Is Doug Martin a number one fantasy running back with Winston sidelined?

Doug Martin fantasy: Now a number one option?

Jameis Winston has been dealing with a shoulder injury that has caused him to underperform in recent weeks. The preseason darkhorse for MVP hasn’t performed quite like people thought he would to start this season. Through eight games in 2017, Winston has thrown for 1,920 yards, ten touchdowns and six interceptions, while leading his team to a sub par 2-6 record.

People thought he and the Bucs would be much better in 2017 but they haven’t lived up to the hype. Now Winston is sidelined for a couple of weeks to rehab his shoulder and the question remains, is Doug Martin a number one fantasy running back with Winston sidelined?

The case for Martin as a RB1

Doug Martin had a three-game suspension to start this NFL season. During the offseason, and leading into preseason, he looked like an absolute beast. He cut back on his fatty foods and increased his training to six days a week, cutting out body fat and becoming leaner and stronger. To start this season, Martin hasn’t found as much success as previous years.

Through five games in 2017, Martin has 73 rush attempts for 254 yards and two touchdowns. The Muscle Hamster has faced some tough defenses since his return to action going up against the Panthers and Bills, among others in three of his first five games. That may be a reason for some of his struggles, but don’t be hesitant to start him in upcoming weeks.

Since Winston initially went down with his shoulder injury, Doug Martin received 18 and 20 carries in back-to-back games respectively. This shows fantasy owners that Tampa Bay isn’t afraid to go with a ground and pound offense when their star quarterback is less than 100 percent. Excluding last game where the whole Bucs team got shut down by the Saints, Martin has found more success with more volume of carries.

Now in the next two games, Doug Martin and the Buccaneers offense goes up against the sub par New York Jets defense and the sub par Miami Dolphins defense where, if given more volume, he can find success for the Buccaneers and fantasy owners.

The case against Martin as a RB1

Doug Martin fantasy

https://i.sportstalkflorida.com

Now many people may be skeptical as putting Martin in as their number one running back when he hasn’t done much to prove he’s worthy of that. He’s only put together two good games since re-joining the league in week four and those games were against the two worst defenses he’s gone up against.

Against the New England Patriots and the Arizona Cardinals, Martin had 13 and 14 fantasy points respectively. As a matter of fact, both of his big games have come when he has found the end zone. He’s failed to do that in the last three weeks, which may be a main reason as to his fantasy struggles. That issue may not be resolved with the loss of Winston and Mike Evans this week against the Jets.

Another red flag during Martin’s 2017 season has been his sub par yards per attempt. So far he has put up a weak 3.5 yards per attempt, the second worst mark of his career. This may be because of the 27th ranked offensive line of the Buccaneers. The run game comes directly from the guys up front an if they can’t execute their blocks, Martin has no chance to succeed in the next coming weeks.

Saying Martin is going to regress with Winston out is unlikely, but I wouldn’t put him as a clear RB1. I would place Martin in the high end RB2 category with RB1 potential.

 

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Jameis Winston fantasy

Fantasy impact: Jameis Winston shut down

On Nov. 6, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shut down quarterback Jameis Winston to rest his injured shoulder. He is expected to miss at least two weeks.

Winston said he did not aggravate the sprained AC joint he suffered three weeks earlier. The injury happened before halftime on Sunday when he was sacked by Cameron Jordan and Alex Okafor.

Coach Dirk Koetter said he was definitely hurt after the play. That led to backup Ryan Fitzpatrick replacing him. With Winston out, how will the other players respond without him?

Mike Evans and Desean Jackson

For starters, Mike Evans will miss this week due to suspension. But in the times Fitzpatrick has played, Evans is his first target as he throws to him 21 percent of the time according to Graham Barfield of Fantasy Guru. He should remain a solid starter with Fitzpatrick, who likes his tall receivers.

Jameis Winston fantasy

Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson (Photo by bucswire.usatoday.com)

In 2015 as a the starter for the New York Jets, he had the best season of his career with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. He threw for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns, making Marshall and Decker remain reliable fantasy players. Evans will remain a key contributor with Fitzpatrick because of his size and ability to catch anything in any area.

As for DeSean Jackson, it’s not the best of news. He has only been thrown to 10 percent of the time even with a touchdown from Fitzpatrick. Jackson is known as a deep threat, and his new quarterback isn’t the best at it.

But Jackson has been inconsistent mostly due to some bad throws and his inability to find other ways to get open. However, Jackson does have a favorable matchup this week against the Jets and is a high flex play this week.

RUNNING BACKS and Cameron Brate

Doug Martin could be the safest play in the next couple weeks. Even though he was dominated by the Saints last week, he should gain a lot of production. As for the other running backs in the passing game, including Martin, Fitzpatrick has targeted all running backs a combined 19 percent of the time, which is second in total attempts by Fitzpatrick. Running backs like Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims could be in play in deep leagues, especially if Martin struggles again.

Jameis Winston fantasy

Doug Martin (Photo by cbssports.com)

Cameron Brate is another intriguing fantasy player. With Evans out, Brate is likely to see a bump in production. The Jets have given up the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends.

Some concern is that Fitzpatrick has only targeted Brate 15 percent of the time, which is behind Evans and the running backs. It’s even behind Adam Humphries! So his fantasy appeal may not be great, but is a safe play for this week in his favorable matchup.

Winston going forward

As for Winston, he is expected to miss only two weeks. But he really isn’t worth it at this point especially with the shoulder injury this late in the year.

I expect that if the Bucs aren’t in a good spot, he could be out the rest of the season. There are other good quarterbacks to go get like Josh McCown of the Jets, Jay Cutler of the Dolphins and maybe even Fitzpatrick.

Winston should be dropped from fantasy teams at this point with the concern of his shoulder.

 

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Week 9 DFS don'ts

Week 9 DFS don’ts: Report card

Week 9 was the first time all season I cashed when the week number was a multiple of 3. I know, why would anyone keep track of that? Well, when you lose badly on Week 3 and 6, you are highly aware of Week 9, 12, 15 moving forward.

Anyways, it was my best week of the year in terms of profit and picks. We nailed almost everything on the Suck My DFS Podcast and our picks for the Week 9 DFS don’ts.

Quarterback: 4/6

On our podcast, my three quarterbacks to build around were Russell Wilson, Alex Smith and Jared Goff. Now, I ended up not playing Alex Smith on my cash games and taking my co-host’s advice on Jacoby Brissett in my tournaments. I missed out on a great game from Goff, but still managed to have a good day as all three of these quarterbacks made value in cash games and probably helped you win a tournament.

On the other hand, Matt Ryan and Marcus Mariota managed to have good games and prove me wrong. However, Brock Osweiler was not good. It might seem cheap, but I saw tournament lineups on FanDuel with Osweiler so I’m counting it as a win.

Running Back: 4/6

I was struggling to predict the running back position all season. But finally, in the running back edition of Week 9 DFS don’ts, I came through. Devonta Freeman, C.J. Anderson and Alex Collins all failed to make value in a cash game, and I couldn’t be happier.

Conversely, Todd Gurley and Christian McCaffrey were great. Gurley was a staple in my tournament lineups.

Sadly, I whiffed on Mark Ingram while my co-host nailed it with Alvin Kamara. Thankfully, Gurley carried my lineups to victory.

Wide Receiver: 4/6

Mike Evans, Michael Thomas and Larry Fitzgerald all failed to make value. I’m not counting Jamison Crowder. He ended up not being active, so I won’t count that as a win or a loss.

Thank goodness for that Tyreek Hill play at the end of the first half! I haven’t sweated a game harder all year. While that play was great, Hill came up just short of doubling his value for cash purposes, so that’s a loss.

I don’t know if you heard, but T.Y. Hilton had a decent game, right? His price was too attractive this week and forced me to play him on all my tournament lineups. Russell Shepard ended up being a dud, but not a bad week as a whole though.

Tight End: 3/5

For my Week 9 DFS don’ts at the tight end position, I named Travis Kelce, Jimmy Graham and Ryan Griffin. Kelce had a great game and finished as the second highest scoring tight end on Sunday. Graham and Griffin both came up short.

On the podcast, I liked Evan Engram and Vernon Davis. Like Tyreek Hill, Davis came up less than a point short of making value in a cash game. I sadly played Jack Doyle instead of Engram. I couldn’t find a way to fit him in at that price despite really liking him.

Kicker: 1/3

This was my worst call of the season at this position. I totally missed on Brandon McManus, but I wasn’t going anywhere near that Denver offense. Mike Nugent came up very small, but he wasn’t needed. Cody Parkey didn’t make value, so that’s my only win at this position.

Defense: 2/3

Jacksonville was the chalk this past weekend, and I was happy to swallow it on all my lineups. Cincinnati wasn’t able to get it done against a running game without Leonard Fournette. And, if not for a touchdown, Houston’s defense would have failed to make value as well.

Overall Score: 18/29

I don’t know if I’ll have a week this good again, but I’ll take 62 percent correct. Hopefully Week 10 will be as good. Check out our latest piece on which kicker(s) and defense(s) to keep off your DFS lineups.

 

Featured image from Grizzly Bear Blues

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week 9 DFS don'ts

Week 9 DFS don’ts: Wide receiver

Last Sunday was a rough day for wide receivers, unless your entire lineup featured the Seahawks and Texans. Top tier players like Antonio Brown and Julio Jones disappointed. DeAndre Hopkins was the only name brand receiver to finish among the top ten in scoring.

Instead, the top ten featured under the radar players like Paul Richardson, Robby Anderson and Marvin Jones Jr. Let’s dive into which players we need to avoid this Sunday in the wide receiver edition of Week 9 DFS don’ts.

Mike Evans: FanDuel Price $8,500

Despite the struggles of the Buccaneers, Mike Evans has still garnered a lot of targets. He should have been a top producer, as he had a long touchdown revoked due to an offsides penalty, which stopped play.

Evans faces the Saints this weekend. Historically, we look at this matchup and automatically insert Evans into our lineups. However, that is not the case anymore.

Wide receiver success, more than any other position, comes down to their individual matchup. This Sunday, Evans will face Saints rookie Marshon Lattimore. Through the first eight weeks, Lattimore is ranked as the best corner in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Here’s a look at what Lattimore has done this season when he shadows the oppositions best receiver.

week 9 DFS don'ts

Stats on shadow coverage are provided by Pro Football Focus.

While the Saints have only deployed Lattimore in shadow coverage twice, the results are staggering. Evans’ size and catch radius does allow him to overcome tough matchups. That could very well happen, but I’m not willing to pay the $8,500 price given his incredibly challenging matchup.

Michael Thomas: FanDuel Price $7,600

week 9 DFS don'ts

Can Michael Thomas overcome his recent red zone woes and produce against the Buccaneers? (Photo from UPI.com)

Yes, I believe the two best receivers in this game will disappoint this week. Unlike Evans, Michael Thomas does not have a bad, or even unfavorable matchup. Sadly, Thomas’ placement on my Week 9 DFS don’ts is the result of this New Orleans Saints offense, which is primarily rushing focused.

Thomas is incredibly talented and is playing with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees. Traditionally, this is a plug and play, no questions asked.

However, the Saints offense has morphed into a rush-first offense, specifically in the red zone. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have taken over the red zone workload, via the run or the pass. In the past two games, Thomas has had a total of two red zone targets, including one target inside the 10-yard line.

That is simply not enough opportunity to score points. The Saints have clearly shifted to being a more balanced offense with their two backs. There is no longer enough volume for Thomas to produce without getting in the end zone. Maybe that changes this weekend, as the Buccaneers can score points. However, I’ll take the wait and see approach when it comes to Thomas and his red zone role moving forward.

Larry Fitzgerald: FanDuel Price $7,000

It’s safe to say that this is the end for Larry Fitzgerald and his DFS production. If Carson Palmer couldn’t target Fitz on a consistent basis, what makes us think that Drew Stanton can fair any better?

Stanton has played 22 games since he started with the Cardinals in 2014. Since then, he’s thrown nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with a 6.3 average yards per attempt.

On top of poor quarterback play, Fitz has struggled tremendously on the road. He’s averaged nine catches for 106 yards and one touchdown at home, compared to 4.5 catches for 43 yards and zero touchdowns on the road.

This week he plays on the road against San Francisco. Why on earth would I play Fitz for $7,000 when I could get Jarvis Landry at the same price, or Michael Crabtree for $100 more? A multitude of factors have Larry Fitzgerald on the Week 9 DFS don’ts list.

Jamison Crowder: FanDuel Price $5,600

Here’s a landmine you’ll want to avoid if you’re paying down for a wide receiver this weekend. Before last week’s game, Jamison Crowder went the entire season without scoring more than 6.7 points or having more than six catches. Production aside, he is going to get tossed around like a rag doll against this physical Seattle secondary.

Crowder also did not practice on Wednesday due to a hamstring injury, so his health is in question as well. Save your money and pivot to a player like Ted Ginn Jr. or Robert Woods for $100 more. Crowder joins Mike Evans, Michael Thomas and Larry Fitzgerald on the Week 9 DFS don’ts list.

 

Featured image from Sports Illustrated

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week 8 DFS don'ts

Week 8 DFS don’ts: Tight end

This position may have been the most frustrating at the beginning of the season. Now with seven weeks in the books, we have more clarity at this position. We’ve relied on the name brands at tight end like Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. However, some new names have emerged to bring more consistency to the tight end position. So, which players are prime to disappoint? Let’s find out in the tight end edition of week 8 DFS don’ts.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins: FanDuel Price $6,300

Austin Sefereian-Jenkins has been a wonderful surprise. Football aside, it’s great to see a guy prioritize his life and become a productive player. Unfortunately, I think the production will slip this week as ASJ faces off against the Atlanta Falcons.

What? The Falcons have been terrible defensively. How could ASJ not have a favorable matchup? Well, he is going to line up across from Keanu Neal, one of the league’s best cover safeties. According to Pro Football Focus, Neal’s grade is 81.1, which is 24th among all safeties. However, his size and speed make him a great weapon to deploy against opposing tight ends. This season the Falcons have surrendered zero touchdowns to tight ends.

Much of that has to do with Neal. But, they did allow Charles Clay to accumulate over 100 yards receiving. That was an outlier, since Clay was the Bills’ best receiver and was the focal point of their passing game. What makes ASJ so hard to defend is his unusual athleticism for his size. I don’t see him having a big day. Sure, he could score if given a few end zone targets, but he won’t produce much outside of scoring.

O.J. Howard: FanDuel Price $5,200

week 8 DFS don'ts

OJ Howard’ inconsistent workload and touchdown dependent production places him on the week 8 DFS don’ts list (Courtesy of; AL.com).

I’ve banged the don’t play O.J. Howard drum since week one. Rookie tight ends don’t produce outside of Rob Gronkowski, and now, Evan Engram.

Howard’s talent is undeniable, but he plays in an offense with plenty of mouths to feed. Right now, Howard is behind Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Cameron Brate in targets.

When you add in Adam Humphries and the running game, there simply aren’t enough opportunities for Howard to produce consistently. I know I know, he had a great game against the Bills. Well, if you actually watched that game you’d know that his two touchdowns were a fluke. There was no one within 10 yards of him on both of those plays.

This is a case where looking at the box score is not sufficient. The tape of the game tells a completely different story. Yes, Howard’s role in this offense is increasing. However, we cannot count on him scoring twice on six targets. Play him if you’d like, just don’t blame me when his final stat line is three catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of MassLive.com

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week three DFS Dont's

Week three DFS don’ts: Report card

Well, this was my worst week in terms of DFS earnings. I simply could not overcome single digit performances from Ty Montgomery and Jay Ajayi, and a critical injury to Kelvin Benjamin. Not to mention incredibly underwhelming performance from Derek Carr and Michael Crabtree. I could go on, but let’s just get to my week three DFS don’ts report card.

Quarterback: 1/5

I guess I learned that I should never bet against Drew Brees. He dismantled the Panthers and seemingly got every receiver involved while doing so. And, of course, this was the weekend Russell Wilson broke out of his slump. I’m happy he finally started playing well, but, not so happy it was this particular weekend.

I’ll just call this whole position an “L” for week three. I don’t want to even try and justify Stafford as a good play, since he only scored 16.46 points. However, Andy Dalton did manage to more than double his value with 16.28 points. Dalton was my lone victory at this position. I’d rather not talk about Derek Car. He killed me.

Running Back: 3/6

My week three DFS don’ts at the running back position included LeSean McCoy, Christian McCaffrey and Ameer Abdullah. I was right on both McCoy and Abdullah, as both failed to at least double their price in value. McCaffrey finally had a good game; however, I wouldn’t count on him to get 100 yards receiving every game, so good luck if you keep playing him.

I showed Le’Veon Bell and Ty Montgomery a lot of love on the Suck My DFS Podcast, and it backfired. Bell finally had a score, but 18.8 points isn’t good enough for Bell in my opinion. Montgomery was also disappointing. The only saving grace was Chris Carson managed to double his value in terms of production so that’s a win.

Wide Receiver: 4/6

I’m pleasantly surprised my wide receiver predictions. I nailed all of my week three DFS don’ts at this position. Those predictions included Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant. None of those players provided two times their production.

A.J. Green wasn’t a difficult prediction to make. He was in a great match up with a new coordinator that clearly wanted to feature him. Sadly, Keenan Allen and Kelvin Benjamin really came up short. Benjamin’s injury was the first straw that broke my cash game lineups.

Tight End: 2/3

As I stated in my tight end edition of week three DFS don’ts, the matchup for Delanie Walker was too difficult. He was still featured as a receiver, but the production just wasn’t there this week. Coby Fleener has returned to being absolutely useless as a tight end, no surprise there.

It was so frustrating to watch Eric Ebron drop every easy catch in that game. Stafford, to his credit, still wanted to target him, but Ebron insisted on destroying any trust he had in that passing game.

Kicker: 2/2

Kicker, like most weeks, was easy. Matt Prater was a must play. He’s proven to have a leg capable of making 50+ yard field goals, and, was playing at home in a dome. He delivered 19 points. On the other hand, Younghoe Koo was disappointing per usual.

Defense: 2/3

Both Seattle and Tampa Bay failed tremendously. One team surrendered almost 200 yards rushing, and the other allowed Case Keenum to throw for more than 300 yards. Sadly, the Eagles collapsed in the second half and allowed 24 second-half points.

Overall Score: 14/25

I’m not happy with week three. My DFS earnings took a hit, one of my seasonal teams got demolished, and I was only correct on 56% of my picks. Let’s just get to week four already. We’ll be back tomorrow with the kicker and defense edition of week four DFS don’ts.

 

Like what you read? Tune into the Suck My DFS Podcast this Friday and find out who TGH fantasy experts will be playing in their DFS lineups this week. You can find the link to our podcast on the Podcast page.

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Featured Image Courtesy of  Grizzly Bear Blues

week three DFS don'ts

Week three DFS don’ts: Wide Receivers

You’ll start to notice a trend with my opinion on wide receivers. It’s all about the matchup. Last week, all of the players on my DFS don’ts list had poor matchups against a good pass defense or defensive back. Some of them disappointed, and some rose to the occasion. I’ll be following the same formula in the wide receiver edition of week three DFS don’ts.

Mike Evans: FanDuel Price $8,600

Mike Evans had a great debut last Sunday vs. Chicago. He proved yet again to be the primary target of Jameis Winston and has great promise moving forward. Evans converted nine targets into seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. However, take a look at who Evans will play this week, then his placement on my week three DFS don’ts will make some sense.

I could easily copy and paste my paragraph from last week’s piece, which you can find here, about Xavier Rhodes. The Rhodes effect is real. While he didn’t line up on Antonio Brown every snap, he guarded Brown for the majority of the game. Brown only turned 11 targets into five catches for 62 yards and no touchdowns.

Now, Evans and Brown are by no means the same player. Evans is a monster compared to Brown, but is not as quick or precise with routes. Meaning, Evans doesn’t have to be “open” to receive targets and Winston has established he doesn’t mind targeting him in that situation.

The data from 2016 is intriguing. In Evans four toughest matchups (Seattle, Kansas City, Denver and Arizona), he averaged 13.25 targets. It’s almost counter-intuitive, the harder the matchup, the more Winston will target Evans.

The opportunity will certainly be there. I won’t fault you for playing Mike Evans this week. But as always, there are other players in that price range with more favorable matchups that I’d rather pay up for.

DeAndre Hopkins: FanDuel Price $7,500

week three DFS don'ts: wide receivers

DeAndre Hopkins’ talent is undeniable, but will it be enough to overcome Bill Belichik and the Patriots this weekend? (Photo Courtesy of; Chron.com)

It’s obvious, yes. But I had to include DeAndre Hopkins on my week three DFS don’ts. I love Hopkins as a prospect, but, the Patriots eat rookie quarterbacks alive. Bill Belichick is a perfect 8-0 versus rookie quarterbacks at home. After this Sunday, they will extend that streak to 9-0.

This is that unique situation where I trust the wide receiver, but have zero trust in the quarterback. Deshaun Watson managed to squeak out a win against the awful Bengals on Thursday Night Football. In that game, he absolutely fed Hopkins. Statistically, Hopkins had 13 of Watson’s 24 attempts. That equates to a ridiculous 54 percent target share. Sadly, it won’t be enough.

If you actually watched Watson against the Bengals, and that’s a huge if, he was not good. I remember actually counting out loud the number of seconds before Watson would lower his eyes and look to run.

Yes, it was his first start. Yes, he got better as the game went on. But come on, Belichick is looking at that tape and laughing hysterically. Not to mention the pick six the Bengals dropped. I simply cannot do it this week. I will absolutely keep my eye on Hopkins in later slates, but not now.

Martavis Bryant: FanDuel Price $6,500

If you listen to the Suck My DFS Podcast, you know I love Martavis Bryant. But, I’ve had to temper my love and expectations for Bryant. Since 2015, Bryant hasn’t produced on the road. It goes beyond Ben Roethlisberger being bad as well.

Since 2015, Bryant has played six regular season road games. In case you forgot, he was suspended for all of 2016. In those six games, he averaged seven targets. That’s not bad at all. But, that includes a game in which he saw 13 targets. He’s converted his 42 total road targets into 19 catches.

Bryant has turned those 19 catches into 183 yards receiving, averaging only 30.5 yards per game. To top it all off, he’s only scored one touchdown in those games. If that doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will. To this point, Bryant is incredibly talented, but lacks efficiency. a catch rate under 50 percent on that Steelers offense is not good. Take the wait and see approach with Bryant, as his home/road splits have him on my week three DFS don’ts list.

 

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Featured Image Courtesy of Pro Football Talk

2017 NFC South division preview

2017 NFC South 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 the 2017-2018 NFL season. 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 South division preview.

4: New Orleans Saints

Last season: 7-9

Strength of schedule:15

Oh when the Saints go marching in, they bring with them no defense. The Saints are hoping the additions of A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o will improve a defense that gave up 28.4 points per game last season. They also drafted defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams to improve one of the league’s worst secondaries.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo credit: Matthew Hinton)

Although New Orleans has made an effort to improve their defense, it won’t become great overnight. Despite ranking 11th in fewest plays per game, the Saints ranked 14th in rushing and 31st in passing. Until this unit shows on-field improvement, there is no way the Saints can win the division or earn a wild card berth.

Offensively, the Saints are absolutely loaded. They have future Hall of Famer Drew Brees under center. New Orleans has committed to Michael Thomas as the go-to guy on the outside in just his second season. Coby Fleener is more than a reliable tight end to compliment Thomas in the middle of the field and in the red zone.

The Saints are also blessed in the backfield with Mark Ingram, future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara. This trio of running backs will give defensive coordinators nightmares.

New Orleans has a pretty easy schedule this season and the offensive side of the ball is going to be straight fireworks. As is the story every season with Saints, can the defense be good enough to help them win games? The answer is no. Every game will be a shootout and opposing defenses are going to make more game winning plays. The Saints will be competitive because of their offense, but the defense will be their downfall yet again.

Prediction: 8-8 (3-3), miss the playoffs

3: Atlanta Falcons

2017 NFC South division preview

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

Last season: 11-5

Strength of schedule: 13

I am a firm believer in Super Bowl hangovers. Just look at how the Panthers’ season went last year after losing Super Bowl 50.

The Falcons’ players are saying all the right things about moving on and using the humiliating let down as motivation for this season but when push comes to shove that loss will be in the back of their mind. The first team to start coming back on them will bring out those painful memories.

Atlanta is also the defending NFC champions and they will get every team’s best shot. Their division is one of the toughest in the NFL and the Buccaneers and Panthers did a lot to improve.

Besides the hangover and their schedule, Atlanta has to prove they can play great defense for an entire season. The first half of last season was abysmal defensively. The Falcons finished the season ranked 27th in points, giving up 25.3 per game. Atlanta saw such a high volume of points scored in the fourth quarter. They ranked 31st in fourth quarter scoring giving up 9.9 points per fourth quarter. If that trend continues they will struggle to win games.

Offensively, the Falcons are loaded. Matt Ryan had a career year that led to him being named league MVP. It is unlikely that he has a second consecutive MVP caliber season as very few players have ever won back to back MVPs. Only four players have done so: Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

Ryan will have a slight drop off in production but not enough to warrant concern. The offense will put up plenty of points and still be electrifying but as mentioned earlier, they will be given the best shot from every team and it will cause them to come up short a few more times than most can expect.

Atlanta’s defense must improve and play to the ability they did in the second half of the season in order to get back to the postseason. Due to a massive Super Bowl hangover, an improved division all-around and a defense that will likely be mediocre, the Falcons come up short and miss the playoffs.

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

2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last season: 9-7

Strength of schedule: 14

Tampa Bay had a solid season last year but missed the playoffs. This season they should take the next step and make the playoffs behind a very solid offense that has improved. The upgrades on offense include the additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. Both of which will turn this offense from good to great.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The Buccaneers were led by their passing game, averaging 245.4 yards per game. Mike Evans is one of the top receivers in the league and the combination of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard will cause defensive coordinators to adjust their game plans leaving Mike Evans with more one on one looks.

The running game only averaged 101 yards per game but Doug Martin only played eight games last season. Martin will start out the season suspended but is eligible to play in week four.

Once Martin returns the running game will start to get rolling, making it even easier for Jameis Winston to air it out. Everything will finally come together for the Bucs offense this season. Don’t be surprised if the 2017 Buccaneers finish with a top 10 offense.

Tampa Bay must become a better defensive team to truly take the step and make the playoffs. The Bucs ranked 22nd in both rush and pass defense giving up a total of 367.9 yards per game. Gerald McCoy will have a Chris Baker next to him to improve the rush defense but it will take more than just one new defensive tackle.

The Bucs should have a better pass defense because the defensive line will get tons of pressure from the trio of Robert Ayers, William Gholston and Noah Spence. Spence had 5.5 sacks in his rookie campaign. With an entire year in the Bucs system, Spence could improve and show the ability he displayed at Ohio State.

In total, this defense gave up 25.3 points per game. If the Bucs can improve that but just four points the offense should easily score more than 21 points per game with all the talent they have.

Tampa Bay will have a balanced offense capable of big play ability. Their defense will also be improved and with an easy schedule, the Bucs should have a solid shot at a playoff berth.

Prediction: 10-6 (3-3), wildcard candidate

1: Carolina Panthers

2017 NFC South division preview

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

Last season: 6-10

Strength of schedule: 16

Carolina had a Super Bowl hangover but this year they are locked and loaded. Cam Newton is determined to correct last seasons mistake and retake his MVP form. The front office also made quality moves to get this team back to the big game.

The Panthers added key playmakers in the draft to help Cam. Christian McCaffery has already put Panther defenders on skates based off of leaked practice videos. That includes Panthers defenders such as all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly. Curtis Samuel, out of Ohio State, was also a key piece the Panthers picked up in the draft but has yet to practice due to a nagging hamstring injury.

Even without Samuel, Cam has Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin back. With all these weapons and an upgraded offensive line, the Panthers can become one of the premier offenses in the NFL.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers are still as dangerous as ever. The front four have some studs at defensive tackle in Star Lotuelei and Kawann Short. Off the edge, the Panthers bring back Mario Addison and Charles Johnson. This front four is fierce and to beef it up, even more, Panthers legend Julius Peppers has returned to finish his career in Carolina.

The linebacking corp is arguably the best in all of football with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. This front seven is going to cause major havoc to opposing offenses.

The Panthers secondary is where their defense struggled last season. To improve this unit, the Panthers signed Mike Adams, a safety, who had 12 interceptions in his three seasons with the Colts. Carolina also brought back Captain Munnerlyn, who is one of the best nickel corners in the league. These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

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

 

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Cam Newton

NFL early season games to watch: Gut check games

As nice as it is to have NFL football back on our television sets, preseason games are often a tough watch. However, it is now more than fashionable to look ahead to the regular season.

Teams can change a lot over 16-plus weeks. Even so, early fall games frequently foreshadow the future. Here is a single game from each of the first four weeks of the season that will tell us a great deal about the teams involved.

Week 1: Bucs at Dolphins

Patriots/Chiefs, Seahawks/Packers and Giants/Cowboys will get all the opening week headlines. This battle of Florida teams is a solid undercard that should not be overlooked.

NFL early season games to watch

Photo: zambio.com

The hype train has been rolling all offseason for Tampa Bay. With Jameis Winston only getting better, it is easy to see why. The charismatic signal caller has tossed 50 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

Also, new additions DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard should help free up top pass catcher Mike Evans. Toss in a young defense that had some really nice moments last year, and the end of a long playoff drought becomes realistic. Opening up against a playoff team from last season will serve as a nice measuring stick.

For Miami, the season hinges on the play of retiree-turned-knight in shining armor Jay Cutler who is back to play for his biggest supporter in head coach Adam Gase. If Cutler is healthy and motivated, he can still throw for over 3,500 yards like he did under the direction of Gase in Chicago.

However, if something is not right with the Cutler experiment, the Bucs are certainly good enough to exploit it and begin what will be a long year for the Dolphins.

Week 2: Cowboys at Broncos

Regardless of the outcome of Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal, the Cowboys are in for a dogfight with the Giants in the opener. However, the rubber will really meet the road here. As long as all members of the “No Fly Zone” are around, the only way to move the ball on a consistent basis against Denver is on the ground.

The Broncos got pushed around at the point of attack in 2016, finishing 28th against the run. If Dallas cannot run the ball here, they will likely struggle in a big way in Elliott’s absence. Conversely, going up against what is widely regarded as the best offensive line in football will be a fantastic gauge of improvement (if any) against the run for Denver.

Week 3: Seahawks at Titans:

Much like Tampa Bay, there’s lots of talk about Tennessee ending a lengthy playoff drought this year after exceeding expectations in 2016.

NFL early season games to watch

Photo: larrybrownsports.com

The Titans are a rarity in the modern NFL. They run the ball as much or more than they throw it. Games are rarely placed squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Mariota does a great job fulfilling his role and taking care of the football. He put up 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions last year.

No team has mastered the physical brand of football that the Titans are trying to build a powerhouse with better than Seattle over the last half decade. Barring key injuries, Seattle will be in the mix again this year.

However, if the Titans want to sit at the big kid table of the NFL, this is their chance to prove they belong.

Week 4: Panthers at Patriots:

With the exception of Josh Norman departing, many of the main cogs for the Panthers are the same as they were when Carolina reached the Super Bowl just two years ago. However, a similar cast of characters also posted a losing record last year.

The Patriots are the gold standard in the NFL. That will likely remain the case as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are around. While talk of them going undefeated is ridiculous, they will certainly be the toughest team in the league to beat.

Make no mistake that Cam Newton and the Panthers still have the talent to play with any opponent in any location. Their performance against the reigning Super Bowl champions will speak volumes about whether their true identity is the team that reached the Super Bowl, or the team that fell off a cliff last year.

 

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NFL top 100 players 2017: 30-21

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 eighth installment, containing players 30-21.

30. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL Top 100

Mike Evans (Photo by buccaneers.com)

Jameis Winston has developed into a good quarterback, but has a lot of help from Mike Evans, who has turned into an elite receiver. In 2016 he had a great season that resulted in a Pro Bowl appearance. He finished last season with 96 receptions for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Evans is a matchup nightmare at 6’5″ and 231 pounds. In 2017 Evans can continue to move up the ranks of the receivers in the NFL. The emergence and continual progression of Winston will help, but the offense will have some new weapons that might take away some of the double teams. Desean Jackson and O.J. Howard were both added this offseason and the hope for the Buccaneers is that opponents will have to pick and choose, if and who, they decide to double team.

With more help on the offensive side of the ball, Evans should find himself open more and he will capitalize.

Comments: “Mike Evans is a bad man, he makes cornerbacks look like children. The crazy thing is I can see him getting even better.”-Robert Hanes

29. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Top 100

Ben Roethlisberger (Photo by denverpost.com)

The Steelers have a really good offense because of the “Killer B’s” of Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger is aging, but is still leading a very good offensive unit that ranked sixth in total yards in 2016. His 2016 campaign saw him throw for 3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Roethlisberger is now 35, but still has proven to make good throws. With Brown and Bell back, the offense should be balanced and dynamic. The Steelers also get Martavis Bryant back from suspension this year, giving Roethlisberger a plethora of weapons to use. Pittsburgh’s offensive line is very good and will have to try to keep Roethlisberger healthy, as he hasn’t played in a full 16 games since 2016.

With the weapons and talent he has, Roethlisberger is destined to put up great offensive numbers again in 2017.

Comments: “The only thing holding Roethlisberger back is injury and the contemplation of retirement. On a great offense with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, Roethlisberger will be a top 30 player in the NFL. His ability is what is going to make the Steelers a contender in the AFC once again.”-Joe DiTullio

28. Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

NFL Top 100

Marcus Peters (Photo by mercurynews.com)

Peters has only been in the NFL for two seasons so far and has cemented himself as one of the best corners and players in the NFL already. In 2016 he had 45 tackles, six interceptions, 20 passes defended, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.

Kansas City’s pass defense is average, but Peters does his part. He covers really well and has success against the best of receivers. In his two seasons, he has 14 interceptions already and is getting the reputation of being a ball-hawk. His productivity will continue because of his great instincts for the ball.

In 2017 a lot of quarterbacks will try to shy away from Peters and throw in a different direction, which is the ultimate sign of a great corner.

Comments: “Ever since Peters has come into the NFL he has been a magnet for the football. The Chiefs don’t always utilize his talents the correct way but he is a great young corner. This is the perfect spot for Peters.” -Matthew Hagan

27. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Russell Wilson (Photo by sportsonearth.com)

Seattle doesn’t do a great job of protecting Wilson, but he is still productive. In 2016 he threw for 4,219 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The stats are good, but the most impressive thing about Wilson is that he has never had a season of lower than 10 wins.

The Seahawks looked primed for another great season. Wilson will still not have great protection, but the Seahawks tried to improve by drafting Ethan Pocic and signing Luke Joeckel. If Wilson has been good the last few years, he will do fine with this offensive line as well. He still has Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham to throw to and the running game should take a little bit off of his plate with a few options to carry the ball.

Wilson will have to make plays on the run like he has his whole career, but he has thrived before and will again in 2017.

Comments: “He is a winner plain and simple. His offensive line was atrocious last season and he barely had a running game. Yet, he still put up big numbers.”- Robert Hanes 

26. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Bobby Wagner (Photo by seahawks.com)

Wagner can sometimes be overlooked for people giving adoration to Russell Wilson, the “Legion of Boom” and the pass rush, but he is one of the league’s best linebackers himself. He led the NFL in tackles in 2016 with 167. He added 4.5 sacks, one interception, three fumbles forced and one fumble recovered.

With the “Legion of Boom” behind him and a good defensive line in front of him, Wagner has the freedom to go run after the football knowing everyone else is doing their jobs. In 2017 Wagner will once again be flying to the football and amass a lot of tackles. He has a knack for doing everything well, which makes him a top 100 player in 2017.

Other people on the Seahawks might get more attention, but Wagner is a great defender that will be near the ball on a lot of plays this season.

Comments: “Wagner is rated a bit too high for my taste. Seahawk linebackers benefit from a good defensive line and a great secondary. Wagner is talented but on any other team he wouldn’t be a top 50 player.” -Matthew Hagan

25. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Richard Sherman (Photo by richardsherman25.com)

Three Seahawks in a row and there are more coming. Sherman has been one of the best corners in the NFL for what seems like forever. In 2016 he recorded 58 tackles, four interceptions, 13 passes defended and one fumble recovery.

Sherman gets some heat for only covering one side of the field instead of trailing the other team’s best receiver, but he does his job phenomenally. With the other members of the “Legion of Boom”, Sherman will return once again to do his job and create one of the best secondaries in football.

In 2017 Sherman is going to try to keep his status as one of the best corners in the NFL and will likely come away successful.

Comments: “Sherman is the best corner in the NFL. He locks down an entire side of the field. He is on his way to a hall of fame career and is truly one of the best players in the league.” -Matthew Hagan

24. Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Earl Thomas (Photo by youtube.com)

His season was cut short after he broke his leg in the Seahawks eleventh game, but Thomas still had a good season in that time. He finished his 2016 season with 46 tackles, two interceptions, 10 passes defended and a fumble recovery.

The Seahawks defense was significantly worse after Thomas’ injury, which showed how good of a player he truly is. When he was on the field Seattle allowed just 16 points per game, but when he wasn’t they allowed 23 points per game. This season he will help restore the Seahawks’ defense to elite status with his big-hitting, ball-hawking nature.

Thomas is coming back from an injury, but his natural instincts will still be sharp, making him one of the best players in the NFL.

Comments: “When Thomas went down with injury, the entire Seahawks’ defense changed for the worse. Thomas could be higher on this list with the big impact he has. If he can recover from his injury he is in no doubt a top 25 player in the NFL.”-Joe DiTullio

23. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

NFL Top 100

J.J. Watt (photo by jjwfoundation.com)

Watt only played three games in 2016 due to injury, but if he can recover, he will be a great player once again. In his three games he had eight tackles, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. When he was healthy in 2015 he led the league with 17.5 sacks.

Houston ranked tenth in the NFL as a scoring defense last season without Watt, but they needed more pass rushing. They had just 31 sacks, which tied for 24th in the NFL. Watt will rejoin Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, which will help. Watt will be one more problem for opponents’ offensive lines to worry about and will produce in 2017.

There is no reason to believe that Watt won’t be a great, physical force in 2017 if he recovers from his injury.

Comments: “Health is the only concern with Watt. If not for last year’s injury, he would be in the top ten”- Dylan Streibig 

22. Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

NFL Top 100

Landon Collins (Photo by giants.com)

The Giants hit the jackpot by selecting Collins with the first pick of the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Ever since he came into the NFL, he has produced. Last season he had 125 tackles, four sacks, five interceptions, 13 passes defended, one touchdown and one fumble recovery.

With Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie taking care of shutting down receivers, Collins is free to play instinctive football. He flies to the football and usually makes a play. Collins is so effective because he can do so many different things. He can cover, blitz and provide good run support.

Collins has been extraordinary in his first two seasons and will continue to improve in the coming years.

Comments: “This man is basically a whole defense by himself. Not to say he doesn’t have good pieces around him but, I think he will be a top 20 players by the end of the season.”-Robert Hanes

21. Tyron Smith, OT, Dallas Cowboys

NFL Top 100

Tyron Smith (Photo by insidethestar.com)

Smith has been one of the best tackles in the NFL and is entering his prime years. The Cowboys have two other offensive linemen on this list: Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, showing how good of an offensive line they have. Smith is ranked the highest out of all of them. He made his fourth straight Pro Bowl in 2016 and added his second appearance as a first team All-Pro.

Like the other linemen from Dallas on this list, he helped Ezekiel Elliot have a great first season in the NFL, as he rushed for 1,631 yards. Most impressively for Smith though was his pass protection, as he allowed just two sacks all season. As the left tackle who goes up against a lot of effective pass rushers, that is an outstanding output.

Dak Prescott has to feel comfortable with how good his offensive line is going to be in 2017, especially with Smith protecting his blindside.

Comments: “Smith is clearly one of the best offensive linemen in the league and deserves this spot. He will keep Dak Prescott upright in 2017 and also help the Cowboys have a good ground game. Smith will make his fifth Pro Bowl in 2017 and is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.”-Joe DiTullio

NFL Top 100 Players:40-31

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