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.
Welcome to Year Two of the “Deep Route” Notebook! I’ve dropped the ‘Fantasy’ and replaced it with what this article is really about: football. That’s not the only difference though. This season I updated the format to include more content, but less reading. Let’s be real, most of you will see a long paragraph or two and just skip it. This generation generally hates reading; they prefer quick snippets of information like Tweets or Snap Stories.
Therefore, I shortened what I have to say about certain things but added more thoughts. It’s a win-win. I say more, you read less. I’ll do my best to keep my thoughts shortened for you, but trust me, I’ll have much more to say about football this year. So without further ado, let’s kick off this season’s first DRFN with a rant about something incredibly dumb…
THINGS I KNOW
I know the NFL’s overtime rules are still atrocious. That’s me putting it nicely. Each team should have a chance to score. It’s only fair. It is bonkers that a professional football game (one that affects countless jobs, emotions, and oh yeah, CASH) can be decided by an itty bitty coin flip. I get it, it’s supposed to decrease the chance of injuries. Well, the Steelers and Browns just played an extra ten minutes of football! All to simply end in a tie.
All that extra effort and grit for basically nothing. Now, I am not as devoted to college football as I am to the NFL, despite my yearly attempt to watch as many collegiate games as possible. But I do know one thing that I definitely prefer about college football: overtime. The rules are simple. Each team has a chance to score and if it’s still tied, the game keeps going. As for injury concerns, the field is shortened to the opponent’s 25-yard line so to decrease the duration of possessions. If a team scores a field goal, the opponent can win with a touchdown or prolong the game with three points of their own. After each pair of possessions, the teams switch off with who starts with the ball. The system allows for more intense, down-to-the-wire action, less time played (a.k.a. less risk of injury), and no freaking ties! I will always be an NFL fan, but until they’re altered, I will never be a fan of the NFL’s overtime rules.
I know the Bears looked pretty good, until the final two minutes. The obvious observation is that the Bears were rolling with a 20-3 lead entering the fourth quarter. If you watched a little more closely you would have seen the Bears offense rolling. Every area of the offense looked better. Mitchell Trubisky was making his reads. Jordan Howard was catching passes. The new-look receiving core also aided the passing offense. As for the defense, it was hard to miss Khalil Mack in his new Bears uniform (who I’ll get into a little bit). Everything was going well for one of my top sleeper teams. Then, Aaron Rodgers snapped and brought Green Bay back to a 24-23 lead.
All of a sudden, Trubisky was making terrible throws, the defense couldn’t defend, etc. I’m not sure what magical spell Rodgers used but the Bears completely crumbled to dust. Rodgers’ godlike powers were simply too much for the Bears to handle. If you want my ode to Rodgers, keep reading, because this is my way of saying how close the Bears were to legitimizing themselves in the young season. If Chicago can just discover the clutch gene then this could be a team we’re watching in January.
I know Myles Garrett is a budding superstar. I’m sure you knew this too, even if you missed Garrett’s game on Sunday. Two sacks, two forced fumbles, and many, many hits. It didn’t take a football junkie to see Garrett’s monstrous impact. He energized an entire defense and an entire fandom. Garrett’s play-style gives off Khalil Mack-type vibes (again, I’ll get to him later), but it’s his personality that has me enamored with him. If anyone watched Hard Knocks the past couple weeks, you could see Garrett’s elegance and professionalism. From his poetry, to his modest demeanor, to his music choice, Garrett is not only the type of guy you want as the face of a franchise, but he’s an incredible role model as well.
I know you should check the weather. Ironically, I wrote a thesis on weather forecasting this past summer. It matters. I started regularly checking weather before Sunday’s games last year and honestly, it’s paid dividends. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve switched kickers due to inclement weather. There weren’t any good examples this past weekend, as most games with weather issues didn’t have huge affects on player performances. Kenny Stills still balled down in Miami despite not one, but two rain delays, each lasting over an hour long. Trust me, one of these days you’ll be happy you picked up a kicker playing in a dome. Obviously, not all incidents will be like that, but please be aware of the weather conditions your players will face. All it takes is a thunderstorm to ruin your quarterback’s day.
I know I should have started Jared Goff over Matthew Stafford. Occasionally I’ll talk a little about myself, but ultimately this is a column about football, not me. This year, however, I thought I’d give a little more insight into my own fantasy team; after all, I spend so much time talking about how your team should be. In my PPR league, Stafford racked up 8 measly points to Goff’s 17.2. As big of a Goff supporter I am, I’ve also always felt the Jets’ defense was underrated. Clearly, they have the skill to dominate talented offenses. As for the Raiders’ defense, well, I’m not too confident about them. Looking at a quarterback’s matchup is so important and while Stafford drastically underwhelmed, I should have considered these matchups a little more. Let this be a lesson to acknowledge your errors and prevent them from happening again.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know how on Earth anyone can assess these teams yet. It’s been one week. The rest of the NFL season will not be forecasted based off the performances of Week 1. Need I remind you that the Steelers beat the Browns by just three to open last season? The two teams had very, very different seasons. The point is, now is not the time to jump to conclusions. The likelihood that the Steelers and Browns will have similar seasons is still, in my opinion, relatively low. It’s nearly impossible to predict an entire season based off one game, which is why I found it extremely hard to predict the playoff field below. It’s interesting because I can make a solid case for about 8-9 teams per conference to make the playoffs, whereas there’s only a couple teams I have little confidence in. Of course, I’ll update my predictions midseason, but I’ll still probably be wrong.
I don’t know if Jameis Winston will win his job back. Exhibit A: Ryan Fitzpatrick’s dominant performance against a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Exhibit B: Winston’s off-field issues. Those two things alone should spell trouble for the former first-overall pick. The real question that needs to be answered, though, is whether Winston has lived up to his franchise potential.
His QBR has steadily digressed over his first three seasons. Last year, his QBR was 18th in the league, which is below average. It seems like his entire NFL career has been riddled with distractions and apologies, too. A potential franchise quarterback is the last person that should be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. As the cherry on top, head coach Dirk Koetter was openly non-committal about anointing Winston as the starter upon his Week 4 return. If the Bucs keep winning, then why fix it if it’s not broke? If Winston ever wants to meet the high expectations placed on him by the front office, he’ll have lots of work to do to regain that trust.
I don’t know why players wear jewelry during games. It’s understandable that players want to flaunt the bling that they worked so hard for, but why risk breaking that in a game? It seems incredibly stupid to spend thousands of dollars on something nice only to risk damaging it in a sports game, let alone a physical sport like football. Earrings I can understand, though I feel they could easily get knocked out. Chains are just illogical because again, there is a high chance of them ripping off or being ripped off. Just ask Michael Crabtree.
The reason I brought up this rant is because I saw not one, but two players wearing watches last weekend. For starters, it seems easy for the face of the watch to crack, especially under a pile of grown men. Second, and less likely, let’s say two players get in a fight and one takes off their helmet. One whack to the side of the head and that white jersey gets stained red. I get it, players want to show they have swagger. That’s great and all, but there other ways to do it then by risking a costly investment such as a gold chain or diamond earring.
I don’t know why NBC added the ‘Green Zone’. For those who have missed any of the NBC broadcasts, they’ve added a green box on third downs to indicate how far a team has to get to reach a first down. On one hand, it clearly defines the area between the line of scrimmage and the first down marker. But that’s what the yellow line is for. Personally though, the green box isn’t that distracting; it’s not like it’s blue or orange. However, NBC really didn’t have to go and add another dimension to the broadcast. As I said with the Buccaneers’ dilemma, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The fact that it only appears on third downs is especially annoying. I’m a big fan of NBC’s broadcasts, but this is just a little over the top.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Which was the last team to win the first and the last game of a 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, or any other questions that I come up with or I am given.
Yesterday, I was asked about a trade offer in a PPR league. The trade would involve giving up Jordan Howard and George Kittle for Jarvis Landry and Chris Thompson. As I considered this, I thought it would be best to see how the four players performed on Sunday, as well as list potential pros and cons of their fantasy impacts this year:
Howard: 15 rushes for 82 yards, 5 catches for 25 yards on 5 targets, 15.7 points on 71% of team’s snaps. Pros – Starting RB on rising offense, improved receiving ability, RB1 potential. Cons – Tarik Cohen’s presence, still some uncertainty about his receiving consistency
Kittle: 5 catches for 90 yards on 9 targets, 14 points on 77.3% of team’s snaps. Pros – I personally think he’s much more talented than given credit for, blocks very well (so sees more snaps), developed good chemistry with quarterback. Cons – Tight ends see little value, has dealt with injuries before.
Landry: 7 catches for 106 yards, 15 targets, 17.6 points on 91% of team’s snaps. Pros – Could stay ultra-involved in the offense, versatile, proven reliability. Cons – Injury history, attitude issues could lead to less involvement or repercussions, uncertain offense, horrendous play-calling.
Thompson: 5 rushes for 65 yards, 6 catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on 7 targets, 24.8 points on 41.8% of team’s snaps. Pros – Proven receiver, one true receiving back in Redskins’ offense. Cons – Adrian Peterson’s presence, injury history, won’t see field much due to one-dimensional role.
Some context before I give my opinion: The team giving up Howard/Kittle already has Travis Kelce but feels it needs a starting receiver. I’m really not big on trading a week into the season, however, I might need to reconsider my stance for this. Thompson is used like a wide receiver and led the offense in targets on Sunday. His situation hasn’t really changed since last year so by looking at his average targets per game before he got hurt, I saw that Thompson’s targets were on par with elite fantasy options like Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara. Landry satisfies the wide receiver need, and while Kittle and Howard both have big upside, it’s Thompson’s value that really makes me lean towards pulling the trigger on this deal.
Every week, I’ll be scouting a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, I’ll be highlighting DeAndre Baker.
If you really know me, you know about my love for the NFL Draft. It’s my favorite sports event of the year, despite no actual sports. That’s why I thought I’d get a head start on player analysis, though my opinions and reports are nothing concrete. What better way to start off my ‘Draft Spotlight’ then with a premier cornerback who just notched six tackles and a 56-yard pick? The Georgia cornerback has experience in multiple positions throughout the secondary and has played in all types of coverages. His physicality allows him to excel in press coverage despite being slightly undersized at 5-11, 185 pounds. Baker’s length helps make up for any potential size disadvantages. His mental processing is top-notch and he seems to always have a good feel for the space around him.
Anything can change from now until May, so to say that Baker will be a high-pick is premature. Besides, he is far from a perfect prospect. In 2017, he struggled against the deep-ball, leaving some to question his downfield coverage and overall speed. Baker isn’t the most flexible guy, either, and has been inconsistent when trying to mirror receivers. Sometimes he’ll get too eager and over-pursue an open player. His athleticism is so-so, which might ultimately limit his upside. However, the mental traits and alpha-dog mentality are all there for Baker to make a huge impact for the Bulldogs, and one day an NFL team. As it stands, Baker is still one of the top cornerback prospects in the NFL Draft.
Early Projection: First Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Chris Godwin
If you’re a regular of this column, then you’ll know I place a premium on two things: catching the ball on the initial contact and pure hands-only grabs. This week, no catches completely fulfilled either criteria yet Godwin’s was pretty close. This acrobatic, one-armed catch (he snagged it with one hand but reeled it into his arm, hence he used an arm and not just his hand) was pretty awesome. He showed great athleticism to snag the ball and great control to maintain the catch while falling hard to the ground. Spoiler alert: Look out for more of Godwin in Week Two.
Uniform of the Week: Tennessee Titans
A quick recap for you. When the Titans unveiled their new uniforms, I was neutral. Now, I’m deeming their Sunday threads the cleanest of Week 1 (that is, when they were actually playing). I liked how the colors were toned down from helmet (navy) to jersey (light blue) to pants (white). The navy numbers were accented beautifully by the silver-chrome outlining. Also, the navy helmets are extremely sharp.
Mr. Bummer: Marquise Goodwin
I really wanted to put the Saints here as I started their defense this week and have high expectations for them (which I’ll get to later). However, Goodwin dropped a whopping zero points this week. In his defense, he was injured, but that’s why he bummed me out. I was so vocal about my love for Goodwin that I overlooked his extensive injury history. If Week 1 was any indication, I could be very wrong about Goodwin this year.
The Blunder Ball: Solomon Thomas
I could have gone so, so many different ways with this award. The roughing the passer penalty by Clay Matthews, Kyle Fuller’s dropped interception that might have sealed a victory, Jordan Reed’s strange stretching methods, etc. I settled on a play everyone, and I mean everyone, knew was coming. The Vikings were up by eight with 2:54 left and were not going to run a play. Someone forgot to tell Solomon Thomas, whose only job was to not move. The Vikings got a new set of downs and won the game, rather than giving the 49ers the ball and more time to potentially score.
This is the first non-weekly award in here, though for Williams’ sake, this isn’t one he’d want to put in his trophy closet. I’ve said this so, so many times before: if it hits you in the hands, you should have caught it. As a former receiver, I’ve been a victim of the sun in my face. I’ve also dropped balls. But Williams’ one job as a professional wide receiver is to catch. Especially when you’re that wide open! I’m not sure what had more space: the area between his hands or the area between him and the last defender.
The Michael Jordan Award: Aaron Rodgers
And you thought I wouldn’t talk about Rodgers? How could I not after that legendary performance? I’m not saying either player is the GOAT (though strong cases can be made for both) but I am saying Rodgers might have just had his ‘flu game.’ Jordan’s spectacular performance with the flu will go down in sports history as an all-timer, and Rodgers’ ability to play with what was reportedly a partially torn ACL while leading the Packers to their largest fourth quarter comeback in 100 years is nothing short of spectacular. Though that dropped interception certainly helped.
The Red Carpet Award: Khalil Mack
Talk about a premiere. The superstar edge rusher tore up Lambeau Field in his first game as a Chicago Bear with a sack, strip sack and a pick six. That’s gotta be some sort of award, right? A real one, not one of these goofy ones I dream up in my bed at night. Wait, there IS an award for that: Defensive Player of the Week. Sorry Oakland.
The Participation Trophy: Ben Roethlisberger
This is that award you got as a kid that was the equivalent to “Hey, at least you tried.” Maybe Big Ben would have gotten a better, bigger recognition if he had stayed on his feet in the end.
Trivia Answer: New England Patriots
The Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2004, therefore they were slotted to play the first game of the 2004-2005 season, which they won. New England would go on to win Super Bowl XXXIX later that season.
ONE LAST THING
Last week I helped gather twelve other Armchair staffers to make their predictions for the season and I promised I’d explain my thinking this week. I’m a man of my word, after all, so here was my thinking for each of the categories. A quick reminder: I made these before Week 1, and while I’d like to reconsider a few picks, one week does not define an entire season so I’ll stick with my original opinions.
MVP: Jared Goff
I swear I was this close to putting Rodgers’ name here. That’d be too easy though, so for the sake of being different and to stick to my admiration of Goff, I slotted his name here. He’s a starting quarterback on the league’s best offense and has a roster that’s only improved since last year’s playoff berth. Also, the MVP trend has been quarterbacks on the best team. This year, I think that team can be the Rams, especially with a rising young quarterback (whom I’ve loved for some time).
Offensive Player of the Year: Alvin Kamara
If Sunday was any indication, Kamara is in line to have a spectacular season. He’s just as lethal in the passing game as he is in the running game and looks to be featured heavily in a high-powered offense all season long.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa
Young edge-rushers have dominated this award lately and I just think it’s Bosa’s time to shine. An improved defense should help alleviate some of the pressure on Bosa to succeed, yet his rare talent should be enough to wreak havoc.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley
I’ve loved Barkley since 2016 and nothing is changing now. He’s too dynamic of a player to not put here. I can’t see any other rookie having as much an impact as the second overall pick will have.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Harold Landry
Probably the biggest shocker of my picks, in my opinion, because Landry wasn’t even a first-round pick. If Landry keeps up his dominant preseason performance while staying healthy, this award might not be much of a surprise in a couple months.
Coach of the Year: Bill O’Brien
I am a big believer in the Texans this year. Just look at how well they did before Watson went down last season. Matt Nagy was given consideration here, too, but I think the Texans just got much better over the offseason.
Sleeper Team: Miami Dolphins
Call me a homer. Call me biased. But I truly feel like America has written off my Dolphins. Yes, it is a make-or-break year for the Fins (Phins?), but coach Adam Gase finally has the roster he wants. Oh, and the eternally-underrated Ryan Tannehill is healthy again.
Bust Team: Philadelphia Eagles
This is more than just a Super Bowl curse, as no team has won back-to-back titles in thirteen years. The Eagles’ suffered a massive ‘brain drain’ as numerous coaching masterminds jettisoned elsewhere. I’ve also just never loved the offensive talent they have.
Worst Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I was teetering between the Bills and the Bucs, and while I think the Bills right now are the worst team (even before their Sunday Spanking), it’s usually never the team we think it is that holds the first pick in May. This choice rides more on my lack of confidence in Winston and the coaching staff, though their 48-40 victory over New Orleans was a huge eye-opener.
Five-Word Bold Prediction: AFC South becomes best division
It seems like each team has reasons for optimism this season. The Colts got a new coaching staff and their star quarterback back. The Texans also got their quarterback back as well as added defensive help. The Titans are a young team with multiple younger guys stepping up. The Jaguars are essentially the same team that reached the Conference Championship a few short months ago. I could be incredibly wrong here, but hey, that’s why the word ‘bold’ is included.
- Rams 2. Saints 3. Vikings 4. Giants 5. Packers 6. Bears
My two hardest choices were picking the five and six seeds for each conference. In the end, I decided to stick by my other predictions when slotting teams like the Dolphins and Bears in here. However, the one pick that I have the most reluctance about is declaring the Giants the future NFC East champions. I just can’t force myself to pick a back-to-back winner of the division (hasn’t happened since the Eagles did it from 2001-2004), though I guess I can see Philadelphia winning it with a relatively low yet winning record such as 10-6 or 9-7. I’m sure I’ll hear about this choice from my department head, who is also a diehard Eagles fan.
I feel like I’ve been clear about my disdain for the Bills and Bucs respective seasons. The Cardinals just looked awful on Sunday and seem to be in a huge rebuild mode too. Same can be said with the Colts, though a healthy Andrew Luck will likely make this prediction look even worse. As for the Browns, well, they’re coached by Hue Jackson.
Super Bowl: Saints def. Steelers 34-28
After Week 1’s performances, I am a little nervous about picking these two teams. I also considered the Chiefs, Texans, and Vikings, as well as your usual top tier teams. Instead, I went with high-powered offenses headlined by offensive superstars and Hall of Fame quarterbacks. I was expecting their defenses to take the next step, but again, Sunday was not pretty for either units. I can’t wait to see how the next few months unfold. Take a seat everyone, because this NFL season looks to be one hell of a ride.
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