The Deep Route Fantasy Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, fantasy updates, and more. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN, or 4for4.com.
You know the NFL season is inching towards the end when every week brings a whole new level of awesomeness. We saw the best offense from each conference take on the best defense from that respective conference, both with different results. The playoff picture became even murkier, as did some award races and the future of a once-promising franchise.
On top of all the beauty that was Week 14, we were gifted with one of the most miraculous plays in football history. Missed any of it? Don’t worry, I got you covered in a loaded edition of the ‘Deep Route Football Notebook’. How loaded is it? There’s only three teams I don’t mention. Can you figure them out?
THINGS I KNOW
I know that Dolphins’ play might be the greatest play in franchise history. Yes, even better than Dan Marino’s famous fake spike. First off, holy cow that was an absurd play. It took 69 yards and three laterals to get Kenyan Drake (who almost cost the team a win earlier in the season with a goal-line fumble) into the endzone. That was the ninth lead change in the game, the second-most of any NFL game ever. It was also the longest play in NFL history that won a game with no time remaining. Second, this win keeps Miami at six losses and with a legit shot at the playoffs. It’s rare to see a team with seven losses make the playoffs, although I have a feeling we might see one this year.
What really makes this such a crucial win is that with three games left, the Dolphins could realistically finish 8-8 or better. If they do, they’ll almost assuredly retain Head Coach Adam Gase, General Manager Chris Grier, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Why? The ownership is content with being average, and I can’t really blame them. Like I’ve said multiple times, if they do wipe the slate clean, the options to replace those guys are uninspiring. Obviously if the Dolphins reach the playoffs, owner Stephen Ross won’t get rid of everyone. We won’t know the franchise’s fate for a few more weeks, but until then Dolphins’ fans should be relishing in one of the greatest, craziest plays in NFL history.
I know the NFC playoff teams look almost set. I say this because each division leader has at least a two-game lead and there will likely be just one spot available for the wild card teams after the Seahawks moved to 8-5 on Monday night. As of now, the team leading the hunt is the 6-6-1 Vikings followed by the Eagles, Panthers and Redskins, all of which are 6-7. The Vikings are certainly not perfect, but neither are the other teams.
The Eagles are a shell of themselves after winning the Super Bowl last season and now could be without quarterback Carson Wentz for the remainder of the regular season. No one knows what happened to the Panthers as they have surprisingly lost five straight. As for the Redskins, well, they lost to the Giants by 34 and are essentially on their fourth-string quarterback. Barring a crazy turnaround by any of those three teams, the playoff pool for the NFC is basically in place.
I Know Phillip Lindsay is good, but Saquon Barkley is better. That’s why Barkley will win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Don’t get me wrong, Lindsay has been a fantastic player with an even better story. No offensive rookie has had an impact like Barkley though. Sure, Barkley’s stats are just slightly better than Lindsay’s despite Barkley being selected second and Lindsay not being selected at all or even invited to the combine. Additionally, Barkley has been more effective in the passing game as he’s second among all running backs in targets and third in receiving yards. Aside from statistics, Barkley is simply the better athlete than Lindsay. I could even say Barkley is already a top-five running back in football. Lindsay will have his time, but for now, few players are making an impact like Barkley is for the Giants, and that’s why he should walk away with this award.
I know it was only a matter of time before Reggie McKenzie was let go. When the Raiders signed Jon Gruden for over $100 million, McKenzie’s days became numbered. Normally, it’s the general manager’s decision to hire a new coach, but it’s well-known that the decision was essentially made by the Oakland ownership. During the season, there were rumors that Gruden had his own plans and thoughts on the roster that ultimately led to the trades of players who once looked like franchise players, such as Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper.
The McKenzie-Gruden marriage was never meant to be as McKenzie became another former Executive of the Year to no longer be with his team. In fact, the only two Executive of the Years from the past ten years to still be with his original team is the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, who also owns the team, and the Eagles’ Howie Roseman. While we’re on the subject of general managers being fired, I’m counting the days until the Bills’ Brandon Beane and the Buccaneers’ Jason Licht are canned as well.
I know what Allen Hurns is doing transcends sports. Granted, I can say the same about countless athletes across various sports. For now, I’m just going to focus on Hurns. It’s another week of ‘My Cause My Cleats’, which I praised last week, and Hurns dedicated his kicks to organizations that are trying to make schools safer. His cleats had the names of kids who lost their lives in a school shooting. As honorable as that is, what’s even better is what Hurns has been doing all season long.
When he joined the Cowboys this offseason, he chose to wear the number 17 in memoriam to the 17 kids whose lives ended too early in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting last February. A Miami native, Hurns’ actions demonstrate another great act by an NFL player and show yet again why the platform sports can provide truly can make a difference.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know who will come out of the AFC. Things just got very interesting in the AFC. The Patriots could have clinched their 10th-straight division title (only the MLB’s Atlanta Braves have done that across the four major North American leagues) but the Dolphins pulled off the play of the decade to ensure that didn’t happen quite yet. Meanwhile, the Chargers are red-hot after beating the Chiefs in a weird game last night that was defined by blown calls. Hunter Henry and Derrick Johnson played great too, right Stephen A. Smith?
If I had to pick today, I’d bet one of those teams earns the number one seed in the playoffs. In the other divisions, the AFC North features a Steelers team that looks completely lost while the Ravens are playing their best football yet. As for the AFC South, the Colts just ended the Texans’ nine-game win streak and shortened their divisional lead, too. Don’t count out the Titans though, as they’ve been the most up-and-down team in the NFL this year. It’s them, the Colts, Dolphins and Ravens all realistically vying for the final wild card spot, assuming the Chargers don’t collapse, which they won’t. Better grab your popcorn because these next three weeks are going to get wild.
I don’t know who will win the MVP. Throughout this entire season, it seems like the award has come down to two names: Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes. Each week, one of the quarterbacks does something to gain an inch on the other and vice versa. November was Brees’ month to shine as he tossed fifteen touchdowns and just one interception. Meanwhile, Mahomes had thrown 11 scores and four interceptions in his three November games.
In December, it’s Mahomes who’s gained the upper hand with six touchdowns, one interception and a heck of comeback in Sunday’s win over Baltimore. As for Brees, his last two games saw him throwing a touchdown and a pick in each. With three games left until the playoffs, the MVP race could easily come down to a 40-year old and a 23-year old. If both of them falter (they’re remaining schedules aren’t too bad), keep an eye on the red-hot Philip Rivers as a sleeper candidate.
I don’t know what’s happened to Jared Goff. The last two weeks for the third-year quarterback have not been good. Since his bye week two weeks ago, Goff has thrown one touchdown and five interceptions, four of which came in a brutal Sunday night defeat to the Bears. At one point this season, Goff looked like a legitimate MVP candidate. Now he faces a crucial three-game stretch if he wants a home-field advantage. Judging from his horrid performances during his last two games, which were all on the road, he’ll need that playoff advantage. Luckily for the third-year signal caller, Goff’s next three opponents have been extremely exploitable through the air. That definitely includes his next foe, the Eagles, who have more injured than healthy defensive backs.
I don’t know what was wrong with football fields this week. Specifically, the Miami Dolphins’ field at Hard Rock Stadium and the Oakland Raiders’ field at the Oakland Coliseum. The issue in Miami I can understand as the rain has never been kind to the Dolphins’ field. That might explain why there was a gaping hole in the turf after a play. It’s not what you want to see, and while I’m no grounds expert, I’m pretty sure that can be avoided.
I’m also fairly certain that an NFL kicker can avoid slipping on the field, but that’s how Chris Boswell couldn’t nail the game-tying kick in Oakland. I know he’s struggled as of late, but watching that replay you can see the dirt kick up on what looks to be a torn-up field. In fact it looked more torn-up than usual. I can’t really call out grass for not doing their jobs, but this is an eerie look for both teams and their respective fields.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Tom Brady’s career passer rating is 97.6. In his last 21 games, which QB has matched that passer rating exactly?
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
As fantasy football season rolls on, I’ll be focusing on a couple fantasy-related issues. This can include Players to Watch, Making the Case, questions from readers, or anything fantasy-related.
It’s officially handcuff season in fantasy football. It’s time to make way for backups that could be for in a big workload if their starters were to sit or get hurt. With teams clinching playoffs, more players are going to rest thus paving the way for lesser-known players to carry your fantasy teams to victory. Below are a few names worthy of a roster spot:
Justin Davis: The backup to Todd Gurley could be in line to receive Gurley’s workload in the coming weeks. Barring a catastrophic loss, the Rams will likely bench Gurley in favor of Davis soon, meaning Davis could see over 20 carries and five targets a game.
Rod Smith: The Cowboys still need to win another game before they consider resting their starters, though they’ve basically got the NFC East in the bag. Smith is the backup running back and has flashed in small sample sizes.
Demetrius Harris: The tight end position has been mostly barren this year, so be prepared to add Travis Kelce’s back up soon. Harris already has a role in the offense but with Kelce likely to get some rest, Harris’ workload could skyrocket.
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul subs in and highlights Cody Ford.
Every year as NFL Draft season approaches some players come out of nowhere and begin getting huge hype. The first player to start cashing in on the hype as the college football season comes to an end is Oklahoma’s right tackle Cody Ford. With Kyler Murray leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoff their dominant offensive line plays has caught more eyes. Ford has been the star this season by playing at a dominant level. In a year for weak offensive line talent Ford has played himself well into first-round talk thanks to his consistent ability to make WOW plays on the offensive line. You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger man with sweeter feet and an SOB mentality like Ford.
The craziest thing about Cody Ford’s game is how massive he is (6-4, 338 pounds), but still how nimble he moves around. When asked to pull or work his way to the second level in the run game he does it with ease. He’s also devastating as a finisher through the whistle; he’s relentless. Ford constantly puts defenders on the ground with his strength, mentality, and drive. There are times in pass pro where he’ll make an edge look like they have no business being on the field. He demoralizes opponents. There may end up being questions about his length that will cause teams to look at moving him to guard, but they shouldn’t. Ford has the quick footwork, heavy hand use, and anchor to keep up as a tackle. One thing that he could clean up is how upright he is in his stance, but it’s not the biggest issue in the world.
Early Projection: First Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Juju Smith-Schuster
The catches this week were underwhelming, to say the least. Smith-Schuster’s juggling, toe-tap in the back of the end-zone was one of the few where the concentration and body control exhibited was elite. It might have been a routine catch to make, but it’s what he did with his body that makes this snag more difficult.
Uniform of the Week: Seattle Seahawks
Some might say they’re a bit too much much or too bright, but I love them with every ounce in my heart. I’m a big fan of neon on uniforms and the blend of the Seahawks’ colors and their unique design make this outfit work tremendously.
Weekly Warrior: Josh Johnson
By now, everyone knows about the tsunami that was Derrick Henry on Thursday Night Football. Scoring four times with 238 yards is something you see in a Madden game (on Rookie mode of course). I wanted to bring attention to another player, though: fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson. The first-overall pick of the American Alliance of Football last threw a regular season pass in the NFL back in 2011. How is it that seven years later, Johnson was the third-highest scoring quarterback despite playing on four possessions? I know he played in the notorious “Garbage Time” but this is pretty abnormal, even more so than Henry’s insane performance.
The Blunder Ball: Refs, Again
Who says this has to be a player? Doesn’t matter, because the biggest mistake made all week (and one of the worst all season) was when the referees called Dallas Goedert’s 75-yard touchdown for Offensive Pass Interference. I am bewildered at how anyone could think this ordinary release move could be pass interference. That play affected the entire game and maybe impacted Philadelphia’s playoff chances, too. It gets you thinking about how much Jerry Jones is paying those refs… kidding. After watching last night’s Chargers-Chiefs game, the NFL’s referees could probably get this award each week. Unfortunately, I have to spread the “wealth”.
Block of the Year: Ted Larsen
By now, who hasn’t seen the ‘Miami Miracle’? I know I’ve watched it a good dozen times. Larsen, Miami’s starting guard, isn’t getting enough credit for sprinting from one 31-yard line to the next and setting a key block that allowed Kenyan Drake to pull off the Play of the Year. Offensive linemen are people too after all.
Dr. Strange Award: Patrick Mahomes
Let me bring your attention to a level of sorcery only seen in fiction: this no-look pass by the young MVP candidate. For once, I have no words. Does he have a third eye we don’t know about? Is he actually a wizard? Time will tell of the greatness that is Patrick Mahomes, and this is only the beginning.
Ballon d’Or: Steven Hauschka
This award is given to the best soccer player in the world, and after Hauschka’s attempt to take down a return-man with a slide tackle, it’s hard not to honor him here. Not only is that illegal in the NFL, but someone should have told him he’s playing the wrong “football”.
Trivia Answer: Ryan Tannehill
Question: Tom Brady’s career passer rating is 97.6. In his last 21 games, which QB has matched that passer rating exactly?
I was shocked as you are. There’s a reason why I chose 21 games by the way. Since Adam Gase joined the Dolphins, Tannehill has played 21 games under him. So since Gase became his coach, Tannehill’s passer rating has been equivalent to Tom Brady’s career passer rating. Let that sink in. If that isn’t enough, know that Tannehill currently has the sixth-best rating in the NFL and is tossing touchdowns on 8.1 percent of his throws this year, third among all quarterbacks. For those of you demanding that Tannehill should not be retained next season, his stats say otherwise. As for the three teams not mentioned, catch next week’s ‘DRFN’ for the answer if you’re still curious.
ONE LAST THING
Lately, I’ve been in such a Draft-mood (not a real word but certainly a real feeling) so I couldn’t resist doing another Mini-Mock Draft featuring the Top 10 picks. Again, this is essentially just for fun and gives a glimpse of who might be top selections in a few months. Some of the following guys might stay in school, teams’ records and needs will change, or players will rise/fall on draft boards. Things change, but having fun with an early mock draft will always be an option.
Each year, it feels like the 49ers take a defensive lineman in the first round. Sometimes it works out (DeForest Buckner), other times it doesn’t (Arik Armstead). This pick will probably turn out great because Bosa is a beast and easily one of the best players in the draft.
Some might say an offensive lineman should never be taken this early, especially with better players on the board, but the Cardinals’ top priority has to be helping potential franchise quarterback Josh Rosen develop. Williams is arguably the draft’s best offensive lineman and he deserves a top-five selection.
Poor Oakland. Like many other teams, this was nowhere near the season they desired. At least they get an absolute tank with this pick. Williams is so good that drafting him at three could even be considered a steal. They can get a wide receiver with one of their other two first-round picks.
Oh, how the tables have turned. Two years removed from a Super Bowl run, who could have seen Atlanta picking here? The team has been ravaged by injuries this year, mostly on the defensive side. That gives the Falcons the luxury of picking the best available defensive player.
Now this is an interesting situation for the Jets because my top four players are off the board and this team badly needs offensive help in a defensively-loaded draft. They could reach for a wide receiver here, but instead they’ll fill out a young, deadly secondary with one of the best cornerbacks in the draft.
Defensively, the Bills seem set. Like their AFC East rivals who previously picked, the Bills’ issues are more on the offensive side of the ball. Again, it’s a great year to need defensive help but the Bills’ wide receivers are so bad that I have to slot them one here. I’m not set on a WR1 for this year’s class yet, but Harmon could be that guy.
Another team who not many expected to be here, the Jaguars are nowhere close to the team that dominated last season. Those struggles boil down to the quarterback position. After five years of hell, this team should have only one goal: pick a new quarterback. Herbert could still stay in school, and while I like Dwayne Haskins’ upside more, he is the safer choice for now.
Let the too-early run on quarterbacks begin. I’ve been saying forever that Jameis Winston is not the answer, and with an overhaul looming, Haskins can be the guy Winston never could be. Offensive line and secondary help is tempting here, but the quarterbacks in this draft are not inspiring enough to wait on. Hence, a raw player with upside like Haskins gets picked early.
Who ever thought a dominant 40-point victory would have consequences? The Giants might not only have played themselves out of taking the first quarterback, but they might not be able to get one entirely. Eli Manning has one to two years left in the NFL and the Giants need a replacement, but none of the remaining quarterbacks are good enough to take here. For now, take the best player available.
The Lions have a talented roster that is being poorly coached. With that off my chest, this is another team who should simply stick with the best player on the board. Few players have helped their cases this year like Murphy has. I bet the Lions would like Ferrell, but Murphy’s physicality and ability to defend the run is what Head Coach Matt Patricia craves.
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