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.
There was a lot to be thankful for over this past week of football, so it sucks that there’s only five more weeks of regular season action. As the season sadly dwindles down, there is still so much we should appreciate, like this week’s edition of the ‘Deep Route Football Notebook’.
This week, I have some BIG personal news to share, but first you’ll have to see why the NFL finally made a good decision, read my thoughts on the Reuben Foster controversy, see who the most underrated player of this generation is, get some valuable postseason fantasy advice, find out my Week 12 Awards, and so much more…
THINGS I KNOW
I know the three-game Thanksgiving slate is phenomenal. It’s equivalent to the Christmas slate in the NBA. What better way to kick back and enjoy the holidays with your family than by watching three football games while enjoying a plate of pumpkin pie? You can’t forget about the three F’s: Family, Food, and Football. (It’s something like that, right?) Either way, I thought I’d show some love to one of the best days of the football season and maybe even all of sports, excluding the postseason.
Not only is it awesome to have constant football throughout the day, but you can get comfortable watching one game rather than jumping around and seeing only a little bit of a few games. A true American holiday, Thanksgiving has become synonymous with football and is a superb time to enjoy yourself (whether with others or by yourself) while taking in the action and thrills of modern football. I’m very thankful for that.
I know the Bears are set for long-term success. Aside from a five-game win streak, the Bears have something few teams have: a very good defense. Chicago has the second-best defense in football that also leads the league in takeaways. This makes them so dangerous because their fifth-ranked offense has already shown it can be great too. As good as this team is now, just imagine where they’ll be in a year or a two.
The Bears’ core players are mostly young and in their prime years. For example, QB Mitchell Trubisky is 24 and superstar/alien Khalil Mack is 27. Chicago has shown that when they get hot, they can be virtually unstoppable. Even without Trubisky, the Bears marched into Detroit and won a prime time game. With an offensive-minded Coach of the Year candidate in Matt Nagy and one of the league’s best defenses, the Bears might be the most promising yet well-rounded team in the NFL. Don’t be surprised if Chicago quickly becomes a yearly contender.
I know the Colts are only going to get better. Like the Bears, the Colts have also enjoyed five consecutive victories. The egregious days of the Ryan Grigson era are over and new GM (and one of my personal favorites) Chris Ballard has sped up the franchise’s rebuild. Instead, the Colts are vying for a playoff berth and Andrew Luck has never looked better. The hopes for Indianapolis aren’t as high as Chicago’s this year, but fans might have more to be excited about next season and beyond.
Admittedly, the Colts’ roster doesn’t look fantastic on paper yet, but that could easily change after this offseason. The Colts’ currently have three picks in the first two rounds and will have over $50 million in cap space to work with, which is the second-most cap space in the NFL. Indianapolis shocked many people with their success this season, but it’s the assets they have that can ultimately take this team from playoff-caliber to championship-caliber.
I know the Bills’ defense keeps them from being irrelevant. If you told me in August that the Bills would beat the Jaguars, I’d ask why you were talking about the local YMCA kids’ leagues. What Buffalo did against a formerly-elite defense on Sunday was downright astonishing. For just the second time all season (they scorched the Vikings in Minnesota 27-6 in Week 3), the Bills’ offense looked good. Like, really good. It’s a shame the offense hasn’t been like that for the other games prior because the defense has been pretty darn good as well. I’d go as far as to say if the Bills’ offense even cracked the top 20, they’d be a playoff contender just like last season.
People seem to forget that the Bills have let up the second-fewest yards all year and that a good portion of the points scored against them is from offensive turnovers. The Bills have also allowed the second-fewest passing touchdowns and opposing teams average just five yards a play, which is the third-lowest rate in football. Furthermore, if this team could establish an offense that’s at least average instead of 31st, they’d be a team to take seriously.
I know the NFL finally got something so, so right. When the league decided to loosen up on celebrations, watching games became much more rewarding. It allowed players to express their elation in new, creative ways. Most importantly, it provided new entertainment for fans too.
There have been some awesome celebrations this season. My favorite from this past week has to be the Vikings’ limbo act, by the way. However, the real reason this was such a seismic victory for the NFL is because in a time when the league is facing more scrutiny than ever, the ‘No Fun League’ showed that it can bypass its normally stern stances in favor of something enjoyable. Celebrations are a win for everyone involved, and like I said a couple weeks ago, shame on anyone who disapproves of them.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know what will happen with Reuben Foster. As with the hottest topics in football, I figured I’d give my two cents about this one. Foster is a talented player, there’s no denying it. His off-field issues were just too severe for him to be given another chance by the 49ers. When the Redskins scooped up the former first-round pick, they rightfully made it clear that Foster is on a short leash and not guaranteed a roster spot yet. It’s sad how a player considered to be one of the best in the 2017 Draft couldn’t get a grip on life, but this incident ironically paints a clearer picture of the uncertainty of drafting.
Teams pool so much of their resources into countless players in an attempt to predict whether the players will turn out to be good or not, and yet something completely out of a team’s control can erase all the hard-work and efforts spent towards the player. In this situation, John Lynch’s first draft as the 49ers’ GM is quickly turning into a dud while Foster faces the possibility of never playing a down in the NFL again.
I don’t know what Leonard Fournette was thinking. Getting into a brawl is never a good move in the NFL. Running all the way from your bench across the field to the opposing end-zone just to punch an opponent? That has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve seen all year. It’s so dumb that Fournette isn’t getting a Blunder Ball; he’s getting a whole section! Fortunately, Fournette was ejected and suspended a game. He apologized for his actions afterwards but the damage has been done.
That Bills game was so crucial to the Jaguars’ now-extinct playoff hopes. I don’t think firing their offensive coordinator and benching Blake Bortles will lead to a turnaround, either. Barring they win out, Jacksonville will miss the postseason. Fournette’s boneheaded mistake was simply a sample of what has been a disastrous season for ‘Sacksonville’.
I don’t know if I agree with Baker Mayfield’s logic. I understand that Mayfield is angry at his former head coach Hue Jackson for jettisoning to the Bengals two weeks after the Browns canned him as their head coach. What I don’t understand is why Mayfield doesn’t get that the move was just business. Jackson has no loyalty to the Browns anymore so why should he care if he joins a rival coaching staff? Might I add that Jackson was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015 and is very close with Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis. If anyone was going to open up their arms to Jackson, it’s Lewis.
If I were Mayfield, I’d be mad because Jackson failed him as a coach. Look at how well Mayfield has done since he shed Jackson’s cold, hard grasp. He’s had the second-highest passer rating and tossed one interception to nine touchdowns. Under Jackson, Mayfield threw six picks and eight touchdowns. Clearly, firing Jackson was an amazing move and Mayfield should be happy he’s no longer working with him. The rookie should at least be justified in his anger though.
I don’t know how Philip Rivers is still underrated. When I say he’s underrated, I don’t mean nobody knows who he is because Rivers is hands down a top-ten quarterback. What I mean is that Phillip Rivers should be a household name. Most non-football fans could probably say they know who Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger is, but they probably couldn’t tell you who Rivers is. I say this because unlike Rivers, Manning and Roethlisberger have won awards and Super Bowls since all three were selected in the 2004 Draft.
Per the NFL Media Research Department, Rivers has the most wins, completions, pass TDs, and pass yards among quarterbacks to have never reached the Super Bowl. It’s not like Rivers isn’t playing well, either. He’s a top-five quarterback right now and a sleeper MVP candidate for the division-leading Chargers. It’s time that America got familiar with Rivers the same way almost everyone knows his 2004 Draft colleagues.
I don’t know if the Lions made the right move trading Golden Tate. Obviously, anything can happen as this trade went down almost a month ago. Maybe the Lions’ passing game finds some new footing, though with Marvin Jones’ season over, I highly doubt it. Since the deal, the Lions’ passing game has taken a significant dip without Tate. In the four games prior to Tate’s trade, Matthew Stafford tossed eight touchdowns and one pick. In the four games after Tate was shipped to Philadelphia, Stafford has three touchdowns and four picks.
This isn’t to say Tate’s departure is all to blame, but his skill-set did open up the offense. Tate was as dangerous vertically in open space and Detroit has failed to fill his void since he left. As for Tate, it remains to be seen if this is simply a down-year for him or he couldn’t adapt to two new, separate systems. While Tate could adjust to the Eagles’ offense in time for the playoffs, this deal has been a bust so far for all parties involved.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Which two QBs have faced each other the most times in NFL history? (Hint: They’ve played each other recently.)
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.
For most fantasy leagues (it should be all), the playoffs have arrived. With them should come a slight change in approach to your fantasy teams. I listed those adjustments here:
- Look at a player’s remaining schedule. At this stage in the season, strength of schedule becomes more important than ever. Planning ahead is so crucial. For example, if you know your QB has a bad matchup in two weeks, consider stashing a QB on your bench who will have a favorable matchup and can fill in for your main guy.
- Think more on a week-to-week basis. Fantasy football is a weekly game and that is especially true in the playoffs. Every player on your team should either be a) a potential starter or b) be a handcuff. If you know you’ll never start a player on your bench, lose him in favor of a guy who you could maybe start down the road.
- Play some defense. If there’s a good player available on the market, consider signing him so your opponents don’t. This is a trick I’ve used minimally and shouldn’t be your top priority, but it can be effective if done right. Also, only do this if you have an open roster spot, a guy who you are ready to drop, or don’t have any current or future needs for your team.
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, Armchair Scout Rob Paul subs in and highlights Dwayne Haskins.
As the 2019 NFL Draft season inches closer, it’s become more obvious which NFL teams are QB-needy. Unfortunately for those teams, this year’s quarterback class is nowhere near last year’s and it’s still very much up in the air. Reports are Oregon QB Justin Herbert wants to return for his Senior season, Missouri’s Drew Lock and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham are both very much not it, and that leaves Duke QB Daniel Jones and Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins as potential first-round passers. Haskins has had some highs this season for the Buckeyes and reportedly plans on declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft. If that happens, there’s a better chance than not that he’ll be a top 10 pick in a quarterback desperate league.
Haskins isn’t the classic Ohio State quarterback who moves well and can’t pass a lick. In fact he’s the opposite. The Buckeyes have had their best passing attack in decades thanks to Haskins. He has the cannon arm to push the ball downfield and accuracy to create big plays. The best part of Haskins game is how quickly he processes. A lot of college quarterbacks struggle with getting through their progressions at an adequate speed, but Haskins already does it an NFL-level. This puts him above the curve. What he does struggle with is pressure. When pressured, Haskins panics and he doesn’t have the pocket mobility to extend plays. In the right system, Haskins can make an immediate impact in the NFL thanks to his high IQ, arm, and decision making. There’s a good chance this is the 2019 NFL Draft’s QB1, when it’s all said and done. Early Projection: Top Ten
The ‘Hands’ Award: Kalija Lipscomb
I’m so glad I started giving this award to college players because this one-handed catch over a defender is outrageous. To make it even more difficult, Lipscomb had to pull this down while rotating his body and staying in bounds. Absurd.
Uniform of the Week: Los Angeles Chargers
As the season winds down, teams are starting to whip out their alternate uniforms. The Chargers’ blue Color Rush threads are among the nicest in the NFL. I’m a fan of any Chargers’ uniform as the electric blue and yellow look great with basically anything. In the case of this uniform, the yellow numbers pop on the royal blue while the yellow face-mask is a surprisingly decent touch.
Weekly Warrior: Austin Ekeler
This was formerly called “Mr. Bummer,” which sounds like a boring professor on a Disney Channel show. I realized I was being unnecessarily negative with the ‘award’ and didn’t feel like smack-talking a player every week. Instead, I thought I’d reverse course and spread some positivity. I’ll now be highlighting the guy who surprised everyone with a great performance. This week, the inaugural ‘Weekly Warrior’ is Ekeler, who dropped a 26.3-point fantasy performance. Spoiler alert: If Ekeler isn’t already rostered in your league, snatch him up now.
The Blunder Ball: This Ref
Josh Rosen said it best with this tweet about a ref hitting him with a flag during a play. Luckily for the ref, the play was a dud. How you hit a player with a flag is beyond me and frankly, kind of ridiculous. I guess there’s a reason why they’re wearing stripes and not a jersey and pads.
The Human Hawk: Eddie Jackson
More specifically, a ballhawk. After a pick-six marked his fifth-career defensive touchdown, Jackson became the leader in defensive touchdowns over the past four seasons. Here’s the twist: this is only Jackson’s second season.
Olympic Gymnast Award: Chris Carson
Like parents of a gymnast, the entire Seahawks’ sideline probably held their breath when the oft-injured Carson flipped through the air after a failed hurdle. I’ll give him an eight for somehow sticking the landing, but his form could use some work.
Allen Iverson Award: Tyler Lockett
Let’s go with another Seahawks player. Do I really have to say why Lockett gets this award? I think a clip of his touchdown celebration speaks for itself, considering it’s a recreation of Iverson’s greatest moment.
Question: Which two QBs have faced each other the most times in NFL history? (Hint: They’re both playing right now.)
Since Ryan entered the league in 2008, the duo have met 21 times. In fact, the only year the two haven’t faced each other twice was in 2009 when Ryan was hurt and missed a game. As Brees nears 40, I’d say he has one more season before we start wondering if this streak will continue.
ONE LAST THING
I have some big news to share, but first I realized I missed my opportunity to express gratitude last week, so I figured I’d do it now. I am so thankful for all of you who read this column and I especially appreciate it when you tell me you’ve read it. I took this job initially because I wanted to take up some writing and figured I could use this as a way to clear the thoughts from my football-centric brain.
Anyways, I am beyond excited to announce that I will be making a live radio appearance on Monday, December 3rd at 8:00 PM with Bruce Silverman on Silverman on Sports. I’ll be discussing my column as well as everything happening in the world of football. Who knows, I might even give a sneak preview of my Week 13 column too. You can listen to it at www.sofloradio.com or www.silvermanonsports.com. I am so excited for this and if you like reading these articles, you should definitely tune in for the 25-30 minutes I’m on the air for.
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