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.
The temperatures may be dropping across the country, but the action in the NFL is heating up. Last week, I donated a jam-packed column to the world and this week is no different. (If anyone is still curious, the only three teams I didn’t mention last week were the Packers, Broncos and Bengals.)
Keep reading to see which playoff races are gaining steam, which surprising team is catching fire while another has gone cold, which coaches are on the hot seat, my flaming take on the “Greatest QB of All-Time” debate, Week 15 awards, and so much more…(And yes, I compare a football team to a potato chip.)
THINGS I KNOW
I know the Colts deserve the last wild card spot. When looking at the remaining teams in the AFC wild card hunt, only the Colts inspire enough confidence on both sides of the ball. Offensively. the Colts have the eighth-most points scored in large parts due to Andrew Luck’s 34 passing touchdowns (second-most in the league) and an offensive line that has allowed only 16 sacks (second-fewest in the league). Defensively, Indianapolis doesn’t have a top-two defense like Baltimore or Tennessee. However, the Colts are still tied for fifth for both the fewest passing touchdowns allowed and fewest rushing touchdowns allowed. For a team that won just one of the first six games, the Colts have now lost just one of the past seven games and are in a prime position to secure their first postseason birth since 2014.
I know the Jaguars have given up. It’s pretty easy to tell. How else can a defense that was the best in football a year ago lose to a team who’s starting quarterback last threw a pass in 2011? On top of that, Josh Johnson is the Redskins’ fourth starting quarterback and finally got his first NFL victory despite entering the league in 2009. All you had to do was take one look at the lazy, undetermined Jaguars’ defense to see that this team is not the same team that reached the AFC conference championship last season. Where did it all go wrong? I have a theory.
On paper, Jacksonville’s defense has been good for a couple years now. It wasn’t until last season when they finally lived up to the hype. Going into 2017, the Jaguars knew that their franchise was looked down upon by basically everyone and the players used that as fuel to turn things around, similar to what the Browns have done this season. That new sense of entitlement and praise went to the heads of a Jacksonville defense that is filled with big egos and vocal personalities, headlined by star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. They walked into this season figuring they didn’t have much else to prove, and that laziness and ignorance bit them in the rear. As for the offensive woes, those are simply a product of Blake Bortles’ ineptness at quarterback. The defense was always this team’s identity, and without it, they’re more like the Jaguars of 2012 than 2017.
I know the Rams need to get their act together. It’s anyone’s guess as to what the heck has happened to the 2018 Los Angeles Rams. After dominating offensive leaderboards as well their opponents for most of the season, the Rams sit on their first two-game losing streak of the Sean McVay era. Ever since the shootout between Kansas City a month ago, the team has not been the same. By that, I mean Los Angeles has played football commonly seen of teams fighting for their fourth or fifth win.
Sunday night’s defeat to a bruised Philadelphia squad exemplifies that, as the game was defined by bone-headed mistakes on offense and blown coverages on defense. Have defenses finally figured them out? Could they just really miss Cooper Kupp? Has Sean McVay been kidnapped and replaced by Jeff Fisher in a mask? Only two of those are the likely reasons, but the Rams better find some answers of their own or else they’ll not be playing much January football.
I know Lamar Jackson gives the Ravens a new identity. With Joe Flacco at quarterback this season, the Baltimore offense was like a plain Dorito; stale, boring, and nothing special about it. With Jackson under center, the Ravens have finally gained some flavor; they’ve got some true zing. It’s hard not to enjoy a team that runs as well as the Ravens do in a league enthralled with passing the football, especially when their defense has played as well as any unit in football. The creativity has been on full display as of late, and a lot of credit goes to Jackson and Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Remember back in April when I said Baltimore would be the perfect scenario for Jackson? Yeah, I’d say that’s worked out swimmingly. Not only does Jackson give the Ravens legit hopes for the future, but it allows them to move on from Flacco once and for all. He’d be a good stop-gap option for teams in need of a veteran quarterback presence (Jacksonville? Washington?). For the final two games, Jackson will be tested with making the Ravens’ offense unique and somewhat enjoyable, and like biting into a Dorito, it’s finally crunch-time.
I know Vance Joseph’s seat has burned up. It’s so hot that it’s fully disintegrated at this point. The chances that Joseph has at being the Broncos’ coach next season are the same that I have at being the Broncos’ coach. I’ve been vocal about my feelings against Joseph as a head coach since he was hired two offseasons ago. Vance will not make it through a third. I can point out the disappointing defense or the lackluster offense headlined by continued uncertainty at the quarterback position throughout Joseph’s two years as head coach. Instead, I’ll take you down to a measly few seconds of that timespan.
With 4:35 left in a 17-13 ball-game, all the Broncos needed was one small yard to move the chains and sequentially extend their chances at taking the lead. But Joseph, who said less than a month ago that he’ll always go it for it on fourth-and-one, decided to kick a field goal. I get that Joseph was showing confidence in his defense, but the real dilemma with this decision was how his own players reacted. Guys from offensive lineman Garett Bolles to cornerback Bradley Roby voiced their disdain with the play-call. It’s that open questioning of a coach who’s been nothing but a disappointment that makes me believe Joseph’s ticket out of Denver has already been punched.
I know Nate Burleson is a rising star. Yes, he’s the former wide receiver who played on three teams over an eleven-year career, but I’m not talking about him as a player. I’m talking about him as a color commentator. Burleson has been a fun and intriguing media personality since he traded in his cleats for a microphone. I’ve praised Burleson and his Good Morning Football crew before, but the reason I’m bringing up Burleson today is because of his performance from Saturday. I found myself constantly amazed at what he said and how he sounded saying it.
Over the course of the broadcast, Burleson was informative and smart, but not to a level where the ordinary viewer couldn’t understand it. His voice was exceptionally good as he walked the fine line between being entertaining and serious, something that modern broadcasters seem to be improving at. But why listen to a nineteen-year-old broadcaster’s opinion when you can see the influx of praise and support all over social media for Burleson? If I had a choice, Burleson would be calling a prime-time game every week. At this rate, that seems more like the future than fantasy.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know how anyone can name the greatest QB of all-time. My main qualm with making a substantial argument for one player is this: How can you accurately compare players across different time periods? Obviously, that doesn’t go for lopsided comparisons like Kirk Cousins and Terry Bradshaw, for example. I’m talking about comparisons between the A-List guys, which is the flaw in the argument because how do you determine who qualifies as an A-List quarterback? Passing stats today are significantly more padded than the passing stats seen in most of 20th-century football. How can we accurately translate a quarterback’s accomplishments to another’s? Scheme and difficulty of competition are the two biggest roadblocks to comparing quarterbacks across different time periods. Would Joe Namath have had as much success in today’s pass-happy NFL as he did in the 60s and 70s? Would Matthew Stafford still put up sky-high numbers in the 80s, or is he just a product of scheme and a pass-first league?
The best possible way to see who the best quarterbacks in NFL history are is by looking at film and seeing their talent first-hand, but even that’s subjective (and good luck finding enough Bart Starr film). Difficulty of competition and supporting talent are all legitimate influencers in that. Imagine if Dan Marino had Joe Montana’s roster, including his coaches. How many of the quarterbacks in the ‘All-Time’ conversation are products of their coaches and teams and how many are just immensely talented? We may never know. Championships and awards fall into that category as well.
Overall, it’s a tricky topic to maneuver and one we’ll likely never have a universal answer to. Everyone seems to say the greatest quarterback they’ve ever seen is simply that; one they’ve seen first-hand. That’s why you get lots of GOAT labels around modern guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. While I’ll never crown one true Greatest Quarterback of All-Time, I can compile a list of a few guys who defined their generations and have legacies that are still present today, in no particular order: Starr, Namath, Bradshaw, Unitas, Montana, Aikman, Marino, Elway, Young, Favre, P. Manning, Brady, and I’m sure I left off a few names.
I don’t know who the favorite in the AFC is. There are five teams with a legit shot at the AFC title, and it’s a closer race than you think. Once again, anytime an AFC team seemingly had a grip on the conference, they let it slip through their fingers. This week’s installment of ‘Whose Conference Is It Anyway?’ saw the Patriots play uncharacteristically bad football in Pittsburgh and the Chiefs lose a close game to the refs, I mean, Chargers. It took the whole four quarters for the Texans to get a win and as a result jumped the Patriots for a first-round bye.
I’ve been saying for a while that the Chargers might now be the team to beat in the AFC. Although their victory over the Chiefs came down to a couple blown calls, Los Angeles still did it without their two best running backs in one of the toughest stadiums to play in. If I was a gambler, I’d put a small sum on the Chargers taking the AFC crown due to their depth, playmakers on both sides of the ball, and ability to withstand road games. Their only road loss was 26 miles away against the Rams. Besides, if you’ve ever seen a Chargers’ home game, you’d know that every Chargers game is basically a road game.
I don’t know a better alternative to the weirdest rule in football. That rule is when a player fumbles the ball through the endzone, it becomes a touchback. Therefore, the opposing team gets the ball on their own 20-yard line. On the surface, it sounds pretty ridiculous. Say a player fumbles the ball just an inch before the endzone. That’s one inch away from a turnover. Why punish a team for getting inches away from a touchdown? The controversial rule was on display in the Saints-Panthers game when Tommylee Lewis lost the ball just in front of the goal-line.
On the other hand, the rule follows the precedent of a turnover through the endzone. When a team punts the ball, they’re electing to turnover the ball, hence a turnover on downs. If the ball is punted into the endzone, it is ruled a touchback and the opposing team gets the ball on their 20-yard line. That’s the same exact result when a player fumbles it into the endzone instead of punting, which are both essentially “turnover on downs”. The rule makes sense when compared with other turnover rules, but when played out live it looks pretty pointless. I’d suggest maybe giving the ball back to the fumbling team as if it was an incomplete pass; the team would lose a down and gain no yardage. Until then, you can expect more uproar over the rule’s reversal.
I don’t know why people forgot about Dalvin Cook. Before his devastating ACL injury four games into his rookie campaign, Cook was third in rushing yards. He had hopes to return to form this season but the past two weeks were the first time since Week One when Cook saw over ten carries. Once again, injuries played a huge role as Cook missed five games earlier in the season. Despite his lack of opportunity, Cook showcased the explosiveness and agility that made him a second-round pick in 2017 en route a 136-yard, two-touchdown performance in a blowout victory on Sunday. I saw a lot of people on Twitter saying that Cook was back, don’t write him off yet, etc. A player of his talent should never have left the forefront of our minds, especially when talking about the revival at the running back position. A torn ACL can have huge effects on a player, but as evident by his fantastic game, his talent is too great to let an injury derail his promising career and he should be a key contributor for years to come.
I don’t know if Chris Boswell will have a job for much longer. Going into Sunday’s tilt against the Patriots, Boswell had missed the most field goals in the NFL. After getting a four-year contract extension in the offseason, you have to wonder if it’s more of a when he loses his job rather than if he does. That type of field-goal percentage is not acceptable, especially with the playoffs looming for the Steelers. That miss from 32 yards in the third quarter is nearly inexcusable, though his one from 48 yards out in the fourth quarter not only gave the Steelers a seven-point lead, but it might have preserved Boswell’s job for a little bit longer. Had he missed that 48-yarder, there’s no doubt Boswell would be looking for a team today.
Despite his late-game heroics, a team of Pittsburgh’s caliber can not rely on a kicker even remotely average in the NFL, let alone a guy as inefficient as Boswell has been. That’s probably why they brought in kickers for workouts last week and had Boswell workout with them. Even though it’s freezing in Pittsburgh right now, the thin ice under Boswell continues to melt away fast.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Antonio Brown became the second-fastest player to reach 11,000 career receiving yards by doing so in 129 games. Who did it the fastest in 127 games?
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.
At this point, there’s only so much fantasy advice I can give. So little of the fantasy football community is still fighting for a championship that the ones left are either a) skilled enough to handle their matchups or b) have already done anything I can possibly say to do. Therefore, I listed my recent advice for the closing weeks of the 2018 fantasy football season below. As always, scroll down to Fantasy Fixture in each column for my weekly advice.
- Grab Handcuffs ASAP (In this case, Justin Davis is injured so go all-in for John Kelly. He’s a stud.)
- Look at Schedules
- Think on a Week-to-Week Basis
- Play Some Defense
- Get Players on High-Scoring Teams
- Target Weak Defenses
- Check the Weather
- Young Players with Opportunities
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul subs in and highlights TJ Hockenson.
The tight end with all the buzz in the 2019 NFL Draft is Iowa’s Noah Fant. He’s the consensus top tight end prospect due to his elite athleticism and ability to change the game with massive plays downfield or in the red zone. It’s a deep tight end class, but who’s the second best prospect at the position? Well he also hails from Iowa and it’s Mackey Award winner TJ Hockenson. Hockenson is a 6-5, 250 pound redshirt Sophomore who makes as big a difference in the passing game as he does in the run game. Despite technically being the Hawkeyes’ number two tight end, Hockenson has put up 70 receptions for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns the past two seasons. He’s got everything needed to be a Pro Bowl NFL tight end. If Fant is Jimmy Graham then Hockenson is George Kittle.
Unsurprisingly, Hockenson is the best blocking tight end in the class. Iowa is known to produce these types of tight ends. He consistently plays through the whistle and uses leverage, heavy hands, and leg drive to bully defenders in the run game. In the passing game, Hockenson does a great job using his size and physicality to win. He’s great with 50/50 balls and always goes up and highpoints the ball to make a play. Hockenson is one of the best combat catching tight ends in the class. The thing that really sets Hockenson apart is his athleticism. He has the ability to win routes with speed and explosion out of breaks. When asked to go downfield he regularly creates separation with his second gear. Hockenson is the most complete tight end in the class.
Early Projection: Second Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Kenny Golladay
There were some nice jump balls this week, but Golladay’s diving catch takes the cake. He was falling before he caught the ball, which was apparently enough for a defensive pass interference call. Still, that’s a tough grab to make.
Uniform of the Week: Los Angeles Rams
I have officially crowned this the “Uniform of the Year” after getting three UOTWs, a new DRFN record. My thoughts haven’t changed since I said this back in Week Four, “These are my favorite uniforms in the NFL. Period. It’s a fantastic adaptation of the Rams’ 70s-90s threads. The yellow nicely complements the blue tone of the jerseys and helmet. The white lettering for the player name is a subtle yet powerful touch, too.”
Weekly Warrior: Kalen Ballage
The Dolphins’ fourth-round pick finally got his big break when Frank Gore went down, and Ballage did not disappoint. He ran for 123 yards on 12 carries, including a 75-yard touchdown. Ballage has the tools to be a good running back for years to come and might be a decent late-season addition if Kenyan Drake continues to be kept in a cage.
The Blunder Ball: Jared Goff
What on Earth was this? I’d expect a third-string rookie to be this careless with the ball, but a Pro Bowl quarterback? Goff’s struggles are worse than we thought. It was tempting to call out Vance Joseph for kicking a field goal on fourth-and-one again, but why Goff ever tried to get rid of the ball while being sacked here, I’ll never know.
Chemistry Award: New England Patriots
This beautiful attempt to keep the ball out of the endzone by the Patriots’ special teams is the definition of teamwork. Not only was it athletic, but props to Matthew Slater for jumping over the ball and allowing it get back into the field of play. While on the topic of New England, are they okay with finishing their schedule with the same four games as they did last season? As Deadpool would say, “That’s just lazy writing.”
Biggest Pro Bowl Snub: Darius Leonard
If you don’t know who Leonard is, you will once he wins Defensive Rookie of the Year. I know he’s no Alvin Kamara or Andrew Luck, but their respective positions are crowded enough to make it plausible that they were left out (though they’ll surely be injury replacements). Leonard could easily finish as the NFL’s leading tackler and has been all over the field for the Colts this season. In all honesty, this Pro Bowl snub really doesn’t mean much as it’s all one big popularity contest. Leonard shouldn’t worry because at this rate, he’ll be making Pro Bowls for years to come. Here’s hoping they move it back to Hawaii, by the way…
Jaguars’ Defense Award: Sebastian Janikowski
Janikowski’s effort was so bad at “trying” to stop this kick return that he looked like he belonged on the Jaguars’ defense. He could’ve at least made an effort to tackle the return-man. If you thought I wouldn’t call out Jacksonville for their lack of effort again, you were wrong.
Trivia Answer: Calvin Johnson
Question: Antonio Brown became the second-fastest player to reach 11,000 career receiving yards by doing it in 129 games. Who did it the fastest in 127 games?
Man, I miss Megatron. Johnson retired after nine years as one of, if not the best receiver in football. The dude was a freak and I can’t help but wonder what he could’ve accomplished had he not hung up his cleats. Sorry to ruin your day, Lions’ fans.
ONE LAST THING
Lamenting into Vance Joseph earlier got me thinking about which other coaches might join Joseph on the job market. Below I sorted them into three groups: Coaches who will likely stay despite consistent speculation, coaches who I’d bet will lose their jobs, and coaches who are as good as gone.
Vance Joseph – Enough said.
Dirk Koetter – I can just copy and paste what I’ve written about Koetter throughout the season. Like all the guys on the list, he’s a good dude but not a good head coach. He’ll make a fine offensive coordinator somewhere. I can also see the entire front office in Tampa Bay getting the boot, too.
Todd Bowles – Since going 10-6 in his inaugural campaign, he’s failed to surpass five wins in each of the following three seasons, the current one included. The team has minimal hope and could use an offensive coach to assist rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
Steve Wilks – The only reason Wilks isn’t listed in the previous section is because he’s a first-year coach. Maybe the ownership decides to give him one more go, though this season has been disappointing in every aspect. Wilks’ chances of getting fired are higher if the team cleans out the front office as expected, too.
Marvin Lewis – Yes, Lewis is still coaching. The second-longest active head coach for a single team is likely on the outs, though you never know with the Bengals’ ownership. After a horrifying stretch to end the season, the rumors that Lewis might take a front office job are sounding likelier by the minute.
Adam Gase – I’ve already said that Gase will remain in Miami if the team’s ownership is content with being average, but just for more clarity on Gase’s unspectacular head coaching career: he’s won one of the past twelve road games and eleven of the past twelve home games. As for the Dolphins, their place among the abnormally average is still intact. They’ve won half of their games this season, half of their past 38 games, half of their past 84 games and half of their past 132 games. Something’s got to give eventually.
Doug Marrone – They might have fired their offensive coordinator already, but the Jaguars need more than an impending quarterback change. More people will be to blame, but I don’t think one disappointing year will be enough to override Marrone’s successes from 2017.
John Harbaugh – Earlier reports have indicated that Harbaugh might be let go after the season, which I strongly disagreed with. However, the team’s recent success suggests that Harbaugh is likely here to stay.
Ron Rivera – Amidst a six-game losing streak, there’s been speculation about whether new owner David Tepper will pull the trigger on Riverboat Ron. I’d be shocked if Rivera, who hasn’t had consecutive losing seasons since 2011 and 2012, is let go. He’d instantly be a top coaching candidate.
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