has brought in new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and well-known defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. There is optimism in L.A. that a new coaching staff can send this team in the right direction and it all starts with that loaded defense.

Wade Phillips will be taking over a defense that was much better than it looked on paper. The Rams gave up 24.6 points per game, which ranked 23rd in the NFL. Despite giving up so many points, they only gave up an average of 337 yards per game which was ninth-best.

The defense was constantly in tough situations. Los Angeles tied for 26th in the NFL with 1.8 giveaways per game. Despite all this, the Rams defense can become elite.

The reason this defense has a chance to become the best in the NFL is the combination of talent and their new coordinator. The defensive line is headlined by superstar Aaron Donald and defensive end Robert Quinn. Other top defenders on this team include Connor Barwin, Michael Brockers, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner.

Phillips will transition the Rams to a 3-4 scheme and his track record as a coordinator is impressive. Since 2011, Phillips’ defenses have ranked eighth, 24th and fourth (twice) in points allowed. They have also ranked second, seventh (twice), first and fourth since 2011 in yards. Phillips and the Rams are a match made in heaven that will turn this already talented defense into being Super Bowl elite.

The biggest question mark for the Rams is their offense and how Jared Goff will fair in his first season as full-time starter. Goff looked bad in his minimal action during his rookie campaign. He had a 54.6 completion percentage and threw for 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games.

Overall, the Rams ranked in the bottom of almost every offensive category. They ranked 31st in all of the following: points in third quarter (1.6 per game), points in first half (7.8 per game), points in second half (6.2 per game), plays (60 per game), rushing yards (78.2 per game) and passing yards (184.4 per game).

They also ranked 32nd in the following: points (14 per game), second quarter points (3.3 per game), total yards (262.7 per game), yard per play (4.4), third down conversion (31.5 percent) and first downs per game (15).

As you can see, the offense was horrible. The good news is Goff can’t get any worse. Los Angeles also signed center John Sullivan and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth to help their struggling offensive line. The Rams hope these additions will allow talented running back Todd Gurley to run for more than 3.2 yards per carry like he did last year.

The Rams also did plenty to help their passing game in the offseason. They signed Robert Woods and drafted other receivers in Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds. Los Angeles also drafted tight end Gerald Everett. There is nowhere to go but up and these additions should help improve the Rams’ offense.

It is going to take everything falling into place perfectly for the Rams to bring a Super Bowl victory to L.A. Wade Phillips must turn this defense into an elite defense similar to the ones he had in Houston and Denver. Todd Gurley is going to have to win the rushing title as well. If the Rams do both of these things and Jared Goff begins to show the talent of a number one overall pick, then the Rams can miraculously win Super Bowl LII, just don’t bet on it.

San FRANCISCO 49ers

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC West

(Photo Credit: http://www.49ers.com/)

It was hard trying to find reasons the Rams could win the Super Bowl so finding reasons for the 49ers is like asking a dog to meow, but this is what the Super Bowl series is all about.

San Francisco had a horrible season, finishing 2-14. It was one of the worst seasons in franchise history. This year they will be looking to bounce back under new general manager John Lynch and new head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Finding themselves in the playoffs means fixing the worst rush defense in the NFL. San Fransisco gave up 165.9 rushing yards per game last season. Running backs would see the 49ers on their schedule and smile as if it was Christmas. This caused Lynch to focus hard on the defensive side of the ball this offseason.

San Francisco added defensive end Elvis Dumervill and linebacker Malcolm Smith in free agency. They also used their first two picks of the draft on defense. The 49ers selected defensive end Soloman Thomas and linebacker Rueben Foster.

The 49ers weren’t just bad against the run, they were just bad all around. San Francisco ranked 32nd in points allowing 30 per game. The bulk of the points came at the end of halves. They allowed 9.5 points per second quarter and 8.2 points per fourth quarter. These numbers will have to come down drastically if the 49ers are to make a run towards the playoffs. Their pass defense was average, giving up 240.5 yards through the air per game, which ranked 14th.

Similar to the Rams offense, the 49ers’ defense can’t get much worse. Improving over time will happen but becoming a top 15 defense is what it will take to get to the Super Bowl.

Offensively, the 49ers did have an identity under Chip Kelly and that was running the ball. Since Chip Kelly is no longer around, it will be interesting to see if Shanahan will continue to build off that foundation. The 49ers averaged 126.4 yards on the ground, which was fourth in the NFL.

Despite running the ball well, the 49ers struggled to open up the passing attack and converting on third down. San Francisco only managed to throw for 181.9 yards per game. They also only converted on third down 35 percent of the time. Struggling in these two areas caused the Niners to average 19.3 points per game.

Adding to their offensive woes, the Niners only managed to convert points in the red zone 68 percent of the time. All of these handicaps must improve in order for the 49ers to win the Super Bowl. That and hoping the rest of the league forfeits their season but hey, this was worth a shot.

 

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl series: NFC West. Stay tuned the final edition of the Super Bowl series and check out the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.

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Dak Prescott

NFL quarterbacks under the most pressure in 2017

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

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

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

NFL quarterbacks under pressure

Photo: cincyjungle.com

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

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

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

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

NFL quarterbacks under pressure

Photo: turfshowtimes.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL quarterbacks under pressure

Photo: charlottestories.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

32. Josh McCown (New York Jets)

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

31. Cody Kessler (Cleveland Browns)

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

30. Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams)

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

29. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars)

2017 fantasy football quarterback rankings

(Photo: USA Today)

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

28. Brian Hoyer (San Francisco 49ers)

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

27. Mike Glennon (Chicago Bears)

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

26. Trevor Siemian (Denver Broncos)

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

25. Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills)

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

24. Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)

2017 fantasy football quarterback rankings

(Photo: cincinnativseveryone.com)

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

23. Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)

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

22. Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals)

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

21. Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs)

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

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Los Angeles Rams 2017 NFL Draft Profile From Chat Sports

The Rams are on the clock for day 30 of Draftmas.

Summary

The 2016 season was not kind to the Los Angeles Rams. No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff struggled behind an iffy offensive line (as did RB Todd Gurley) and the Rams limped through the year as NFL’s worst offense with just 14 points per game. The defense was just below league average, but they couldn’t work miracles. A better offense would lift some of the burden off the defense and likely result in better play.

Todd Gurley (Photo courtesy: latimes.com)

Head coach Jeff Fisher was fired mid-year and now the young Sean McVay is in charge. He has a bright future and the presence of Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator will help on multiple levels. The main mission for McVay, who is a bit of a wunderkind and did great work in Washington, will be to ensure Jared Goff becomes the franchise option. Goff was not good last year, completing 54.6 percent of his passes of 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions. He never looked fully comfortable, likely due to a combination of a poor offense around him and Fisher’s strange decision to hold off on playing Goff early in the year. McVay will need to set up a system friendly to Goff, much like the Titans and Cowboys have done a fantastic job of doing with their young QBs.
Todd Gurley should be primed for a bounce back year, especially with the changes the Rams made on the offensive line. Andrew Whitworth, one of the better left tackles in the NFL, comes over from the Bengals. It was one of the best signings off the offseason: at a team-friendly price (compared to the rest of the OT market), Whitworth will provide a badly need blindside protector and veteran leadership. The rest of the offensive line will likely shake out as Rodger Saffold at LG, John Sullivan at C, Rob Havenstein at RG and Greg Robinson at RT. Havenstein and Robinson could flip spots, but the hope is Robinson locks down the RT spot after struggling badly on the left side. Sullivan isn’t a long-term answer, but he can be a stop-gap if the Rams select a young center in the draft. Maybe not for this year, but more OL help could be on the way if the unit doesn’t gel.
Weapons for Goff remain an area of concern. Tavon Austin has ability, but he’s on an unfriendly contract and the Rams have yet to use him properly. Robert Woods was signed to a big deal, but he never proved himself in Buffalo and that deal could look bad in a year or two. Pharoh Cooper has upside, but he’s not a legit No. 1 weapon. Getting that true No. 1 WR for Goff is a must in the near future. At tight end, last year’s fourth round pick Tyler Higbee might not be the answer. In a loaded TE class, the Rams should look for another option. Lance Dunbar will assume some of the third down duties at RB.
As mentioned, Phillips comes to town on the defensive side of the ball. The dirty little “secret” of Phillips vaunted defense is that it’s really just a 4-3 under with a defensive end standing up. So, Aaron Donald will still be one of the best 3-techniques in the NFL. How the rest of the defensive line fits is still up for grabs. Dominique Easley might be better as a 3-technique than a 5-technique or a 1-technique, so he might be relegated to backup duty. Michael Brockers could end up at either spot, but he’ll start somewhere. Where exactly he lines up most of the time might not be decided until after the draft.
The Rams overhauled the edge rusher spot, with Robert Quinn and Ethan Westbrooks the only notable players returning. Connor Barwin was a smart signing, as he’ll provide a veteran option. But a young piece or two is needed, especially if Robert Quinn can’t return to form. Alex Ogletree and Mark Barron should work as the two ILBs, but there isn’t much proven ability behind them.
In the secondary, picking up Kayvon Webster and Nickell Robey-Coleman were great moves. Webster, who knows Phillips defense, could break out as the No. 2 corner. Robey-Coleman will man the nickel role. That allows LaMarcus Joyner to assume free safety duties, as Maurice Alexander shifts to strong safety. Trumaine Johnson is back, for the time being, as the No. 1 CB.

Picks and Needs

The Rams have eight picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. They are without a first round pick as a result of the Jared Goff trade, which also cost them a compensatory draft pick in the third round. The extra fourth is a compensatory pick, while the sixth is via the Dolphins from the William Hayes trade. The seventh is from the Ravens as part of the Chris Givens trade, as the Rams’ original pick was swapped in the Hayes deal.

First round: (0)
Second round: (1) No. 37
Third round: (1) No. 69
Fourth round: (2) No. 112, No. 141
Fifth round: (1) No. 149
Sixth round: (2) No. 189, No. 206
Seventh round: (1) No. 234
These needs are in no particular order and are the top ones.
Offensive Needs:
Wide Receiver – Tavon Austin has been inconsistent, while Pharoh Cooper hasn’t proven himself yet. Robert Woods is a No. 2, at best, so getting a legit No. 1 option for Goff is needed.
Tight End – It’s an amazing draft class for tight ends. The Rams should either add a legit No. 1 TE or a compliment for Tyler Higbee.
Offensive Line – I’ll group this together, since there are multiple needs. Whitworth and Sullivan are not long-term options, so young pieces will be needed at some point. In a bad tackle class, a center might be the route the Rams elect to go. A guard, even if it’s just a future backup, wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Defensive needs:
Defensive Line – Maybe it’s a true nose guard or maybe it’s another 5-technique. Either way, the Rams could use another piece alongside Brockers and Donald.
Edge Rusher – This might be the Rams’ biggest need. Robert Quinn is one keeper (hopefully: he’s had two down years in a row), but Connor Barwin isn’t a long-term option. Phillips’ defense is based on getting pressure. It’s a really good edge rusher class, so adding one early makes sense.
Cornerback – Kayvon Webster could have a breakout year and Nickell Robey-Coleman will man the slot, but Trumaine Johnson’s future is a question mark. He’ll likely get a year to see how he fits under Phillips, but there are no guarantees. With little reliable depth behind those three, another mid-round pick is needed.

Targets and Thoughts

Below are some potential targets for the Rams for each of their Day 1 and Day 2 picks.

Second Round: 

Pick No. 37: Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn

Carl Lawson (Photo courtesy: profootballfocus.com)

If it wasn’t for injuries at Auburn, Lawson would likely be a first round pick. The production is there and although he’s a bit undersize, he should fit in the Rams’ system. He could be a part-time player in year one before replacing Barwin full-time once Barwin’s deal is up. There will plenty of edge options on the board here for Los Angeles.
Third Round: 
Pick No. 69: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
The Rams have shown quite a bit of interest in the physical, productive WR from USC. He might not be a full-fledged No. 1 option, but he’s a very different player than Austin or Cooper. Concerns around his speed and separation ability (think Laquon Treadwell) could cause him to slide out of the first two rounds.
Conclusion
The Rams aren’t ready to truly contend next year. It’s a rebuild year, with the focus on Goff improving. Not having a first round pick doesn’t help, but the Rams can add a few pieces, on either side of the ball, as they continue their rebuild.
You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas here!
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To read more sports stories by Tom Downey go to Chat Sports!
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