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.
It’s sad to think that we’ve already reached the midway point of the 2018 NFL season. It’s been another fantastic year so far and I’ll recap most of it, including all the yearly awards and the playoff picture. I’ll also throw in some nuggets about a relatively unspectacular Week Eight, the eventful trade deadline, and so much more…
THINGS I KNOW
I know offenses have wreaked havoc on defenses, but not as badly as you would think. It doesn’t take stats to show that offenses have dominated this season but I’ll provide some anyway. Through Week 8, 5,834 points have been scored and 87,973 yards have been racked up. That means teams are averaging 24.1 points and 363.5 yards per game. Last season those numbers were down to 21.7 points and 334.1 yards per game. As I mentioned earlier in the season, this offensive explosion could probably be partially connected back to the increase in penalties called on defenses, namely roughing the passer calls. Interestingly enough, that’s not the entire case.
Per nflpenalties.com, 37 RTP flags have been thrown this year which would be on pace for 79 flags this season. It would eclipse the 2017 season number by nine, but it’s not an outlier. The 2014 and 2015 seasons saw more flags tossed. So if it’s not necessarily the referees’ fault then what is it? I’d say a combination of more aggressive play-calling and the continued shift to a passing-dominated league are the real factors. With nine weeks left in the regular season, it’ll be interesting to see whether offenses continue to grab the headlines or if defenses can slow their steady dominance.
I know Patrick Mahomes is the midseason MVP favorite. It’s hard to not make a case against the second-year quarterback. He’s already on pace for a whopping 56 passing touchdowns, which would eclipse Peyton Manning’s record by one. Pair that with just six interceptions so far and a 6-1 record and you get one convincing MVP candidate.
Don’t count out Jared Goff and Todd Gurley though. They’ve been crucial to the Rams’ undefeated season thus far. Perennial candidates like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are obviously in the mix, but here’s to hoping Drew Brees finally gets the long overdue hardware.
I know Todd Gurley is the midseason favorite for Offensive Player of the Year. Ironically I’m one of those people who believe that the MVP should be synonymous with OPOY (if the MVP is an offensive player, which it usually is). To properly quantify Gurley’s greatness, know that he has outscored two NFL teams. You read that correctly. History doesn’t favor a back-to-back winner though, as the last OPOY to win it in consecutive seasons was back in 1999-2001 by another Rams’ running back: Marshall Faulk. As well as the MVP candidates mentioned earlier, Alvin Kamara and Adam Thielen could have their name in the mix, too.
I know Saquon Barkley is the midseason favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The rookie quarterbacks have been (predictably) underwhelming and Barkley has been (predictably) great. He’s top-five in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns while leading all running backs in receiving yards. Barkley should literally run away with this award, but if he were to get hurt, guys like Kerryon Johnson or Phillip Lindsay could have a solid case for themselves. I guess it’s possible for one of the quarterbacks to break away from the pack, but if the first half of the season is any indication, it’s Barkley’s trophy to lose.
I know the Browns should’ve fired Hue Jackson sooner. This is the third straight week where I had a nice little paragraph prepared that called for a coach’s dismissal, only for it to be ruined by the coach actually being fired before my column was released. In all fairness, anyone could have predicted this. Even history foreshadowed it, as the last five Browns’ head coaches have been let go after Cleveland’s second game against Pittsburgh. It was only a matter of time before Jackson was given the boot.
To show how ineffective he’s been as the Cleveland coach, Jackson had the second-worst win percentage ever among coaches with at least 40 games. Yes, that means he was worse than Jeff Fisher. General Manager John Dorsey will now have an extended period of searching for a new head coach. Some other teams that might be in the market for a new head coach sooner rather than later include the Broncos, Buccaneers, Cardinals, and Jets.
I know I wanted Pittsburgh to win more than usual. I grew up in South Florida, but my mother’s side of the family has a history in Pittsburgh. I would even go as far as to say that my grandpa is the biggest Steelers’ fan you’d ever meet. Naturally this gave me a soft spot for the Steelers and I would always quietly root for them, unless they played my Dolphins. So with that awful tragedy in Pittsburgh, I couldn’t help but find myself rooting a little more than usual for the Steelers this past Sunday. When the city needed it most, the Steelers gave them a bit of joy and unity to hold onto while the world spun vigorously around them.
That’s the power of sports. It provides an escape from the harsh realities of life. It gives us a greater purpose, whether it be through fandom, a career, or both. Sports unites us. Maybe it’s in the form of a championship, maybe it’s in the form of another win, or maybe it’s just a few seconds of cheering and hollering. But either way, sports gets people of all different races and religions to come together and show their support in hopes of achieving one common entity: Happiness. And that’s something the rest of world sorely needs. Like countless others, I’ll be thinking about you Pittsburgh. Now back to some football…
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know who the favorite for Coach of the Year is. It would be too easy to go with someone like Sean McVay or Andy Reid here, so let’s look at some teams outperforming their expectations. At times this season, Matt Nagy and the Bears have looked like a real contender. They lead a division that has Aaron Rodgers in it after all. My preseason pick, Bill O’Brien, helped the Texans bounce back from three consecutive losses to go on to win five straight games. Anthony Lynn also deserves some credit for keeping the Chargers at the top of the AFC despite a slew of injuries. It’s too bad they play in the same division as the Chiefs.
I don’t know who the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year is. Every year, this award is essentially between the same four players: Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, and J.J. Watt. Donald leads the league in sacks and Watt is only two sacks behind him. All four have been key cornerstone pieces for their defenses when healthy. I’d pin Mack for this award right now only because you can clearly see the difference he has made on the Bears’ defense. He hasn’t been 100 percent since Week 6, and in that time span, Chicago has lost twice. If you’re looking for a new name to watch out for, don’t be shocked if Myles Garrett becomes a strong candidate for DPOY.
I don’t know who the favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year is. If I had to narrow it down, I’d say Jessie Bates, Derwin James, Darius Leonard, and Denzel Ward are all legit candidates. Bates, a late second-round pick, has outplayed his draft slot and is tied for second in interceptions. James has made his presence felt all over the field as shown by his 3.5 sacks, which is the most by any safety in football. Leonard has been a tackling machine and even leads the league in tackles in his first year. Ward has been a key component of a Cleveland defense that is first in the NFL in turnovers. He’s also tied for second in interceptions. As of now, my money would be on Leonard, though it’s a close race.
I don’t know who’s winning the Super Bowl. The two best teams in the league (the Rams and the Chiefs) are inexperienced in the postseason and that historically becomes a factor in those crucial January games. If I had to choose, I would say the Saints will defeat the Patriots. I’m still sticking with my preseason Super Bowl winner as the Saints offense has been rolling recently; it’s just their defense that needs to surprisingly pick up the slack. As for New England, well, they’re New England. Even when they look their worst (which is rare), they still always find a way to win in the postseason. I can see the Chargers, Steelers, and Packers crashing the party, too.
I don’t know how FitzMagic returned. The obvious reason here is that former first-round pick and current bust, Jameis Winston, played horribly again. When you really look at it, though, there is no way that Ryan Fitzpatrick can move as well as he did on that game-tying two-point conversion. It wasn’t just that play; the soon-to-be 36-year old quarterback looked ten years younger throughout the entire game. Everyone’s talking about FitzMagic and how he pulled another comeback out of his hat (or in this case, his beard), but the real sorcery here is Fitzpatrick being mobile enough to make defenders miss constantly. And with that offensive line, trust me when I say that his mobility is always on display.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Which fantasy player (offense only) has been flagged the most times this season?
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.
Back when it was somewhat relevant, the Trade Deadline was my favorite in-season event. In recent years, the deadline has unfortunately been mostly uneventful. That is, until last season’s deadline swan a rapid flurry of movement. This year was no different. I thought I’d give my two cents on the trades that went down and their potential fantasy implications:
Demaryius Thomas to the Texans: Solid move for Denver as they wanted to promote rookie WR Courtland Sutton to the starting job. He’s a must-add if you need a wide receiver. As for Houston, this likely puts a dent in the production of another rookie wide receiver, Keke Coutee. It will not affect DeAndre Hopkins; he’s just that good. The Houston-Denver game at Mile High this weekend just got a little more interesting.
Golden Tate to the Eagles: Good move for a good wide receiver by Philly. That third-round pick could easily be retained as a compensatory pick if Tate leaves in free agency this offseason. If you own any Detroit wide receiver, you better prepare for the increase in touches coming their ways.
Dante Fowler to the Rams: It’s neat and all that they have four former first-round picks on their defensive line, but this just leaves no excuses for a Rams’ rush defense that has underwhelmed thus far. Watch out if any of your matchup-driven running backs face the Rams, that is, if Fowler can live up to his potential that ultimately made him a third-overall pick.
HaHa Clinton-Dix to the Redskins: The NFC East has had a busy couple weeks and the Redskins did not want to miss out on all the fun. What better to way to do that than by trading a fourth-round pick for a 26-year old safety? As good as Clinton-Dix can be for Washington, he’s also a free agent this offseason. Still Clinton-Dix should still make an impact against opposing quarterbacks this season for Washington.
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul subs in and highlights David Montgomery.
Unlike the past few NFL Drafts, there’s not a whole bunch of running backs in the 2019 class. There aren’t any locks to be Day One selections and at this point it would be surprising to see any go in the first-round. Instead, this draft has a few guys with bell-cow potential, but most look like Day Three picks that will be contributors. One of the few guys who look’s like they can be a starting running back immediately in the NFL is Iowa State’s David Montgomery. It’s tough to find someone in college football that runs harder than Montgomery and frankly I don’t think anybody does. Every carry, Montgomery looks like he’s trying to punish a defender.
The biggest question about Montgomery’s game will be how athletic he is. Honestly, he doesn’t look like he’ll test all that well, but the tape should outweigh the testing. Montgomery has elite contact balance. Just throw on his highlights and you’ll be blown away by his ability to stay upright. Another thing to like about Montgomery is he’s a patient runner who waits for holes to develop and uses impressive footwork to buy time behind the line. Even for a bigger back that lacks athleticism, Montgomery is elusive in the open field thanks to his quick feet. In the passing game, Montgomery has experience lining up all over Matt Campbell’s offense as a pass catcher and he’s capable. As a pass protector he’s better than most backs and always puts a full effort in. There’s some Kareem Hunt to Montgomery’s game. Early Projection: Second Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: DeAndre Hopkins
As slick as this one-hander was by Odell Beckham, the best catch (maybe of the entire season) was this wonder-catch by Hopkins. That is one of the best snags I’ve ever seen and I don’t care that it was called back for “offensive pass interference.” There were some other cool catches this week, most notably N’Keal Harry’s falling one-hander. For my money’s worth, these were the three best catches of the football season.
Uniform of the Week: Los Angeles Rams
We’re getting deeper into the season, which means more and more awesome uniforms are being worn. The Rams’ throwbacks take the cake once again (as they always will) but it’s criminal that the Saints’ clean white throwbacks haven’t won yet. The Texans’ Color Rush, the Bears’ throwback jerseys, and the Panthers’ electric blue tops all deserve recognition, too.
Mr. Bummer: Drew Brees
For all the praise he’s gotten over the past few weeks, including from me, I almost feel bad giving Brees this distinction. Dropping just 6.8 fantasy points is not good for any player, but for a quarterback it’s downright terrible. Don’t worry, I have faith this won’t become a trend.
The Blunder Ball: Ryan Switzer
All I can picture here is Homer Simpson shouting “Doh!” over and over again. I know it’s only Switzer’s second year but how did he not know to field the punt here? I guess he thought it was a kickoff, which it wasn’t because it was the punt following a safety. Good for him for owning up to the miscue at least.
Air Jordan Award: Kareem Hunt
For the second straight week, Hunt struck the famous pose while effortlessly hurdling over a defender. What makes these plays so insane is that Hunt slows up mid-run before clearing the defender, rather than speeding up and using that momentum to get some air.
Broken Controller Award: Miami Dolphins
You ever get so frustrated while playing Madden that you chuck your controller across the room? Me neither, but it happens. This wacky, once-in-a-lifetime play resembled a Madden glitch. It must be nice for Dolphins’ fans to be on the opposite end of something so wild and frustrating.
Ironman Award: Joe Buck
I never understood the hate towards Buck, but that’s not why I chose to feature him this week. It’s because he flew back-and-forth between World Series games and Thursday Night Football. Major props to Buck for juggling four games in four days for two different sports.
The GOAT Award: Adam Vinatieri
I feel like I’ve been handing these out weekly now, which really goes to show how historic this NFL season has been. As the new highest-scoring player ever, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vinatieri’s bust has already been made.
Trivia Answer: Aaron Rodgers
Question: Which fantasy player (offense only) has been flagged the most times this season?
I know many of you have never cared about players and their penalties, but I still found it interesting that out of all the offensive players to be flagged the most (not including offensive lineman), it’s Rodgers. He’s had three intentional groundings and two delay of games called on him. That’s two more penalties than the next most-flagged guys.
ONE LAST THING
Here’s my midseason predictions for the playoff picture:
Super Bowl LIII: Saints def. Patriots
MVP: Drew Brees
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