The Dallas Cowboys have recently released the 29-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler Dez Bryant. Bryant is now in search of a new team. Whether it is getting revenge on his former team or taking less money for a better shot at winning a Super Bowl, Bryant is moving forward with the next chapter in his football career.
There are a handful of teams that could be good fits for Bryant for many different reasons. Here are a few teams that could help him get back on track.
Dez Bryant and Tony Romo (Photo from Wallsdesk.com)
Before we do that, we have to discuss Bryant’s production over the years. In his eight-year career, he has 531 receptions with the Dallas Cowboys that translate into 7,459 yards total and 73 touchdowns. He averages 14 yards per reception and every 7.29 catches he makes goes for a touchdown.
Before Dak Prescott arrived in 2016, he had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons. He was arguably a top-five wide receiver in all of the NFL and had four of his five best receiving years overall with Tony Romo at the helm. Basically, the Dallas Cowboys are drastically different with Prescott.
In 2012, (Tony Romo’s best statistical season), Bryant had the most receiving yards in his career to date and his third-most touchdowns. Romo threw the ball 648 times that season. In Dak Prescott’s two-year career, he has only thrown it 949 times. Dez’s declining statistics also has to do with a consistent run game. Ezekiel Elliott entered the league with Prescott in 2016. He has yet to have a season with less than 983 rushing yards.
In Bryant’s career season in 2012, DeMarco Murray only rushed for 663 yards and only 4.1 yards per carry. In one of Bryant’s most statistically underwhelming seasons (the first year with Elliott and Prescott), Elliott ran for over 1,600 yards and Prescott only threw for eight yards per attempt. The Dallas Cowboys are trending away from throwing it downfield and utilizing Bryant’s size.
Just knowing Bryant’s personality after all these years, he is going to immediately try to get back at the Cowboys for releasing him. The Giants or Redskins may not be the best fit for him, but it could be a place he lands due to scheduling.
The Redskins made a big move this offseason by getting Alex Smith. They have the cap room and are looking for a little help for Jamison Crowder to free him up a little.
The best NFC East fit for Bryant, if he chooses to go that way, would be the Redskins. They have the salary space to afford him, and he could slide right back into a possible No. 1 wide receiver role. And of course, he would get a shot at playing Jerry Jones and the Cowboys twice a year.
San Francisco 49ers
There is plenty of reasons to believe in Jimmy Garoppolo. Marquise Goodwin has shown that he needs a little help at times. With Goodwin’s speed, Bryant could complement him well and play a nice counter role. He would yet again be a No. 1 wide receiver, and he would get a shot at jumping on board with an improving team that is hungry for the playoffs.
Bryant’s personality matches up well with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags seemingly need a wide receiver to take the reigns and be the guy. Blake Bortles would love throwing to Bryant and his large frame. He would instantly go to a contender and a team that would pay him pretty well. The Jaguars are committed to spreading both the pass and the run out, and Bryant could get back to catching at least 10 touchdowns for the first time since 2014.
This one is a no-brainer. Bryant would be extremely close to his hometown. He would instantly jump into a No. 2 receiver role and take lots of pressure off of DeAndre Hopkins and draw single coverage. He would have tons of targets and could carve out a great role alongside another great wide receiver. It is one of the rare opportunities where Bryant will get to play in front of his hometown friends and family and could get paid pretty well.
New England Patriots
After an offseason where the Patriots lost multiple offensive starters, including wide receivers in Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks, the Patriots would love to add another redzone asset for Josh McDaniels’ offense.
The Patriots are a team that invites different personalities. They gave Randy Moss one of his best statistical seasons and created one of the best offenses in NFL history with Tom Brady at the helm. Even though that feels like a lifetime ago, Brady is still the guy in Foxborough, and he would love to throw passes to Dez Bryant.
Only time will tell where Dez Bryant lands.
Featured image from Sports Illustrated.
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Fantasy football is one of the greatest new pastimes in America. In just ten years, the activity has grown from 18 million players in 2006, to 57.4 million players in 2015 according to the FSTA. That said, with more players comes more ideas of ways to improve their fantasy football leagues. As self-proclaimed best fantasy football commissioner of all time, I’ll let you in on how to improve your leagues to be as good as mine.
There’s clearly no waning interest in fantasy football, but there’s been an explosion of articles on how to improve fantasy football leagues. Well, here’s the thing. All those articles say the same things, and steal from one another. I admit, some of my improvements are similar to other writers’, but I came up with mine all by myself, so leave your pitchforks at the door.
All of these 11 ways to improve your fantasy football league are imperative to making your league as successful as possible, so make sure you implement them all. If you’re wondering why I’m giving 11 ways, it’s because most other sites give ten, and I like to one-up others. Take that, other fantasy sites.
11. Have the right people
Your fantasy league starts with the players inside it. For me, the hardest part of making my league the success it’s been today has been finding players who actually want to play. In the league’s inaugural year, we only had six players. At the end of year three, we are up to ten players, just three of which (including myself) staying from year one.
In order to have a fun league, you must be able to have fun with your opponents. Gather up some good friends who have knowledge of the game, and start a league. It’s about quality, not quantity. If your league starts with just six people, that’s fine. It’s better to have a league of six best friends than having a twelve-player league with just seven people actually taking it serious.
10. Enjoy a live draft
This was my league’s first draft board. It doesn’t make sense because we didn’t know how to do it with keepers, get over it.
You will read this in any article that gives ways to improve your fantasy football league. Live drafts are by far one of the most fun things you will do all year. Getting a bunch of your friends together to eat food and be merry while heckling each other about draft picks is a great time.
Put some money together to buy a draft board. Trade draft picks with each other. Make it a great time by just showing up. By having a live draft, you won’t have to worry about getting people to make it to their draft. Instead of having to do it via their computer, your friends will have to show up thanks to the added allure a live draft provides.
9. Simple scoring (PPR)
One of the most annoying things about standard scoring leagues is the scoring system for quarterbacks. One point for every 25 yards? If you’re away from your computer or app and see that Cam Newton has thrown for 198 yards, rushed for 45 yards, and rushed and thrown for a score, can you tell me how many points he has? I didn’t think so.
Give your quarterbacks one point for every 10 yards passed. This makes it identical to running backs and receivers. The problem comes when you find out this means a great outing from your quarterback can heavily sway your team’s chances of a win. In order to help that out, give your other players one point for every reception (also known as PPR). If you don’t think that’s enough to level the playing field (pun intended?), give players three or five points for each catch. Trust me, the quarterbacks won’t have as much of an impact as you might think.
This will keep all players in the know of how their team is doing. It’s so much more easy to add up in your head, and removes a lot of confusion in scoring systems.
8. Make it worth something (money, belt, trophy)
There’s a few huge advantages to putting money into your league. Collecting league fees is a pain, but the benefits are substantial.
By collecting league fees, your league can now make enough money to grab a reward for the champion. Whether it be a trophy, a belt, or simply paying the winner cash, money can be a huge driving force for all players to participate.
7. Make your league a dynasty (draft pick trading, more strategy)
By adding keepers to your league, there’s a whole lot more strategy that goes into playing. People must now think about their team’s future, rather than just looking at one season. Now, if you can’t decide who to pick between two players, picking the younger one can be the tie breaker. This also makes trades a lot more interesting. It’s a lot easier to let go of Demaryius Thomas the week of the trade deadline if there’s no ramifications, but if Thomas turns into a viable keeper option for you ailing team, you’ll have to think twice.
This feature turns your league into as close as a real franchise as it gets. Don’t be soft about it either. One or two keepers seems pointless. Move on up to five or six keepers, and see who is really the best at managing their roster. You can really understand how to buy and sell just like the real teams do by turning your fantasy football league into a dynasty.
6. Make your championship two weeks
I say this because I’m still salty about losing in my league’s championship last season. Go ahead and give into the click bait. Read the article and look at my starting lineup for week 16 of last season. My team was stacked, stacked I tell you! Yet because of one bad week at the worst time possible, my team that dominated from the opening week to the semifinals, lost in the championship. In order to remove flukes, simply make your championship two weeks long. If that were the case for my league, I’d have two championship trophies in three years.
This idea is completely biased and filled with agony and despair. Do yourself and the world a favor, and #BanChampionshipWeekFlukes2016.
5. Weekly updates by commish
I’m aware that a lot of leagues do this, but if you don’t you’re missing out. Every week, I gave an update on how the last week went. As the season went on, I wrote out all playoff scenerios, from first-round byes, to being eliminated, and everything in between. A simple post on Tuesday morning can keep your fantasy football league’s members arguing until Thursday.
Yes, it’s meant to be blurred. Only our coveted league members deserve to know what is entailed in our weekly updates.
You can also consider doing a press conference. Pick one owner a week to be the one getting asked the questions, and let all other members submit questions. This keeps all players engaged, and allows members to get underneath the interviewee’s skin, which is really what fantasy football is all about.
4. Vote on trades
In the first season of my league’s existence, we witnessed one of the worst trades of all time. Aaron Rodgers, DeMarco Murray and the owner’s left arm went to another team for $5. The team that gave away its studs was terrible and didn’t care, while the team receiving the stars was put in prime position to win it all. I hadn’t instituted vetoing trades or even voting on them, so once the accept button was pressed, all heck broke loose in the league.
To prevent terrible trades to go through, allow all members to vote within two days of the trade’s acceptance. Make sure your commish is level-headed, so if a fair trade goes through and it gets denied by other players because it makes a good team better, the commish should still allow the trade to go through.
3. Make a constitution
Is this over zealous? Probably. But take your hating “you take your fantasy football league too serious” takes back to where they belong, which is somewhere that isn’t this article.
A constitution allows all members to agree to rules that aren’t necessarily in the online settings. For instance, two parties agreed to a trade, but one member then got cold feet before accepting. Our league now has an amendment that if you shake on or verbally agree to a trade, it is binding.
This simply keeps border line cheating instances from coming to be. By writing out unwritten rules and signing on the bottom of the page, there’s no longer an excuse for disgruntled players who feel cheated.
2. Give your league a social media account
If your league is like mine, even people who aren’t in the league are interested in how things are going. In order to keep everyone in the loop, make the league an account on Facebook or Twitter.
Now, your league is exposed to the world. With this fact known, it should keep everyone in the league interested, and excited to have their name in a tweet belonging to the champion. People also won’t want to be known as the worst in the league, and a few friends seeing a tweet about the last place finisher could be enough motivation to keep all players involved.
1. Punish the worst team
Sometimes being made fun of isn’t enough to scare the last place team into trying to crawl out of the basement. It may take a little more motivation, like forcing the worst team in the league to pay more than everyone else in the league for next season. Bottom feeders can no longer check out of the league by the end of week nine. Now, they must try their best in hopes of not being shamed into paying more money when fees are collected the next season.
You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more great sports and esports coverage. You should also follow Tim, as he’s gotten over 100 likes on a grand total of three different tweets, and sometimes offers lukewarm takes on things that don’t matter.
The “legal tampering” window is now open and teams are already beginning to meet with potential free agent signings. No matter what end of the spectrum a team finds themselves on – one player away from contention to multiple needs on both sides of the ball – the right move(s) will energize the locker room and the fan base. General Manager Bob Quinn has shown he is not afraid to be active in free agency to bring these types of players to Detroit. Last season we saw him address the offensive line in a big way (TJ Lang and Ricky Wagner).
The Detroit Lions’ biggest needs are at guard/center, defensive line, running back, defensive back and tight end. If possible, filling one to three of these needs in free agency can help alleviate the pressure on choosing between rookies in the draft. With just a shade under $30 million in cap space, the Lions have the opportunity to be major players in free agency. What they do in free agency will be a good indicator of their draft plans. A few free agents could fill those major holes and dictate draft strategy for Bob Quinn and Head Coach Matt Patricia.
Ndamukong Suh (DT) – Miami Dolphins
Yes, you read that correct. Ndamukong Suh may very well make a return back to Detroit. The Lions have the money, the need, and the history with Suh. It really depends on if he burnt too many bridges (or vice-a-versa) with his departure to South Beach. Much like Cleveland welcomed back LeBron; I am sure Detroit fans would do the same with Suh bringing back the nastiness, bad-boy mentality that embodies the Motor City.
Suh still performs at a high level and commands attention from opposing teams in their game planning. Suh’s production declined in Miami, but he still is fully capable of playing at a Pro Bowl level. The defensive system in Miami is quite different than Detroit’s. The system and way he was used could be more to blame for his decline rather than his physical prowess.
Consolation Prize: Dontari Poe (Atlanta Falcons)
Malcolm Butler (CB) – New England Patriots
Malcolm Butler wins Super Bowl for New England with clutch interception Photo: Associated Press
This seems too obvious not to happen. His former Defensive Coordinator is now the Head Coach in Detroit. With the reported falling out between Butler and Bill Belichick (along with disagreement between Patricia and Belichick on discipline), Lions’ fans have been clamoring over the possibility of Butler lining up opposite Darius Slay.
Fortunately, his price tag may not be too high as he struggled last season and has average speed (4.62). However, his familiarity with Patricia and ability to prepare makes him a real possibility for Detroit. His physicality and route recognition skills would be a great addition to the defensive backs meeting room as well. The ability he has shown at covering the slot also makes him a versatile option for Quinn and Patricia.
Jimmy Graham could sign with the Lions as a pass catching threat. He has lost a step, but his body size and control still makes him one of the few elite pass catching tight ends in the league.
Demarco Murray is a viable option to add to the roster. Tennessee released Murray in light of his injury concern and the strong play of Derrick Henry. His one-cut style could be a nice piece to add in the Lions offense to complement other runners (Abdullah and Riddick). Even if they make a play for Murray, it is not out of the question they add another running back in the draft.
Best Option (For Free Agency and Draft)
Photo: Butch Dill, Associated Press
The absolute strongest move the Lions can and should make is to bring Ndamukong Suh back home. In addition, they need to sign Malcolm Butler to play in the secondary with Glover Quin and Darius Slay. These two moves, combined with resigning Tahir Whitehead would instantly give Matt Patricia weapons at all three levels of the defense. This would also solidify the draft strategy in the first few rounds as they can focus on drafting starters at other needs (running back, offensive line and tight end) in the first three rounds.
Signing Suh and Butler allows the Lions to draft the best player available (BPA) on their board at either running back or offensive line in the first round. I would expect this to be someone like Derrius Guice (LSU, RB) or Billy Price (Ohio State, G/C). This would also allow them to draft someone like Mike Gesicki in the second round. The tight end out of Penn State was off the charts at the combine with his athleticism and projects as a great pass catching threat. This need becomes even more glaring if Eric Ebron and the organization part ways.
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There has been many downs in the short career for the four-year quarterback out of UCF. This year was filled with a few ups that have seemingly defined the potential of Bortles going forward.
This Sunday, he steps into the biggest game of his life as his team prepares to play against the defending Super Bowl champions. With no surprise, the odds are heavily against Bortles and the Jaguars.
The presumed MVP, Tom Brady, left the finishing touches of a spectacular season, going 35-for-53 with 337 yards and three touchdowns in a win last weekend against the Tennessee Titans. The defense stepped up too, limiting the Titans to 65 combined rushing yards.
The Patriots look to capitalize on an impressive win, entering the last pit stop towards Brady’s eighth Super Bowl appearance. However, standing in his way is a young and unchallenged, but unfazed team in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars’ last playoff appearance was 10 years ago. They have turned into a team that sports a young, but hungry coach in Doug Marrone. Marrone has orchestrated one of the best defenses in franchise history, a runaway Rookie of the Year candidate in Leonard Fournette and an offense led by the franchise quarterback, Blake Bortles.
Coming off of a 10-6 record and winning their first AFC South Division championship, Jacksonville is as confident as ever rolling up in Foxborough, facing the most storied franchise in the last two decades. But many are doubting them.
Facing the largest odds in these playoffs, most of which lands on Bortles, the strength of the team comes from its backfield. Unfortunately, on Sunday, it faces its toughest challenge yet when it comes up against the Pats.
If the Jaguars look to pull off the upset this Sunday, the pressure lies behind the arm of Blake Bortles. He’s coming off an impressive season, throwing for 3,687 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. His efforts only amounted to the league’s bottom half of total passing. However, with the combination of a great running game and a poised Bortles under center, the odds could be in Jacksonville’s favor. All fingers point to Bortles to be counted out once again. Fortunately, this is not the first time he been counted out.
From his high school career to the pros, Bortles has been seen as the guy who others seem to feel will come in second or the “other guy.” During his playing career as the starting quarterback for the Oviedo High School in Florida, Bortles was one of the starred prospects in the area. Locally, Bortles was praised for leading his high school team to a playoff berth in his senior campaign. He finished his career with a county record of 5,576 passing yards and 53 touchdowns.
However, Bortles’ game was outshined by his cross-city rival Jeff Driskel, who was named ESPN’s No. 1 high school quarterback prospect and 10th overall on ESPN’s 150 top high school prospects in the class of 2011.
Driskel, who was heavily recruited by the nation’s top universities, eventually accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Florida to be the next featured quarterback after the decorated career of Tim Tebow. T
he nation’s eyes were on Driskel as Bortles wasn’t even recruited to play quarterback. Many schools, including Tulane, Purdue, Colorado State and Kansas State were all interested in the prospect, but none of which wanted the recruit at his respected position. Wanting to fulfill his aspirations of playing quarterback at the Division I level, Bortles eventually committed to play at the University of Central Florida, less than five miles from his high school campus.
Bortles’ start at UCF was difficult, again being seen as the second guy, this time to his fellow freshman. He regularly lost time behind starting quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who led the Knights to a 10-3 record in the 2010 football season.
With Godfrey’s play reminiscing the best true freshman performance since Daunte Culpepper, Bortles was seen to be on his way to exiting the program. Reports around the school’s athletic program suspected that UCF head coach, George O’Leary, was contemplating using the 6-foot-5, 210-pound freshman as a tight end going forward. However, these allegations were put to rest at the beginning of the 2011 season with Bortles backing up the starting position.
Photo by Rob Leifheit-US PRESSWIRE
During the season, starting quarterback Godfrey had trouble mixing the chemistry with the younger core group of the team. During this time, Bortles had standout performances in the time he was given against Charleston Southern, BYU and SMU. Despite a 5-7 season for the Knights, Bortles threw for 958 yards and six touchdowns, which solidified his starting position as the quarterback for the upcoming season.
In 2012, Bortles started all 14 games for the Knights, leading them to a 9-4 record and a bowl win in the 2012 Beef O’Bradys Bowl. Bortles won MVP, throwing for 271 yards with three touchdowns on a 76 percent completion rate.
Bortles went on to finish the season with 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 144.5.
Despite a breakaway season for Bortles, he was not touted as one of the nation’s top players. Before the 2013 season, Bortles had failed to make any top 100 list of prospects for the upcoming draft. Not allowing it to get to him, Bortles led the UCF Knights to an 11-1 season (its best record in school history until this past season) and captured the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship. He threw for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns with a 67.8 percent completion rate for the year.
Bortles concluded the season leading UCF to its first major bowl bid in the BCS era, facing the eighth ranked Baylor Bears in the 2014 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. He went on to throw for 301 yards and four touchdowns. He also added a rushing total of 93 yards in pursuit of UCF upsetting Baylor 52-42. Bortles was named the game’s offensive MVP.
(Photo by Matt Kartozian, USA TODAY Sports)
Despite not being on any NFL Draft prospect lists at the beginning of the season, reports had shown that Bortles had quickly risen up the draft boards, even at one point showing that the junior could be the first pick in the entire draft. Bortles would then forgo his senior season at UCF and went on to become the third pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Jaguars.
Over the years, the Jaguars have slowly and steadily made additions to its team in efforts to surround a franchise quarterback. The team lacked depth and experience. They also lost the former top pick Justin Blackmon, and its 2011 draft pick, Blaine Gabbert, was struggling.
Jacksonville made a desperate attempt to free up the base. They lost acclaimed running back Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason and traded away Gabbert to the San Francisco 49ers.
Bortles, whose career reflects those immense changes, struggled as a rookie as the Jaguars limped through a disdainful season, falling to 3-13. Bortles only threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns with an abysmal 17 interceptions.
The Jaguars kept Bortles as the starting quarterback over Chad Henne, who had started the first three games of that season. The Jaguars looked to fit pieces around its young quarterback after allowing a record 55 sacks, a problem that would continue to plague them in the next season as well.
With minimal changes to the team, Bortles overcame the unfavorable predicament with a strong season, throwing for 4,208 yards and 35 touchdowns, his career best. Despite heroics from Bortles, the Jaguars struggled to find the team’s identity and finished the season 5-11.
(Photo from Jaguars.com)
The 2016 season brought on problems, but ultimately a focus for the Jaguars. Allowing the of rest of the team to follow, the franchise led towards fortifying its defense, bringing in newcomers like Malik Jackson and Prince Amukamara. They used draft picks on Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and UCLA’s Myles Jack, both have shown to be cornerstones of the defense. Jacksonville also added Dante Fowler Jr., who was drafted the season prior, but was lost to a season-ending ACL injury.
Unfortunately, Bortles had a setback for the year and was seen as the root of Jacksonville’s problems. In the beginning of the 2017 season, fans argued that Henne should be restored as starter over Bortles with reports of the franchise in consideration of doing so. However, after a 3-13 season and the firing of Gus Bradley, new head coach Doug Marrone started his tenure with a clean slate and went along with Bortles being the starter for the season.
Armed with an ambitious franchise and a talented offense to complement a tenacious defense, Bortles put up his most efficient season, helping the Jacksonville Jaguars set up its first winning season in 10 years. They captured the AFC South divisional championship and a playoff berth. But as always, the critics returned.
In the Jaguars’ Wild Card matchup with the Buffalo Bills, Bortles threw just 87 yards on 12-for-23 passing. He threw a one-yard pass to Ben Koyack late in the third quarter for the decisive score. Despite pulling out a win, Bortles misfired on many passing attempts, feeding fuel for doubters. Some of which called his performance “awful,” along with both teams’ performances being “unwatchable”.
Questions mounted as Bortles and the Jaguars went up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many believed that the Steelers and the New England Patriots were destined for a showdown in this upcoming AFC Championship game, counting out the Jaguars to put any doubt in that vision.
However, the Jaguars never faltered and never trailed in the game, beating the Steelers by a score of 45-42. Bortles put up 214 passing yards on 14-for-26 passing and delivered a touchdown in the fourth quarter to hold back Pittsburgh to set up a date with the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.
With no surprise, the Patriots are favored to win this Sunday against the Jaguars. Despite a slow start to the season, the Patriots have cashed in on everyone’s predisposed notions of its return to the Super Bowl. They garnish a veteran all-time great coach and a quarterback who looks to cement his legacy amongst the greats.
For the Jaguars, well they have, Blake Bortles. The four-year man out of UCF, whose team faces one of the largest underdog odds in these playoffs. Once again, Bortles is the second guy, the “other guy.”
Although he is coming off arguably the greatest season of his young career, he falls in the shadow of someone who outshines him. Lucky for Bortles, he’s been here before, and despite the opposition, he has a crew that looks as determined and as confident as he is.
From a far sight, Bortles looks to come in second just like he did in high school, or at the collegiate level, or even the first steps of his professional career. With that being said, it should be safe to save some chips for the Jaguars as we have seen this team reach pinnacles this season beyond their expectations. Why should this game be any different? And for Bortles, his opposition shares a familiar tune.
Some time ago, Tom Brady was a relative unknown leading a forgotten Patriots team against some of the most star-studded teams of his time, beating the St. Louis Rams heralded as the “The Greatest Show on Turf” on the grandest stage of them all and giving birth to a dynasty for the ages. Perhaps this is Bortles’ time. Though he faces a threat that is far superior than his previous challenges were, Bortles is a far more superior version of his past self. And just like before, as the world looks on for him to be second, Blake Bortles looks to finish first once again.
Featured image by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
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We were fortunate enough to get four reasonably competitive games to kick off the NFL playoffs last week. You can check out last week’s picks here.
For this week’s divisional playoffs, games will be picked both straight up and against the spread. Outright upsets have an asterisk. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.
Postseason record- 3-1
Postseason record against the spread- 2-2
Falcons at Eagles – For the first time since the NFL adopted its current playoff format, a sixth seed is favorite over a home standing top seed. This is not without merit though. Without Carson Wentz, the Eagles are just another average to below-average football team. In the final two games of the regular season, Philadelphia’s offense accounted for a grand total of 13 points, and the team as a whole was pushed around for long stretches by the non-playoff bound Cowboys and Raiders.
The above paragraph is not a good recipe for taking on the Falcons at the moment. Atlanta needed to win as much as humanly possible late in the regular season to keep its playoff hopes alive. The sudden death nature of the NFL playoffs changed nothing for them last week. They have been in that situation for almost 2 months.
Reigning MVP Matt Ryan and the offense are not quite the juggernaut they were last year, but they are still very good. What has sparked Atlanta’s late-season run as much as anything is defense. The Falcons have not surrendered more than 24 points in a game since Week 11. This includes holding the top-ranked scoring offense to just 13 points last week. If all the offense has to do is score in the high 20s, this team is tough to beat.
Apart from winning a shootout with the lowly Giants, the Eagles offense has not gotten anywhere close to the high 20s with backup quarterbacks since the injury to Wentz. Philadelphia’s defense is pretty good and has stood on its head in recent weeks to keep the Eagles in games. Thus, this will not be a blowout.
However, one of these teams is quarterbacked by Matt Ryan and the other by Nick Foles. Sometimes, it is just that simple.
Good bet: Falcons (-3) Atl 21 Phi 13
Titans at Patriots – Tennessee did a great job of making a few plays to pull off the big upset in Kansas City last week. However, that result had more to do with Kansas City’s collapse. If New England has a double-digit lead, whoever is playing running back will get the ball a lot more than 11 or 12 times.
Photo from USA Today
You can’t help but be impressed with the resilience and toughness of Tennessee. That roster is not good enough to get to this point on talent alone. Different guys have stepped up for them all year long. Last week, it was Marcus Mariota playing with his head on a swivel to complete a touchdown pass to himself and Derrick Henry rushing for 156 yards in the absence of backfield mate DeMarco Murray that made the difference.
However, the Titans lack the firepower to really make the Patriots nervous in a playoff game. At this point, nothing more can be said about the greatness of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They are 25-9 in playoff games. Moreover, only three of those nine losses have been at home. Tennessee will keep this close for a while with solid fundamental football, but New England will pull away late.
Winner: New England
Good bet: Patriots (-13) NE 34 Ten 20
Jaguars at Steelers – Vegas is showing great restraint by making the Steelers only a seven-point favorite here. With the way the Jacksonville passing offense has looked for the last month, a double-digit spread would have been perfectly reasonable.
However, the Jacksonville defense has shut down some very good offenses this year. The Jaguars went in to Pittsburgh early in the year and intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in a route.
Also, there is more than one way to look at the performance of Blake Bortles last week. It is easy to say he threw for just 87 yards and therefore was completely awful, or you can commend him for his 88 rushing yards and ability to make enough plays for his team to win, even though he did not play very well.
Not very many people have subscribed to the second school of thought leading up to this game, but I am one of them. With a great supporting cast around him, Bortles is fine. Other than one or two games, Jacksonville has had no problem scoring points this year. Almost every offense is going to get shut down at least once or twice a year, no matter who the quarterback is.
Jacksonville is too good to get blown out. Any team that leads the league in rushing offense, as well as several defensive categories, is capable of going anywhere and beating anyone. However, Roethlisberger getting Antonio Brown back will be the difference in this one. Even if Brown is not fully healthy, his presence alone gives the vaunted Jacksonville defense another thing to worry about on a loaded Steelers offense.
Good Bet: Jaguars (+7) Pit 27 Jac 24
Saints at Vikings – No team was more impressive than New Orleans last week. All year, the Saints had done most of their damage by running the ball with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Carolina held that duo to under 50 combined rushing yards. The Saints still managed to win. Drew Brees showed us all why he is going to the Hall of Fame someday.
Photo from si.com
Unless there is a truly dominant team, whoever wins the Super Bowl has to find a way to win a game or two where its best stuff is not working. There is no dominant NFL team this year, and that is exactly what the Saints did last week.
This week, the task is a little bit tougher as New Orleans goes on the road to face another very stout defensive unit in Minnesota. The vast majority of Minnesota’s success this year has come from backups, castoffs and other spare parts. Mike Zimmer and his staff have done an incredible job of getting the most out of Case Keenum. Keenum has nearly doubled his career touchdown passes this season. However, much like the other NFC matchup this weekend, it is foolish not to take the established star quarterback over the journeyman in playoff football.
Winner: New Orleans
Good Bet: *Saints (+ 5.5) NO 27 Min 20
Featured image from chiefs.com
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The Steelers sit atop the AFC. (Photo from FanRag Sports)
JuJu on that beat! With Martavis Bryant suspended, Smith-Schuster, the wideout from USC, had seven receptions for 193 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger during the third quarter. Pittsburgh’s defense was phenomenal, forcing two turnovers and not allowing Detroit to score a touchdown.
It appeared the Lions still had a shot when they were down one in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, Matt Stafford was sacked on fourth down. On third and fourth down, the Lions were a combined 2-14. The turnover on downs led to the big JuJu touchdown.
Matt Prater did not disappoint fantasy teams, as he knocked in a total of five field goals.
Atlanta Falcons (-6) @ New York Jets
Atlanta Falcons 25 New York Jets 20
Two points away from covering. Close but no cigar. The Jets looked like they were going to pull off the upset heading into halftime with a 17-13 lead.
A Matt Bryant field goal and a Mohamed Sanu touchdown put the Falcons ahead with less than 13 minutes to play. The Jets were unable to score a touchdown in the second half, and Atlanta squeaked out a close one.
The Falcons, who have an average run defense, shutdown New York, allowing only 43 yards on 22 carries. They also limited the Jets to a mere 15 first downs, which is tied for their best performance of the year.
Atlanta looks to continue their success this week, going on the road to face Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Oakland Raiders (+2.5) @ Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills 34 Oakland Raiders 14
The Raiders are truly the most unpredictable team in the league. They went into this game following an emotional win over Kansas City, and appeared to be the better team. That was until the game actually started. Oakland turned the ball over not once, twice, or even three times, but four times, including a pair of interceptions by Derek Carr. They have now lost five games, which is already more than last season.
Give credit to the Bills, who look like a legitimate playoff team, even though they just got smacked by the Jets. Tyrod Taylor continues to not turn the ball over, and LeSean McCoy is playing like vintage Shady McCoy. McCoy had a 48-yard touchdown run and added a little spice, holding the ball out from 10 yards out to taunt the pitiful Oakland defense.
At this point, I think it is safe to say the Bills are more likely to play in the playoffs than the Raiders.
WEEK 9 PICKS
Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) @ New York Giants
PICK: RAMS TO COVER
The Rams are coming off a bye, which means they had an extra week to prepare for this one-win Giants team. Quite frankly, the Rams are just the better team. They are second in scoring, sixth in yards per play and eighth in first downs. Their defense also ranks ninth against the pass.
On the other hand, the Giants, on both sides of the ball, have been a mess. New York ranks 24th in yards per play on both offense and defense. Eli Manning has his team at 29th in plays per drive and last in first downs. Their defense ranks 23rd in rushing yards allowed, which is not great considering the Rams are the sixth best rushing team, largely due to Todd Gurley.
New York just isn’t scoring, as they rank 29th in percentage of offensive drives ending in a score. The Rams rank third in that department, which is clearly a major difference.
This game could end up in a double-digit victory for the Rams. The Giants cannot run the football, so if Eli struggles, watch out.
Also, the Rams love to score right off the bat, ranking fourth in first quarter points per game. On the flip side, the Giants are 31st. As for third down conversions, the Rams are first in the league, while New York ranks 29th.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but I think it’s clear that the Giants are not very good at the moment. Keep in mind Janoris Jenkins will not be playing this week either.
Atlanta Falcons (-2) @ Carolina Panthers
PICK: FALCONS TO COVER
Not only did Cam Newton lose his best friend on the team, Kelvin Benjamin, but he lost his best receiver. Newton has publicly expressed that he is not a fan of the move, so expect a shaky start for the former MVP.
Carolina has lost two out of their last three games, and currently rank 23rd in points. Newton is not playing like an MVP, as he already has 11 interceptions.
Although it is somewhat of a disappointing start for Atlanta, they are still very solid. Their offense ranks fifth in yards, fourth in yards per rushing attempt, and fifth in first downs. Atlanta has the 11th ranked defense, which is the second best defense the Panthers have seen this year. The Falcons also rank second in yards per drive, while Carolina is 20th.
Matt Ryan has been somewhat average and has thrown more interceptions than usual. Luckily, the Panthers do not force many turnovers, as they rank 27th in that department.
If it comes down to the wire, Carolina is 27th in fourth quarter points per game, which cannot be trusted. Take the Falcons on the road.
Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans (-3)
PICK: TITANS TO COVER
Expect big numbers from the Titans’ backfield. (Photo from Titans Online)
Like the Rams, the Titans are also coming off of a bye week. They sit atop the AFC South, tied with the Jags for a share of first place, so a home game like this is a must win.
When the Titans rush the ball for over 100 yards, they are 3-0. Baltimore ranks 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, letting up almost 133 yards per contest.
As long as the Titans stick to the run, they will be fine. Even after the Ravens 40-0 win over Miami, they still rank dead last in passing yards, and second to last in overall yards. Their running game has been decent, but Tennessee defends the run well, and sits fifth in opponent rushing yards per attempt.
Expect Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry to run wild, and for Joe Flacco to continue to look bad, especially after nearly being concussed a week ago.
Featured image by myAJC.com
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Week two was a little more interesting than week one of the NFL, but we’re still waiting for the breakout week with multiple big games from different players. Every week there’s boom and bust players and I’m here to tell you about five players to avoid for week three.
5. Jameis Winston (Tampa bay buccaneers)
The Bucs got the season off to a great start with a a very one-sided victory against the Chicago Bears. We didn’t get to see just how well Winston will do because of how well the defense played. It caused Tampa Bay to turn to more of a run game to chew the clock.
Now Winston and the Buccaneers travel to Minnesota to face a stout Vikings defense. Minnesota’s secondary has fared well against Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger in the first two weeks only allowing 15 and 17 fantasy points.
For the third time in as many weeks the Vikings defense faces a high powered offense but the difference is in the run game. The Tampa run game is sub par which will cause Winston will have to throw the ball much more. I would definitely stream a different quarterback in week three.
4. Lesean McCoy (Buffalo Bills)
Shady McCoy and the Bills offense had a rough time in week two against the Carolina Panthers. They held him to nine yards on 12 rushes and a mere three fantasy points. Now the Broncos are traveling to Buffalo and LeSean McCoy has to play against the toughest defense in the NFL.
The Broncos faced Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys last week and shut down that run game. They held last year’s rushing leader to 16 yards on 11 attempts. The Bills are centered around their run game so the volume will definitely be there for Shady, I’m just worried about his production.
After coming off of a wrist and groin injury, all signs point to sitting McCoy this week.
3. Demarco Murray (Tennessee Titans)
DeMarco Murray (George Walker IV/The Tennessean)
DeMarco Murray is having a rough start to the NFL season. He’s facing the injury bug already and is being outplayed by second year running back Derrick Henry. Now Murray has to play the Seattle defense which has held the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers in check through the first two weeks.
Yes Carlos Hyde did have 124 rushing yards last week, but he broke off a 61-yard run late in the game. Without that one run, he didn’t do anything special. The front seven of Seattle got more impressive this offseason with the addition of Sheldon Richardson.
Now DeMarco Murray is nursing a hamstring injury and the volume in games just isn’t there for him with only 21 carries in the first two weeks of the season. I would sit Murray and even play Derrick Henry over him this week.
2. Brandin Cooks (New England Patriots)
Brandin Cooks hasn’t had the most ideal start to the season. With Julian Edelman going down with a torn ACL, it caused everyone to turn to Brandin Cooks to replace him. But the cost that comes with that is now Cooks is getting more double teams and tougher matchups, and can’t line up in the slot as often.
Tom Brady also has a tendency of not choosing to rely on one receiver. Now him and Julian Edelman had played together for a long time so they developed great chemistry. But Brandin Cooks has to face the Houston defense who has only given up an average of ten fantasy points to wide receivers this season.
Cooks is a flex play this week and should be sat with Chris Hogan this week.
1. Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia eagles)
Alshon Jeffery finally clicked with Carson Wentz last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. He had seven receptions for 92 yards and one touchdown. This could be the start of something big for the Eagles and Jeffery but I think that this connection they have will come to a halt in week three.
The fierce Giants secondary is looking to prove something after the team started 0-2 and the best way to do that would be to revert back to their ways of defeating teams with their defense. The two players that will be targeted with the Eagles are Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz. Ertz will mainly be targeted by Landon Collins and the Giants safeties and linebackers while Alshon will be one on one with shut down corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Sit Alshon this week but be ready to insert him back into your lineup in week four.
Feature Image courtesy of (Photo: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
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DeMarco Murray was nowhere to be found in the second half of week 2 and Derrick Henry took over. Henry had a 17-yard touchdown and finished with 92 yards on 14 carries against the Jaguars defense. After the game it was confirmed he injured his hamstring.
The 17-yard score led the way to a blow out so it made sense to let Murray rest and be healthy. While injuries are common for Murray, this situation is different. Murray dealt with a hamstring injury in training camp, one that took him a little less than two weeks to come back from. According to reports, it’s not known if this injury is on the same hamstring that Murray hurt back in early August.
The hamstring injury put DeMarco Murray on the shelf in the second half of the Titans win over the Jaguars, but does it mean he’ll never get his featured job back?
How to Handle the situation at this moment
DeMarco Murray (Photo by: apexfantasyleagues.com)
In the first two games, Murray had 60 total yards on 14 touches and then 28 total yards on 10 touches before his injury. Again it may seem normal, but after this injury this could become the end of Murray as the lead back.
If Murray isn’t a go for the week 3 game against Seattle, this opens the door for Henry to show his ability. Henry could have a good week with the Seattle’s run defense has allowed 10-plus fantasy points to a running back in each of the first two weeks.
This could cause Murray to lose some touches. Vice versa, then fantasy owners won’t have to worry as Murray then could get his touches back when he heals.
If you Have Derrick Henry or both
If you’re a Derrick Henry owner, you could be in the driver’s seat.
Derrick Henry (Photo by: titansonline.com)
As I mentioned above, with a chance Murray won’t be available, this could be Henry’s big chance to take over. Even if Murray plays, he’s in for a decent workload. With Seattle’s run defense struggling, he has a good offensive line to run behind.
Tennessee finished the 2016 season as a top-graded run blocking unit, and the Titans brought back all of last year’s starters and have begun the year healthy up front. Henry’s 5.8 yards per carry in two games is No. 12 among running backs.
This could mean with a solid performance, that Henry’s name will be around for people to trade for in fantasy. Expect Henry to be the lead running back by season’s end. The Titans did not use a high draft pick on the running back to not want him to get more involved in the offense.
If you have both then you can relax. Keep tabs over the next week then you can make the determination who to start. But in this case I still start the healthier back in Henry.
What Happens if Henry dominates
If the situation whether Murray plays or not with Henry dominates, then it will be time for panic.
One thing not to do is trade him or cut him. Trading him isn’t an answer because no one will give you anything good for him, not even the owner who has Henry. Cutting him won’t do better because there is no one better. What’s next?
Murray was a second or third-round pick in most leagues. And having to say this it will take really his ability to get healthy and hoping Henry doesn’t do well. But this definitely means Murray and Henry will split reps more.
While the worst hasn’t happened, be prepared for a bumpy ride Murray owners. You could be heading for a disappointing road.
Featured image from tennessean.com.
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The NFL regular season is fast approaching. The season opener is just one day away and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off the 2017-18 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 AFC South division preview.
4: Jacksonville Jaguars
Last season: 3-13
Strength of schedule: 30
Cleveland is the one organization that gets joked about the most in terms of putrid franchises but Jacksonville is arguably just as pathetic. The Jaguars have picked in the top five of the NFL Draft for six years running, which is an NFL record. It is safe to assume the Jaguars will finish fourth in this division given this tragic recent history.
Jacksonville has not won more than eight games in a season since 2007. Over these past nine seasons, they have averaged just 4.6 wins per year. The prediction will be somewhere right around that number until they can prove to win more or until they find a quarterback that is actually decent.
(Photo Credit: Bob Mack/The Florida Times-Union via AP)
The Jaguars offense has been abysmal. Jacksonville only managed to score 19.9 points per game last season. This stems from the lack of a two-dimensional offense. The Jags are always behind the chains, making life much more difficult for Bortles. Jacksonville drafted Leonard Fournette to fix its 22nd ranked rushing attack.
An improved rushing attack could improve their 35.3 percent third down conversion percentage. Running the ball efficiently will lead to shorter third downs which theoretically should lead to more points. This is the formula for success because it takes the ball out of Blake Bortles’ hands.
A better offense can help the Jaguars under the radar defense look even better. Although the Jaguars defense gave up 25 points per game, they ranked sixth in yards allowed at 321.7 per game. The offense kept turning over the ball and putting the Jags’ defense in short fields.
Jacksonville also acquired A.J. Bouye and Barry Church, both are upgrades over the departed defensive backs John Cyprien and Prince Amukamara to improve their defense. Their secondary will likely improve on the 215.2 yards per game they gave up last season due to these additions.
It seems like the Jaguars have made the right moves to be a better team but they do not have history on their side. They also stink at home and defending homefield is crucial. In the past four years, the Jaguars are 9-29 at home. Playing in such a humid and hot climate should provide a better homefield advantage. Because of history, Blake Bortles or Chad Henne, the Titans and Texans, are all reasons the Jaguars draft in the top 10.
The Indianapolis Colts only have one thing going for them and that is Andrew Luck. The problem is he will be out the first week of the season and possibly longer. Without Luck, the Colts are going to struggle and would be bottom feeders over the course of a 16-game season. Andrew Luck has been stellar in his career throwing for 19,078 yards, 132 touchdowns and just 68 interceptions.
His weapons at receiver are T.Y. Hilton, who had a career high in receptions (91) and yards (1,448) last season and Donte Moncrief. These two receivers have tons of talent but will falter if Luck is unavailable. Aside from the wideouts, Jack Doyle will be the go to tight end. These options are all solid but the Colts must try and run the ball more or these players will be useless.
The Colts are too predictable. They only ran the ball 39 percent of the time for 101.8 yards per game. Frank Gore is 34 years old and his best days are far behind him. Indianapolis is hoping Marlon Mack can become the feature back as this season rolls forward. There are no signs that the Colts will run the ball more or efficiently this season and that will hold their offense back and in turn, the rest of the team as well.
Defensively, there has been a change in the scheme in an attempt to fix a defense that ranked 22nd in points allowed. They also ranked 27th against the pass giving up 269.2 yards per game. The rush defense wasn’t much better as they ranked 25th against the run allowing 120.4 yards per game. The unit as a whole must improve if the Colts are to have a shot at making the playoffs.
There have been no moves that indicate this defense will show improvement. The Colts have an easy schedule and Andrew Luck, but aside from that, there is little to look forward to from this team this upcoming season. Indianapolis will struggle and this time next year the Colts will have a new head coach.
Here is something you have probably heard before: The Texans have had three straight 9-7 seasons. That won’t happen this season though as the Texans continue to struggle in their pursuit of finding their franchise quarterback. The weakness of the Texans has consistently been their offense and it will continue to haunt them this season.
Houston only had a successful run game and without it, the entire offense would have been one of the worst the NFL had ever seen. Houston ran for an average of 116.2 yards per game on 28.5 attempts per game. Lamar Miller had 1,073 yards and five touchdowns on just 268 carries. Miller is going to be a workhorse as Tom Savage lines up under center.
(Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Despite the successful rushing attack, the fact of the matter is that the Texans’ offense ranked at the bottom of most offensive categories including points per game (17.4, ranking 29th), points per game in the first half (7.6, ranking 32nd), yards per game (314.7, ranking 29th), third down conversions (37.3 percent, ranking 22nd) and passing yards (198.5, ranking 29th). Every bad play this offense has in 2017 will have the fans clamoring for Deshaun Watson. That much distraction is going to take a toll on the team.
As mentioned previously, the Texans are led by their fantastic defense. Houston ranked 11th in scoring defense 20.5 points per game but first in yards allowed at just 301.3 yards per game. The Texans were led by their pass defense which ranked second allowing 201.6 yards per game. This may slip a bit with the loss of A.J. Bouye but as crazy as it sounds the secondary can improve even more with the return of J.J. Watt.
Watt paired with Jadeveon Clowney will create tons of mismatches. They will be completely unblockable causing teams to dump the ball off quickly so that the secondary won’t have to cover for too long. Whitney Mercilius, Brian Cushing and Bernardrick McKinney are great linebackers who will continue to light up opposing offenses making the Texans defense one of the top five yet again.
Houston is in the same situation it has been in recently. The offense is going to falter while the defense remains Super Bowl worthy. A bad offense and the rise of the Titans will cause the downfall of Houston.
Tennessee is the darkhorse team to watch this season. Marcus Mariota is entering his third season and the organization has done well to build around him. There were flashes of greatness from this team last season and they might have made the playoffs had Mariota not broken his leg in the second to last game. This season they take that next step and win the division.
Tennessee ranked third in the NFL with 136.7 yards per game on the ground to lead the offense. DeMarco Murray led the way in the rushing attack averaging 80.4 yards per game. His counterpart, Derrick Henry averaged just 32.7 yards per game. That number should increase this year and this will be one of the best backfields in the entire league.
This top rushing attack is going to help take pressure off of Mariota and the passing game. Marcus Mariota has been phenomenal in his short career already. Mariota has completed 61.6 percent of his passes while throwing for 6,244 yards, 45 touchdowns and just 19 interceptions. He has shown to be a great decision maker already in his career. Mariota converted at the third-best rate in the NFL on third down last year. He has also never thrown a red zone interception in his career.
Mariota accomplished all of this with Delanie Walker being his leading receiver. The Titans drafted Corey Davis and signed Eric Decker to address this issue. Mariota will have legitimate receivers to sling the ball to, making the offense impossible to predict or defend. These two additions may seem small but will make all the difference on the offensive side of the ball.
For all the Titans have going for them on offense, it is their defense that makes this team a possible Super Bowl contender. Tennesse gave up 23.6 points per game which is actually impressive considering the slow starts they were accustomed to. The Titans ranked 29th in first quarter points allowed.
Tennessee’s’ horrible secondary last season has also been improved upon as they drafted cornerback Adoree Jackson and signed defensive backs Logan Ryan and John Cyprien. The additions of these three players can help the Titans catch up to their superb rush defense which ranked second in the NFL, allowing 88.3 yards per game.
The secondary is much improved and Mariota has finally been blessed with some receiving threats. Pair that with a weak division and the third easiest schedule in the NFL means that the Tennessee Titans will finish the season as AFC South champions.
Prediction: 11-5 (4-2), division champion
Losses: Oak, Sea, @Hou, @Pit, @Ind
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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 sixth installment, containing players 50-41.
50. Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins
Trent Williams (CSN Mid Atlantic)
Williams has proven over his seven seasons that he is one of the best left tackles in the NFL. He has made five straight Pro Bowls and helped give up just 23 sacks in 2016, good enough for fourth best in the NFL.
His blocking was a big component on the Redskins’ offense which had the third most yards in the NFL in 2016. Kirk Cousins will have his protection, but the Redskins’ offensive line will be tasked with opening up holes for the running backs, an area they could be better. Williams hasn’t played a full 16 games in the last three years but has still been effective enough to make Pro Bowls.
In 2017 Williams will be the best player for Washington and continue to be one of the best linemen in the NFL.
Comments: “Williams is one of the best offensive lineman in the league. He should be ranked higher as he is one of the top two or three tackles in the league and better than several players ahead of him on this list.”-Joe DiTullio
49. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
T.Y. Hilton (spotrac.com)
In 2016 Hilton set new career bests in receptions and receiving yards. He made his third straight Pro Bowl with 91 receptions, 1,448 yards and six touchdowns. He was the NFL’s leading receiver in 2016 and will be looking to match that production in 2017.
Andrew Luck and Hilton have quite the connection and Luck relies on Hilton. Luck targeted Hilton 155 times in 2016 and while Hilton may not get that many targets in 2017, Luck will be looking to connect with Hilton often. Hilton will be entering his prime and with Luck throwing him passes, there is no reason to expect a drop in production.
Hilton may not be the most physically gifted receiver, but he produces and will continue to do so in 2017.
Comments: “One simple explanation on why T.Y. Hilton is too high is because he is ranked higher than Jordy Nelson but is not better than him. Nelson had more receptions and touchdowns the Hilton. Put Nelson higher than Hilton and I have no issues.” -Matthew Hagan
48. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott (Getty Images)
No one expected Prescott to do what he did in 2016. He made the most of his opportunity when Tony Romo got injured and led the Cowboys to a great season. Prescott spearheaded the Cowboys’ offense to a 13-3 record. He threw for 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Going into 2017, Prescott has a lot going for him. The main thing is a great offensive line that will give him time to make good throws. He has great targets in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley. The Cowboys do have issues with Ezekiel Elliot, who may be suspended for a few games for a variety of reasons, but Prescott should still be able to be successful with his line and receivers.
Prescott may not lead the Cowboys to a 13-3 record, but has all the tools to be successful in 2017.
Comments: “The kid is good, don’t get me wrong. He is absolutely a top 100 player. Is he a top 50 player? Not at all. His supporting staff is easily top five in the league. I want to see him grow on the throws he makes and see how he handles more pressure.”- Robert Hanes
47. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck (colts.com)
A lot has been made of Andrew Luck, but he is a very talented quarterback on an average at best team. Last year Luck threw for 4,240 yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on 63.5% completion. If and when the Colts are successful, it is because of Luck.
Luck will still have his favorite target, T.Y. Hilton (#49), which will be a great combination once again. The offensive line has gotten better over the last couple of years and should help Luck have time to find open receivers and stay relatively healthy. In a division that is very winnable, Luck can lead the Colts to a division win.
In 2017 Luck will be the best player on the Colts and has a chance to elevate a pretty mundane team once again.
Comments: “Andrew Luck is the only reason the Colts are relevant and it is because of his stellar play. If you give Luck a better defense and a better running game, he will be a top 30 player in the NFL.” -Matthew Hagan
46. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Tyreek Hill (CBS Sports)
Hill burst onto the scene last season after being relatively unknown. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and not much was expected of him. As a very versatile player for the Chiefs, Hill had 860 yards from scrimmage, 976 return yards and 12 total touchdowns.
The Chiefs have moved on from Jeremy Maclin and are looking to make Hill and Travis Kelce the focal point of their offense. With Alex Smith at quarterback, the offense is usually mundane, but because Hill is so electric with the ball in his hands, the offense can be dynamic. With his return ability added to his skills on offense Hill can be a game-changer.
After a successful first season in the league, it should be expected that Hill will improve in year two with more reps.
Comments: “There is too much hype on Hill. He is extremely fast and explosive. With Maclin gone he will have to prove he can be the number one threat and this season it will prove to be too much and that he is more suited for a role as a number two.” -Matthew Hagan
“Hill had a first good season and can change the game in many ways, but this is way too high.He is ranked higher than T.Y. Hilton and Jordy Nelson on this list. Some of our staff is drinking too much of the Tyreek Hill Kool-Aid.”-Joe DiTullio
45. Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Houston Texans
Jadevon Clowney (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)
His first season was injury plagued, but since then he has progressed into a really good player. In 2016 Clowney had 52 tackles, six sacks, two passes defended and one forced fumble. With J.J. Watt injured, Clowney stepped up and became an impact player.
Clowney and Whitney Mercilus have combined to be a good duo at outside linebacker and having Watt back in 2017 should free them up to get after the quarterback more. Opposing offensive lines will not be able to block all three consistently and Clowney will benefit.
He has just scratched the surface of his potential, but Clowney should have a very good 2017.
Comments: “Clowney helps anchor one of the best front sevens in the NFL. After a lackluster start to his career, Clowney broke out towards the end of the 2016 season. Clowney received the third-highest grade from PFF among edge defenders in run stopping with an 89.1, and has improved his pass rushing abilities as well. Clowney produced 58 quarterback pressures last season coupled with 38 defensive stops. As long as he can stay healthy, expect Clowney to continue to bolster a scary defense in Houston.” –Tim Miller
44. Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers
Joey Bosa (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
His rookie year did not get off to a great start as he was in a contract holdout, but once he took the field Bosa was a great player. In his first season, he played in 12 games, had 31 tackles and 10.5 sacks.
Bosa will benefit from an entire offseason to work out and learn, something he didn’t have the privilege of doing in 2016. With this, he should be ready to play a full season, which puts a reasonable expectation that his stats will increase in 2017. The Chargers’ defense was much improved in 2016 and will likely get better again this season.
In 2016 Bosa had a great rookie year, which has fans excited to see what he can do in 2017.
Comments: “A product of The Ohio State University, Bosa’s dominant play in college translated quickly to the NFL. Bosa played in 12 games last season, yet he still racked up 59 total quarterback pressures, including 11 sacks. Bosa has played both defensive end and outside linebacker with the Chargers, which further helps his claim as a top edge defender in the NFL.
“The reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, expect Bosa to put up another incredible season and become one of the best defensive players of his generation.” –Tim Miller
43. LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills
LeSean McCoy (Getty Images)
McCoy is entering into the end of his prime years at age 29 but hasn’t slowed down yet. Last season he rushed for 1,267 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is a threat every time the ball is in his hands and defenses always have to try to stop the run when they play Buffalo.
If McCoy stays healthy, he is a sure thing to give you 1,000 yards on the ground. This is something he has done every season with at least 15 games played since his rookie season. McCoy runs behind a good offensive line that features Eric Wood, Richie Incognito and Cordy Glenn.
The Bills may not have the best offense, but they can always rely on handing the ball to McCoy.
Comments: “McCoy is the quickest cutter in the league and continually puts defenders on skates. His 1,267 yards aren’t eye-popping stats, but he did average 5.8 yards per carry. McCoy will produce in 2017 again.”-Joe DiTullio
42. Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos
Aqib Talib (USA Today)
While Talib is going to be 31 this season, he is still playing at an elite level on a very good Denver defense. In 2016 Talib was an All-Pro, had 43 tackles, 12 passes defended, three interceptions and a touchdown. 2016 marked his first appearance on the All-Pro team, but he has made four Pro Bowls.
Talib returns to Denver and has a lot of good players around him. It is hard for teams to find a defensive back to pick on when the Broncos have Talib, Bradley Roby and Chris Harris Jr. (#52). With the help of his teammates, Talib helped the Broncos have the best pass defense in the NFL by far in 2016, allowing just 185 yards per game through the air.
With everyone back for another year, Talib and the Broncos’ secondary will prove why they are one of the best in the NFL.
Comments: “Talib is part of the best cornerback tandem in the entire NFL. Talib was the only player in the NFL to play in over 500 snaps yet not give up a touchdown reception last season, proving he was toughest in the clutch. Allowing just a 49.5 passer rating on balls thrown his way was good enough for second-best in the NFL among qualified players last year. Talib is getting older for sure, but he still has enough talent to keep him on this list going into next season.” –Tim Miller
41. Demarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans
DeMarco Murray (George Walker IV/The Tennessean)
Murray was a good player for the Dallas Cowboys, then slumped with the Philadelphia Eagles before reviving his career in Nashville. Last season he rushed for 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns to bring some life to the Titans’ rushing attack.
He partnered with Derrick Henry to help Tennessee average the third most rushing yards in the NFL with 136.7 yards per game. Murray will again split carries with Henry, but the former Cowboy has proven that he deserves the lion’s share. The offensive line in front of him was tremendous and will continue to create big holes for him in 2017.
With guys like Taylor Lewan (#53) and Jack Conklin blocking for Murray, he is going to have another productive season.
Comments: “Murray has benefited from some good offensive lines, first in Dallas now in Tennessee. He is a very good running back, but he did have a bad season with Philadelphia. He will have a good season in 2017, partly because of his talent and partly because his offensive line.”-Joe DiTullio