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.
Ah, the beginning of the end is finally here. One part of me is tremendously sad that 20 teams are no longer playing football games, while the other part can’t wait to dive into the playoffs and all the drama that awaits in the coming weeks.
This week, I have so much to say that I shortened each section to accommodate your shortened attention spans. Seriously though, it’s a lot more information this week presented as a little less. Don’t know what I mean? Keep reading to see who should win all the major awards, the best coaches available on the market, a refreshed mini mock draft, and so much more…
THINGS I KNOW
I know Andrew Luck should be the Comeback Player of the Year. It’s a close one between Luck and J.J. Watt. Prior to 2018, Watt last played a full season in 2015, yet finished second in the league with sacks and tied for first in forced fumbles this year. There’s no questioning Watt’s impact on Houston’s defense, but Luck’s impact is greater simply because he’s a quarterback. Not many people expected the Colts to be even close to viable this year. Luck’s 39 touchdown passes (second-most in the league) were a huge part of the Colts’ breakout campaign. As for injuries, this was Luck’s first full season since 2014, when he was an MVP candidate. This should be Luck’s award and had the Colts won more games earlier in the season, Luck might’ve had a shot at the MVP, too.
I know Darius Leonard should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. This wasn’t isn’t up for much debate to me, though Derwin James and Leighton Vander Esch will get serious consideration. The first-round picks were studs on their respective teams, and their versatility showed as they made plays all over the field. However, the nod has to go to Leonard for this award. He leads the NFL in tackles despite missing Week Five. Leonard was a key part of a revitalized Colts’ defense and his impact could be seen at all levels of the Indianapolis defense. Simply put, no defensive rookie did more than Leonard did this year, so he stands tall among a pack of budding defensive stars from the 2018 NFL Draft.
I know Aaron Donald will be the Defensive Player of the Year. This one might be the easiest award to predict. Donald had a whopping 20.5 sacks this season, just two shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record. On top of that, 16.5 of those came in the last ten games. Donald is an absolute wrecking ball and might be the most important defender in football. There’s really nothing else to say about Donald, who is in line to win his second-straight Defensive Player of the Year. Khalil Mack and J.J. Watt should be runner-ups, with younger guys like Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett all trending toward an award in the future.
I know the Executive of the Year should be Chris Ballard. What a year for the Colts’ organization. Did you know the Colts weren’t supposed to be good this year? (Sensing the sarcasm?) At this point, the other awards should be sufficient enough support for Ballard’s case. Since taking over the job two offseasons ago, Ballard helped the Colts reach their first playoff birth since 2014. On top of that, Ballard has three potential award winners on his payroll. I wouldn’t disagree if the Bears’ Ryan Pace or the Rams’ Les Snead got votes, either. Both have done a lot of roster reconstruction en route to their respective division titles. Nonetheless, Ballard had a higher wall to climb and his patience has paid off thus far in turning around a franchise that many had written off this year.
I know more teams have a general manager problem than a head coach problem. As of Monday morning (a.k.a Black Monday), there were eight job openings. Aside from Adam Gase’s firing (which I’ll get to in a little bit) only first-year coach Steve Wilks’ firing from Arizona gave me a little pause, and that’s only because he’s a great guy who was thrust into a bad situation. All the other firings were correct, in my opinion. If I were Cardinals’ Owner Michael Bidwell or Buccaneers Owner Malcolm Glazer, I would have also made front office changes.
Teams will likely have to get creative with their searches like the Raiders did in hiring draft analyst Mike Mayock as their general manager. As for head coaches, these are my top options who aren’t currently a head coach: Chiefs’ Special Teams Coach Dave Toub, Patriots’ Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, former Packers’ Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Saints’ Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael, and Bears’ Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio.
I know if I’m Teddy Bridgewater, I’m staying in New Orleans. I must be crazy to tell a guy to potentially leave $20 million on the table. Teams will be clamoring at the door for a young, talented quarterback like Bridgewater, mainly because the options available at the position are not good at all right now. I’ve talked about the lack of quarterbacks this offseason so often that there’s no need to head down that path again. Instead, let me tell you what Bridgewater could gain by staying in New Orleans.
A top notch education in football among the NFL’s best, a slew of talented players to work with, and eventually that rich contract he surely covets. Besides, Drew Brees likely has one or two good seasons left in him before Bridgewater can take over as the starter. Additionally, the Saints didn’t trade a third-round pick just to let him walk four months later. By staying in New Orleans, Bridgewater puts himself in the best possible situation in a year from now rather than joining a subpar roster like Tampa Bay or Miami.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know who will win MVP. The favorites are essentially Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees, with Philip Rivers and Aaron Donald each having compelling cases as well. My vote is for Mahomes, but I don’t know if he’ll get it. Brees’ argument, aside from being the quarterback of the number one team in football, is breaking multiple passing records this season. He is now the all-time leader in passing yards and passes completed while he’s one spot behind first for career passing touchdowns. Despite his achievements, it should be noted that Brees has never won MVP. I feel like that sentiment could sway some voters in Brees’ favor.
Personally, I’m tabbing Mahomes as the 2018 NFL MVP. I could drag on and on about his colossal year, headlined by 50 passing touchdowns (tied for second-most ever in a season) and a likely Offensive Player of the Year award. At the end of the day, Mahomes gets the nod over Brees because if you remove Mahomes and Brees from their respective teams, the Chiefs would suffer more than the Saints would. The Saints have won when Brees’ stats were low and have a better supporting cast than the Chiefs have. The Chiefs rely on Mahomes more than ever since the Kareem Hunt incident, and he’s delivered. I’d be slightly shocked if Mahomes doesn’t win MVP, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if a legend like Brees gets it.
I don’t know who will win Offensive Rookie of the Year. I’ve been in Saquon Barkley’s corner for this award all year. The second-overall pick has dominated in every way possible in his inaugural campaign. His numbers speak for themselves: second in rushing yards, fifth in rushing touchdowns, fourth in receiving yards among running backs, third in total touchdowns, and first in yards from scrimmage. Barkley even became the third rookie ever to pass 2,000 yards from scrimmage, joining Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. Despite his unreal stats, I think Baker Mayfield has a more compelling case.
The first-overall pick isn’t a league leader in any stats, but that could be due to Hue Jackson’s cold, hard grasp on Mayfield until Jackson was fired after Week Eight. In the time following Jackson’s removal, Mayfield has nearly doubled his touchdowns-per-game and has essentially rejuvenated a lifeless Cleveland franchise. As great as Barkley was, Mayfield’s efficiency and impact on the team makes him my Offensive Rookie of the Year. If Barkley gets it, I wouldn’t be upset either, especially after this superhuman goal-line leap on Sunday.
I don’t know who will win Coach of the Year. For me, it really comes down to Matt Nagy (Bears), Frank Reich (Colts), and my preseason pick, Bill O’Brien (Texans). A solid case could be made for any of them. Nagy and Reich both took over franchises that were terrible in recent seasons and made them playoff contenders, whereas O’Brien recovered from a ghastly 4-12 record in 2017. However, O’Brien’s team had major injury issues so I’d say a healthy Deshaun Watson certainly helped the Texans’ turnaround.
That boils it down to Nagy and Reich. Nagy was a popular hire that convinced some people (myself included) that the Bears would be a sleeper team. Reich was the Colts’ second choice after Josh McDaniels, who bailed on Indianapolis after accepting their head coaching offer. Reich was an afterthought who slipped through the cracks, yet his team is in the playoffs. Far less people believed in the Colts than the Bears this year, so that’s why I’d give Reich the edge over Nagy and O’Brien.
I don’t know who will win the Super Bowl. The only reason I say this is because I have never been certain about it. Before the season, I said the Saints would beat the Steelers. Well, the Steelers aren’t in the playoffs. I’m still sticking with New Orleans as the NFC favorite and likely Super Bowl champ, but I still have no idea about who will come out of the AFC. I’ve been riding the Chargers’ coattails the past couple weeks but they’ll be facing the Ravens in Baltimore. The Chargers’ only loss in the past six games was to the Ravens at home. If any team can beat Los Angeles in the AFC, it’s likely Baltimore. Of course, ruling out the Patriots would be a sin as they’re always a legitimate threat. Since 2003, either Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Ben Roethlisberger have played in the Super Bowl, excluding 2013 when Joe Flacco helped the Ravens get there. With history in mind, I’ll say the Saints (the best team) will defeat the Patriots (because why not?) in Super Bowl LIII.
I don’t know what’s next for the Dolphins. I’ve given my thoughts on the Dolphins’ situation before and it looks like Owner Stephen Ross will finally not settle for average. I’m also hearing multiple players spoke out against Gase privately, which makes the move look more encouraging. Here’s the issue I have with the firing Gase: Who will the Dolphins replace him with? As I’ve said before, the options for head coaches are pretty uninspiring, though that hasn’t stopped teams before from finding gems (like Frank Reich or Sean McVay). Want proof? Out of all the head coaches hired in 2016, only Doug Peterson remains, and he won a Super Bowl. Everyone wants their team to find the next great, young coach (a la Sean McVay) or poach a well-known head coach (a la John Harbaugh). That isn’t realistic, especially for all eight teams without a coach.
I don’t know if the referees have always been this bad. All it takes is one glance on social media during a primetime game to see how poorly the officiating has been. Notice I said ‘social media’ and not the actual games. Yes, watching a game is the most important part about determining whether referees were bad or not. Nowadays, it seems like the refs are being dragged more than ever for their horrendous officiating. I can think of a handful of recent examples, actually. It all equates to the overall image that the referees have become very, very bad in recent years.
I’m not sure that’s this case. I think the referees have always made mistakes. It’s social media that is bringing those miscues, even the smallest ones, to the forefront. More and more people have the ability to call out terrible officiating on a national platform, so obviously they’re going to take that opportunity. While 2018 certainly looked like a historically bad year for referees (of all sports, really), it only looks that way because their mistakes are in the spotlight more than ever.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: There were no teams that finished 8-8 this season. When was the last year this happened?
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.
What a year for fantasy football. I touched on it a little last week so I present to you my Ultimate Fantasy Notebook that I released before the season. Revisit where I was right and where I was wrong. Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter because I’ll have more fantasy thoughts next season. Until then, I recommend daily fantasy or playoff fantasy leagues to satisfy your desires. From personal experience, they can be quite fun and even monetarily rewarding.
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, I changed things up and decided to drop one final mini mock draft before the postseason.
- Cardinals: Nick Bosa, DE – With the top twenty picks set, it makes sense that the Cardinals take the best player available.
- 49ers: Quinnen Williams, DL – The 49ers have used lots of draft capital on defensive linemen in recent years, but Williams is too good to pass up.
- Jets: Jonah Williams, OT – The Jets badly need offensive help, so this pick is a no-brainer even if there might be better defenders available.
- Raiders: Josh Allen, EDGE – In case you haven’t heard, the Raiders need a pass rusher to replace a certain someone they traded away.
- Buccaneers: Ed Oliver, DL – While the Bucs need all the offensive line help they can get, their defense has been atrocious for too long.
- Giants: Dwayne Haskins, QB – It’s about time. The QB class might be loaded next year, but there’s no better time than the present to select the QB of the future.
- Jaguars: Drew Lock, QB – I don’t know how I feel about Lock yet, but I do know the Jaguars need a new quarterback immediately.
- Lions: Greedy Williams, CB – At eight, Williams might be a steal for a team whose defense disappointed this season.
- Bills: Kelvin Harmon, WR – I’m looking forward to scouting the wide receiver class, but until then, the WR-desperate Bills take my temporary WR1 here.
- Broncos: Byron Murphy, CB – Many people will peg the Broncos taking a QB here, but taking anyone else would be a reach as of now. Murphy could be the best cornerback in the draft.
The ‘Hands’ Award: Larry Fitzgerald
A week after praising the veteran WR, Fitzgerald goes out and does this effortless one-handed catch. The best part about it is he uses his fingers to pluck the ball over his shoulder. That’s the definition of a one-handed catch. With rumors of retirement, Fitzgerald’s catches like these will surely be missed, among other things.
Uniform of the Week: Los Angeles Rams
I’ve said enough about these uniforms over the course of the season. Here’s hoping that when the Rams finally change their uniforms in 2020 and keep these dimes around.
Weekly Warrior: Blake Jarwin
Looks like I started Jarwin a week too early. Heading into Sunday’s game, Jarwin had no touchdowns in his two-year career. By the end of the game, he had three of them. Two of his touchdowns came about seven minutes apart. Coupled with 119 receiving yards, it’s no wonder Jarwin’s name is on here.
The Blunder Ball: Jared Cook
I could go so, so many ways with this. Week 17 always brings out the worst in players, like Jarvis Landry dropping a wide-open touchdown or Jahleel Addae giving the ball right back to the Broncos. I’ll settle on Cook, who for some reason decided to take a play off and allowed the Chiefs to score on a pick-six. For a player who had a surprisingly good year, this was a major head-scratcher.
The Legacy Award: Kyle Williams
It’s that time of the year again when various veterans hang up their cleats. Williams isn’t the only one to do it, but the 13-year veteran had some heartwarming moments in the Bills’ slaughter of the Dolphins in the season finale. Not only did Williams have his first-career catch, but he walked around the entire perimeter of the field saying goodbye to fans. He’s a great guy who will undoubtedly be missed in that locker room.
The Los Angeles Rams Award: Denver Broncos
The Broncos thought it would be a good idea to have some sheep run around during a break in the first half. Of course, the sheep broke out and couldn’t be contained by the Broncos’ staffers. I thought it was fitting to name this award after the Rams because a) rams and sheep are distant relatives and b) the Broncos couldn’t contain the sheep as they ran all over them. It’s kind of like how the Rams couldn’t contain teams running all over them. After all, Los Angeles did surrender the most rushing yards per attempt this season.
The Ice Award: Kirk Cousins
You know what’s overrated? Ice. If you put it in anything other than water, you risk watering it down. Why put it in water, though, when that water is only good if it’s cold? Obviously, there are exceptions to this but if I’m ever asked if I want ice in my water at a restaurant, the answer will always be no. With that rant out of the way and this weird transition happening right now, you know what else is overrated? Kirk Cousins. A quarterback that has a career record of 4-25 against winning teams is pathetic. For a guy with the third-largest contract in football, he’s pretty overrated.
The Spiderman Award: DeAndre Hopkins
I’m not sure if Hopkins has spider DNA coursing through his hands because dropping no catchable balls amid 115 receptions is an outstanding season. I think it’s finally safe to say that Hopkins is the best wide receiever in the NFL.
Trivia Answer: 1987
Question: There were no teams that finished 8-8 this season. When was the last year this happened?
This might only interest me, but I noticed zero teams finished at an even .500 this season. I was shocked to learn it’s only happened one other time since the NFL expanded to 16 games in 1978. There’s been a couple years where one team reached 8-8, but that wasn’t enough. If only there weren’t ties in the NFL…
ONE LAST THING
With the regular season in the past, it’s time to focus on the thing that matters most: the playoffs. Just five teams returned to the playoffs this year, which only adds to the unpredictability that 2018 has brought. As of now, any team could take the cake; it’s such an uncertain playoff pool.
Of course, the postseason isn’t the only thing going on in the NFL. Below are some of my favorite storylines that you should keep an eye on in the next few weeks. In the meantime, enjoy the playoffs and have a happy new year! May your lives all be enriched by the sport of football like mine has.
The Coaching Carousel – Another year, another storm of coaching changes in the NFL. Eight teams need a coach, which makes for more interesting off-field action. I named my favorite candidates earlier.
The QB Carousel – Like the coaching carousel, but with QBs (duh). Numerous teams have decisions to make on their starting quarterbacks. And while they may not happen until after the season, those decisions tend to slip through the cracks beforehand.
Draft Declarations – The deadline to declare for the NFL Draft is January 14th. Many of the top potential prospects are underclassmen, including top QB Dwayne Haskins. Time will tell if he stays in school or not, as well as the rest of the 2019 NFL Draft prospects.
The Antonio Brown Saga – Is it time to trade the controversial star wide receiver? After reports that he missed Sunday’s crucial game due to a fight with Ben Roethlisberger, this is a story worth monitoring.
Gambling this season? Want to try it just to see what it feels like? Go to MyBookie.ag and use promo code ARMCHAIR25 at checkout. They will match your deposit dollar for dollar. Putting in $100? You’ll now have $200.