Motivational Mediocrity

The story line was set up perfect for the Buffalo Bills to be successful on Thursday Night Football. Only a half-game behind the New England Patriots, they needed a win to potentially be in first place among the division once again. All the cards were in Buffalo’s favor — they were going in to week 9 with a 5-2 record, and their five wins weren’t just push overs. In week one they already beat the New York Jets, who were their opponent once again in week 9. Since then have continue to win over teams such as the Broncos, who the week prior had completely destroyed the fierce Dallas Cowboys. They upset the Atlanta Falcons while simultaneously snapping the Falcon’s win streak. They climbed over a lack luster Tampa Bay Buccaneers team last second to beat them by a field goal, only to reply the following week by steam rolling over the Oakland Raiders. Buffalo’s only losses coming in to week 9 came from the Carolina Panthers, who have been pretty hit or miss this season, and a very confusing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. With their past set up, they came in to the Met Life stadium as the away team, and with one win already against the Jets. Considering that both teams are from New York, the travel time wasn’t a big deal for Buffalo. It was clear that the fans travel well with the team, as the cheers were loud and clear echoing throughout the stadium when the Bills took control of the ball. Their motivation and identity was at an all time high, as a win this week would have put them at 6-2; a record that the franchise have not seen since 1999. Despite having the stage set up for the Bills to take a hold of their own destiny, and  Las Vegas giving them a four and a half point advantage for odds, Buffalo does what they do best by embarrassing themselves.

Buffalo’s record still isn’t bad despite the loss. At 5-3 they’re surprisingly still one of the top teams with most wins in the NFL right now. It makes things still a little nerve-racking considering that the Bills currently have the longest playoff drought in the NFL, and unless they go on a massive win streak soon it might not be enough to even be a wild card team. New England is still predicted to win the AFC East once again, and Buffalo being in second place doesn’t seem entirely secure because they’re about on pace with the rest of the NFL this year. The 2017 season is both bizarre and exciting mended together, because there are just a few top teams who are on a clear pedestal above everyone else, and then a few bottom teams who are laughably dragging behind the crowd. Buffalo sits among the rest of the NFL — all wading in a pool of average mediocrity. Nobody in this purgatory is necessarily horrible nor great, and any time a rhythm begins to muster among these teams, the beat gets disrupted by a disappointing loss. Going by the current records, the teams who reign on top are the Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs, Eagles, and Vikings. To parody the top, there must be teams scavenging the bottom which include the Browns, 49ers, Colts, Giants, and Buccaneers. That means there are 22 other teams all floating right in the middle; clawing and crawling among each other to be a top contender only to get nowhere in the process.

There are still plenty of football left. Any one of the teams in the mediocre purgatory could finally catch that rhythm to fight their way across the rest and place themselves into a definite spot for the playoffs. Buffalo still has potential to be that team, but they will need to figure it out quick. The NFL is ruthless, and any other team can make a name for themselves to knock the Buffalo Bills out of the playoff contention. This should be a concern for them. It should be their motivation to create an identity and finally clean that tarnished drought they lay in. Now is the time to pick themselves back up and make it time for Tyrod Taylor to prove he can be a franchise quarterback for them. It can be time for Sean McDermott to shine, and make the city of Buffalo believe in their franchise again. Until that day happens, it might be a wise choice to hold your bets on Buffalo for right now.

Whose Catch Is It, Anyway?

Once again the NFL has updated it’s rules and regulations for the 2017 season. The biggest one that they focused on was penalizing end zone celebrations more. Taunting has already been established as a big no-no, and pretty much any celebration where a player touches the opposing team’s player is an automatic flag. Originally it seemed that almost any touchdown celebration was going to become a penalty, but the major rule change was that no celebrations can be “sexual”. It can probably go down as the unofficial Antonio Brown rule. Of course there were slight changes to what possession is, which seems to contradict every single year. Week 6 gave us the worst example of this complaint, and it has been lingering for years around the NFL. What in the hell exactly is a catch?

A good place to start is to reference what the official NFL rule book has listed as a catch. The explanation goes as follows:

A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:

  1. secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
  2. touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
  3. maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps (see 3-2-7-Item 2).

Note: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.

If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.

The first two parts make sense. As long as someone behind the line of scrimmage (assuming the QB) throws a ball forward and another eligible receiver secures the ball without dropping it on the ground. The second part being that both feet are in bounds. Easy enough to understand, we’re on the same page thus far. The third part though… that’s the gray area that none of the officiating crews can agree on. There were three particular games where part 3 of the catch rule was stretched to it’s breaking point.

The Green Bay vs. Minnesota game is receiving huge buzz because Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in the first quarter, but the bigger story that no one wants to cover is how messed up the calls were on particular catches. There were four instances that the play was either challenged or reviewed by the booth to determine what the call was, and each time the outcome had everyone extremely confused. At one point Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, and Mike Pereira all were scratching their heads on the disagreement from the official’s calls. It got to a point that Aikman was flat out mocking the NFL that nobody can establish was an actual catch is. Here is a play that was set up to explain how it was: Green Bay were on the goal line and it was third down. Brett Hundley snapped the ball and threw a forward pass to Ty Montgomery (part 1 of the rule) who was wide open. Ty Montgomery had both feet in bounds (part 2) and turned his body forward, fell down, was not touched, and then continued running towards the end zone. After the ball crossed the goal line it dropped out of his hands, and although initially called a touchdown, the ruling was overturned from the review. The question though, is what overturned it? According to part 3 of the rules Ty Montgomery he held the ball long enough to become an established runner, both feet were on the ground, he was capable of avoiding impeding contact, tucked the ball, and turned up field. The only time the ball hit the ground was already when the ball crossed the goal line, which has already been established is considered a touchdown. At one point was there an infraction to cause an over ruling towards the play? The Minnesota Vikings also were handed a slap in the face with a play where Adam Thielen caught a ball, and despite his hands remained in control of the ball the entire time, neither feet touched out of bounds. They actually didn’t touch the ground at all, and because of such turn of events they ruled it not a catch. Before the official call, Troy Aikman reminded the audience how the NFL discarded the “force-out” rule, in which a defender can’t push an eligible receiver out of bounds in air to make it a non-catch. Despite the friendly reminder, the officials called it a non-catch. Perhaps that particular officiating crew didn’t get the memo that force-outs aren’t a thing anymore.

Things looked much worse in New York this past week, which now has the infamous call at the end of the game. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the tight end for the Jets, caught the pass and as he was falling across the goal line, as he was hitting the pylon, the ball switched hands without touching the ground, and it was ruled a fumble. I repeat: THE BALL DID NOT TOUCH THE GROUND. Just like the Ty Montgomery situation, Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught the ball. He turned up field. Planted both feet. Tucked the ball for possession. Was aware of on-coming traffic. Everything that is in the rules to be a catch, and was ruled as such, but was called a fumble anyway? It should be said that being a sports reffing official is a very tough job, and these guys are trained for years to do what they do. There is always a margin of error as they are only human, but there hasn’t been that bad of a call since Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game. It’s almost as if the officials want the conspiracy theorists to add more traction for the New England Patriots still cheating.

What is the solution for determining what is a catch? We can’t blame the officials on not being able the agree on the rules, because the rules are vague. There’s too many “if’s” for a solution that should be clear cut and precise. Growing up the ’90’s every kid playing back yard football understood a “two-step rule”. If a receiver has the ball in his hands, is creating momentum downfield, and the ball is still in his hands after two steps, then it is a catch. The official NFL rules on a catch has the core, but with all the additions over the past ten years or so the confusion is clearly shown each and every week. What was so wrong with what we determined back in the ’70’s and ’80’s as catch? Granted, defensive rules have changed since then as well to make the offense have an upper-hand, but at least there wasn’t a dispute. As much as having booth reviews, numerous camera angles, and coach challenges enhance the game experience, the only negative consequence is it has refs second-guessing themselves on what catches truly are. The NFL can fix this by making it very simple: if a receiver has the ball in his hands, it does not touch the ground, and both feet are in bounds, then it is a catch. That’s it. End of discussion. No team can say it can be unfair, because it would be ruled that way on both sides. Not only would we eliminate the debate each year, but the game would be faster paced. It would destroy these horrible calls we witnessed this past week. It would create bigger and better highlights. With so many talented quarterbacks and wide receivers in the league right now, it is such a waste to downgrade their potential and momentum by having everyone question whether or not some plays are considered a catch.

Unpredictability Wins Again

Week 5 is officially over, and while head coaches and fantasy football managers are already looking ahead to week 6, there should be something to be said about the first quarter of the regular season in football. Sure, we can scratch our head or curse out particular teams, but that’s why we have the term “any given Sunday”. The upsets, uncertainty, and the unknown is part of the fun on watching football every week. That’s why every year to add to the fun, I like to make early-season predictions and see how many of them come true. As much as I want to boast that a couple of my predictions have come true so far, there has been so much that has happened that any Magic 8-Ball or Nostradamus himself could not see coming. Some of it is jaw-dropping. Some are head-scratch worthy. Some are laughable. Either way, all of it has made the 2017 season extremely interesting to watch.

I believe the best way to start out is to showboat a little. Don’t worry, I’m not putting myself on a pedestal by means for claiming these. As much as I’m proud that I got these two correct, I am primarily humiliated by all the things I have guessed wrong. So without further ado, here is my proudest prediction of this season:

Carson Wentz will have a better season than Dak Prescott and no one will notice. Granted, I can’t get 100% on this one, because with the Eagles on top of the division at 4-1, I believe more people each week are becoming a believer in Wentz. I understand the hype on the Cowboys. They got Zeke for at least one more year without a suspension. Dak Prescott has more experience and is ready for year two in his tenure. Dez Bryant and Prescott seem to have developed a better chemistry with each other. The difference though, is that Wentz is already used to losing, and can handle his composure as such. Dak and Zeke don’t know what losing feels like following the number one seed in 2016. Sometimes the fall is more difficult than the climb up, and for the Cowboys in the NFC East that seems to be the case. A critical eye is still on Wentz though, considering that he started the season 4-2 last year and still ended at 6-10. What we’ve seen this year is a more improved and durable Carson Wentz, and I think he can lead his team much further.

The AFC South will be the most competitive division in the NFL. This prediction is still a work in progress. Depending on how the second half of the season goes, I could still be proven wrong on this one. Originally I said that the Tennessee Titans could steal this division and win it, but that was during the preseason when the Houston Texans were still going with Tom Savage as their quarterback. What I didn’t see coming was Deshaun Watson making his debut and absolutely rocking it, and I didn’t see Jacksonville leading the division. I knew their defense was going to be young and talented, but I didn’t expect them to be so dominant. I did an article ranking the top rookie running backs this season, and I made a mistake by rating Leonard Fournette so low, and Christain McCaffrey so high. Everyone didn’t have much hope for the Indianapolis Colts this year with Andrew Luck’s injury, but they’re winning games and Jacoby Brissett isn’t too shabby. The “weakest” team in the division right now is the Tennessee Titans, with their lackluster defense, their star quarterback Marcus Mariota is temporarily injured, and the most surprising is their complete lack of a run game. We all were expecting a Dallas Cowboys version of DeMarco Murray, and instead we got the Philadelphia Eagles version of him. The division is still wide open for the taking, and I believe that the second half of the season will follow suit. Titans will get Mariota back and have already begun to fix some of their holes. Colts will get Andrew Luck back which immediately changes their demeanor. Jaguars probably have the best defense in the AFC and they need to make sure Fournette doesn’t get hurt and make Blake Bortles a game manager. Texans have an exciting offense and a talented defense. They just need to keep it up all year. Put all four of those teams into the mix and every divisional game is going to be crazy at the end of the year, because they’re all playing for number one — and right now there is no definitive number one in that division. Every team theoretically is going to get better as the season goes on, and that’s why right now I’m making a new bold prediction: not one team in the AFC South will be below an 8-8 record.

Looking at things again, maybe those predictions only came out half right. Can I get a half-point for each? So I’m 1 for 2. You could look at it that I’m batting .500, or you could say that I’m only completing 50% of my throws. Whether you’re a half-full or half-empty type of perspective, there have been a lot of follies among the NFL that no one saw coming. Let’s start with the biggest one:

The Giants are 0-5. This is personally the biggest surprise to me. Mostly because I predicted the Giants to win the division, but a little bit because the last time the Giants went 0-5 was 1979. At least in that season they won out the rest of their games, but I’m skeptical that the Giants can pull that off considering that all their starting wide receivers are injured. That’s something else I’ve never seen in my life before. I’ve seen all five of the starting O-line get hurt, but I don’t think I’ve witnessed all starting wide outs getting hurt — and it happened the same game! What a bizarre season for the New York Giants.

The Jets have won 3 games. Even more crazy to me, as of right now they have a winning record. I predicted the New York Jets to be worst team in the NFL, even going as far as to say they might lose all 16 games. Instead, they’re one spot ahead of the Patriots in the division. Who saw the Pats being in third place at any point this year? Buffalo being the division leader isn’t too shocking. They’ve held that spot temporarily in previous seasons during the Tom Brady era, but what’s confusing is Buffalo looks pretty good this year. They beat the Denver Broncos, right after destroying the Dallas Cowboys. They snapped Atlanta Falcon’s win streak. After two huge wins for the Bills, they follow it up by losing to Cincinnati? What is this team’s identity?

Deshaun Watson. That’s all I have to say. The guy is incredible to watch, and has made Bill O’Brien look like a damn fool for not starting him in week 1. The Texans went from a rely-on-your-defense, don’t-make-mistakes-on-offense type of team to a don’t-count-us-out, we-can-score-35-on-you-in-a-blink-of-an-eye type of team. As a rookie, he went up against the Goliath’s of foes this year — New England and Kansas City — and despite losing those games he made it close. He’s absolutely capable of taking control of a game, getting the audience involved, and inspiring hope within Houston after the Hurricane Harvey disaster.

The Fall of Big Ben. We all saw the butt spanking the Jacksonville defense laid out on Pittsburgh. At Heinz Field no less, which is notorious for Roethlisberger playing at his absolute best. Instead, we got five interceptions, no touchdowns, and a very confused Steeler nation. Big Ben hasn’t been exactly elite level status so far all season, but what’s more surprising is Antonio Brown still is the leader in receiving yards despite that. Or perhaps the most surprising thing is Pittsburgh gave the Chicago Bears their first win on the year. It’s not all Ben’s fault though. Look at all the quarterbacks that came from the famous 2004 draft class. Big Ben, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers all aren’t performing this year. In fact, the best QB to come from 2004 this year is Tony Romo, as he became an immediate fan favorite announcer. Could it be the day has finally come? The day where the most famous quarterback draft class of all time has become old. I said it myself in a previous article, that Steelers are going Super Bowl or bust. They might not seem as dominant as we all predicted, but they are still the best team in their division, if that gives any type of indication how strong the AFC North really is this year.

Alex Smith for MVP. I’m always a big advocate for Andy Reid and I liked what Kansas City did in the off season, but I still didn’t see Alex Smith playing the best season of his life. When I first saw the articles popping up that Alex Smith is already an MVP candidate I didn’t want to believe it. Game managing Alex Smith? Defense reliant Alex Smith? I figured it was just the easy way out considering that the Chiefs are the only undefeated team left in the NFL, but looking at the numbers my eyes have been adjusted to the blurry frame I made for myself. Alex Smith has over 1,300 yards, 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, is passing an incredible 76% completion rating, and a whopping 125.8 QB rating. That is just insane numbers! To top it off as well, if Alex Smith isn’t the front runner for MVP, the next best candidate is Kansas City’s rookie running back Kareem Hunt. It’s no wonder why the Chiefs are undefeated this year. Now the question will be who can be the first team to take down this mighty colossus.

Going in to week 6 we have quite the story building among these franchises. Usually after week 8 a big turning point happens for a lot of teams, and I’m excited to see what this season will bring. The emulation of emotion between players of frustration, joy, persistence, fatigue, annoyance, and glee is being shown on the field even during the distractions of the politics being involved with the sport. Wipe away the small stain that is being forced on us through different outlets, and we still have what is the golden goose to us all: another great season of professional football. We remember this by the outstanding touchdown celebrations being presented to us each and every week. Keep it up guys, because that stuff alone is worth watching for.

The Chargers Are Shunned in L.A.

I want to invite you to take a trip down memory lane with me for a second. The year was 2016. Barack Obama was in the White House. Dabbing was beginning its decline in popularity to make way for fidget spinners. Colin Kaepernick still played in the NFL. The New York Giants players rented a yacht and left all their talent on it. But the biggest thing to remember from 2016 is that the Chargers were still in San Diego. The very idea left a bitter taste in the mouths of every San Diegian, and the taste never sweetened as time went on. The day that Alex Spanos revealed that he was moving the team from San Diego to Los Angeles the aggression and animosity towards the Chargers and the Spanos family grew so large that it could mean the end of the entire franchise all together.

To be fair, Spanos at least attempted to keep the team in beloved San Diego. He wanted to build a brand new stadium for Chargers, a team who hasn’t won their division since 2009, and after many meetings with Mayor Kevin Faulconer the city of San Diego decided to leave it up for a vote on whether or not to build an estimated $200 million stadium. November came, a new president became elected, and the referendum to build a new stadium for the Chargers in San Diego was a majority NO. Understandably, not every resident in the San Diego area is probably a Charger fan, or even a football fan for that matter. It makes sense on why bother raising taxes for a stadium that doesn’t necessarily have to be built? Most of the time fans enjoy their current stadium just for the history aspect. As for Spanos though, he already had a back up plan in case Faulconer wouldn’t allow a new stadium to be built in San Diego. Spanos and Mayor Eric Garcetti made an agreement to build a brand new stadium if the franchise moved to Los Angeles. Garcetti already was very vocal about wanting two teams back in L.A. to begin with. Oakland was his original choice, but after a deal was made for the Raiders to move to Las Vegas, it seemed all too perfect for the Chargers to move back to their original home again. Perfect for everyone except the Chargers fans.

During the off-season when the announcement hit that Alex Spanos was moving the franchise to Los Angeles the entire fan base of the Chargers erupted. They were livid, felt betrayed, and plagued all media sources to give their two cents on how the felt about the entire transaction. Some of the fans spread their faith and loyalty towards the Chargers no matter where they would go. Majority of fans renounced their patronage to the team, and decided to go towards the Bay Area to watch their football. The transition from San Diego to L.A. has definitely been a rocky one, with a fan base that’s not travelling with the team, but there also isn’t a place for the Chargers to play. Logically, it made sense for the Los Angeles Rams to share their temporary stadium with the Chargers the same way that the New York Giants and New York Jets share the same stadium, except the Rams owner Stan Kroenke wasn’t having any part of it. The best NFL and L.A. could come up with a temporary interim stadium for the poor Chargers was the Stub Hub Center, the home of the local soccer team L.A. Galaxy’s. The stadium is actually in Carson, a suburb that’s a half hour south of L.A. and a half hour west of Anaheim. The worst part is the stadium can only hold 27,000 seats, which is less than half of what the average stadium holds for every other NFL team.

The disaster of leaving San Diego has definitely shown in the attendance. Week 1 of the season was pretty much empty, and although the seats are being filled more and more every week, they aren’t being filled with Chargers fans — it’s the opposite team’s fan base! Talk about being embarrassed, being humiliated, and starting the season 0-4. That’s not to say that they haven’t been competitive in their games, but can you blame them not having the motivation? Los Angeles is a giant city, and within that city is a fan base from all 32 teams in the NFL. When the Chargers plays at “home” the people from L.A. that come to see them play in Stub Hub Center are literally fans of the opposing team. The Chargers don’t have a home field advantage, and part of that problem is purely that San Diego fans didn’t transfer at all. The L.A. Chargers have to start from scratch, as if they’re a brand new franchise, with an absolutely zero fan base in Los Angeles. On top of that, they’re competing with the L.A. Rams who have all the momentum. Not only did they have a small fan base to start off with — basically anyone who moved from the St. Louis area and now lives in Southern California — but right now the Rams are electric. Between Jared GoffTodd GurleySammy WatkinsCooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald this team is young, exciting, and most importantly: they’re winning. It’s a no-brainer that any new fans warming up to their new L.A. teams are gravitating towards the Rams versus a Chargers team that has zero wins.

The Chargers new stadium will get built… eventually. When it finally does get built in projected 2020, the Chargers will have a different team. Philip Rivers might not be around anymore, the coaching staff may be switched out, the whole division may have a new power surge. Through the uncertainty of the future, one thing is going to be the same: the absence of attendance at Chargers games. With the seats being as barren as San Francisco 49ers games, it makes a person wonder if the estimated $2.6 billion stadium is even worth it. Everyone loves new stadiums, and after the tape is cut and the shine wears off, the main thing will be whether or not the Chargers can win games. If they can’t, then this $2 billion investment might be the iceberg that sinks the franchise once and for all. If the San Diego fan base doesn’t start travelling to L.A., and the Los Angeles fan base still remain loyal to the Rams, it wouldn’t surprise anyone that Spanos decides to jump ship on the franchise entirely. Other owners have done it in the past, so it’s not an outlandish thought to have. Even if Spanos wants to keep an NFL franchise, or sell cheap and have it revamped, this could be the beginning of the end of the Chargers.

A brand new start may be exactly what the Chargers need. Unfortunately the Chargers would have to die out for it to happen, but the “new start” that they’re receiving in Los Angeles isn’t the answer. Perhaps the answer is for the Chargers to fold, a new franchise to emerge, and move to a new city with a brand new roster. It’s already happened in the past. The Houston Oilers became the Tennessee Titans. The Baltimore Ravens were originally the Cleveland Browns. If the Chargers were to crumble and resurface with a new look, a new logo, and a new city, that could be the restart that they truly need for a fan base to finally start following them. A new city is the first place to start, and the most promising city that could accept a franchise again would be St. Louis. Sounds crazy, right? They just lost their team to Los Angeles, so why wouldn’t they just keep the Rams in that case? Except if history has taught us anything, it’s already happened to Baltimore and Houston. So maybe not so crazy. It might take another 15 or 20 years before any of this to happen, but if it does start heading that direction and the Chargers really begin to struggle, at least San Diego fans can have their own moral redemption by telling Alex Spanos that maybe he should have never left.

Gruesome Loss in Foxborough

Tom Brady. Super Bowl champions. Belichick. Foxborough.

These are the words that usually make lots of people nervous when playing the New England Patriots. Everybody except Andy Reid, that is. The NFL season has officially begun, and what a crazy epidemic match we witnessed on Thursday Night Football when the Kansas City Chiefs came in to the reigning Lombardi Trophy wielders, and made the champs look like chumps. Ironic how the 66,000+ fans in attendance had pictures of Roger Goodell with a clown nose, but the Pats were the ones with pie on their face at the end of this game. Considering we saw Brady play the best second half in Super Bowl history, we now witnessed one of his worst second half performances during the Patriots home opener.

There is no doubt the Patriots started off strong, collecting their first drive for a total of 78 yards and a touchdown. They looked unstoppable, just how we all expected Bill Belichick’s team to always perform since he took over as head coach in 2000. The touchdowns definitely came easy as always for New England, so where did they go wrong? Was it the bad luck? Did they lose momentum when Belichick decided to go for it on 4th down not once, but twice and didn’t convert on downs? Or could the crowd to be blamed for being silenced when Gronkowski catching the 20 yard bullet pass in the end zone, only for the play to be reviewed and ruled the ball touch the ground? Nobody can blame Belichick for believing in his offense, but maybe some credit needs to be noted towards Kansas City defense. Granted they allowed Mike Gillislee three touchdowns when on the goal line, they did stop the Patriots when it mattered most. They didn’t create any turn overs, but they did sack Tom Brady in the second half three times; two of them accumulating from Justin Houston himself.

The Patriots did have every opportunity to punish Kansas City for their mistakes. The very first play on their first drive the Chiefs handed the ball off to rookie running back Kareem Hunt, only for the 12 yard run to end in a fumble recovered by the Patriots defense. Patriots didn’t execute from the turnover, and basically just wasted time off the clock for Kansas City to set up a new drive, go down the field, and score. Tip of the hat goes towards Andy Reid, Alex Smith, and Kareem Hunt for not allowing the momentum the Patriots were stacking up get to them. They were like a vacuum, sucking out the crowd noise and the pressure building on their shoulders. Even when the Chiefs were trying to just give the game away — racking up 15 penalties for 139 yards — Alex Smith still came on the field to do his job.

Maybe signing Patrick Mahomes was the motivation to spark Smith to play the best we’ve ever seen him, and secure his starting position as quarterback. Smith was 28 for 35 passing completions, with an 80% completion percentage, 352 passing yards averaging 9.3 yards per play, and 3 passing touchdowns. That is some straight up Tom Brady statistics, only Brady wasn’t as fortunate with his numbers. Brady only had 247 passing yards, completing a mere 44% of his passes, averaging 6 yards per play, and ended the day with a big goose egg for passing touchdowns. Was it role reversal day in Foxborough that none of us were aware of? That may be one of the worst stats we’ve seen from Tom Brady since his rookie year playing in the NFL.

Despite the fumble his first play mentioned above, Kareem Hunt had himself one hell of debut being broadcast nationally. Coming home with a whopping 148 rushing yards, 98 passing yards, 3 total touchdowns. That’s a total of 246 scrimmage yards, which hasn’t been done since 1970. In the second half of the game, Kareem Hunt looked scary good. Whether it was momentum or motivation, the Patriots did not have an answer for Hunt. This might be a common theme going forward the rest of the season for other defenses, especially if Alex Smith decides to keep setting the bar high for himself. People expected good things from Hunt this season taking over for an injured Spencer Ware, and I was one of them. Nobody expected something this spectacular from a rookie going in to Foxborough. Was it beginners luck? Possibly. It would be foolish to expect Kareem Hunt to have explosive games like this every week. Then again, last year we saw Jay Ajayi have back-to-back 200+ rushing yard games, so anything can happen.

On the flip side of the coin, don’t expect the Patriots to look like this the remainder of the year. Maybe New England just underestimated what Kansas City has to offer this year. Perhaps Bill Belichick blames the Patriots being five weeks behind everyone else. One thing is for certain though: I wouldn’t want to be the New Orleans Saints next week. Between an angry head coach, a motivated Brady, and a defense that wants redemption, it looks like the Saints are going to have their hands full going in to week two.

Top 5 Running Backs in 2017

Can you believe it? The NFL season is officially here! With the anticipation of kickoffs and watching four quarters of all our favorite stars, also comes the excitement of fantasy football rosters. This year gives us quite the variety of running backs, and in that cluster of rookies is a big question mark on who will be the next big hit. There are five big names that people are throwing around, and despite all five of them have immense talent to bring towards the future, we can’t expect all of them will be the next Ezekiel Elliot. Here are the top five (in order) of most likely to have break out years for your fantasy football team:

 

#5 – Joe Mixon

This Oklahoma running back may have the most talent out of all the rookies this year, despite having a shady past. Mixon has already dealt with his suspension with the Sooners, but still dropped a little lower in the draft because of his actions. Looking forward, Mixon should eventually become a starting RB for Cincinnati — but it may not be this year. The Bengals have already announced that Jeremy Hill is their official starting RB, and Giovanni Bernard did not lose his spot as the #2 back on the roster. Might be a good move for Cincinnati to allow Mixon to learn the offense and pace of the game a little more, but it’s bad news for fantasy football owners who drafted Mixon early this year. Only way we’re seeing Mixon play is if there are key injuries, and that may not be towards to the end of the season, if at all. Although that’s exactly how David Johnson was discovered for his supreme talents in the league, so there is always hope for Joe Mixon… just maybe not this year.

 

#4 – Leonard Fournette

I know what you’re thinking. This must be a mistake, right? Fournette being this low must be some sort of a joke, as in an homage to him being picked #4 overall in the draft. The Jaguars definitely did a great job picking him up early in the draft, seeing the same thing we all saw at LSU: a hard-hitting, side-stepping, burst of talent running full speed ahead. The only vice on Fournette is that he becomes injury prone. While fantasy owners are going to biting their nails and crossing their fingers that Fournette stays healthy for them for a majority of a season, it also poses a good question of just how many touchdowns Fournette will obtain on the Jaguars. It’s not so much a secret anymore that Jacksonville has a young and talented defense, but their offense seems pretty lack luster with Blake Bortles behind center. Fournette may receive the majority of the hand offs in the first quarter, but if the Jaguars are constantly playing catch-up from behind they’re going to be handing off the ball less and less. Don’t expect to see too many garbage time touchdowns coming from the back field this year.

 

#3 – Dalvin Cook

This Florida State running back has some big shoes to fill in Minnesota this year. Cook is definitely talented, but nobody is entirely sure if he’s exactly Adrian Peterson caliber. Then again, who really is? Cook will most likely be splitting carries with Jerick McKinnon at first, and then going running back by committee once Latavius Murray when he returns from injury reserve. As of right now Cook is named as the leading RB for the team, but the Vikings are going to go with whoever is the hot hand when it comes to game time. Cook’s total touches is a pretty mild worry on whether to play him in fantasy this year though. The real problem is whether Minnesota’s offensive line can help or hurt the rookie RB. Last year Sam Bradford ran in to lots of troubles the last eight games by having constant pressure in his face. The Vikings O-Line were cursed with injuries across the board, and their second string were not ready for the task to take care of business. If the Vikings come into injury problems again this year, their line may not hold very well for such a young and promising Dalvin Cook.

 

#2 – Christain McCaffrey

As much as he gained love from NCAA affiliates, the biggest criticism McCaffrey received going into the NFL combine was he was too small, too slow, and too weak. The Carolina Panthers took a gamble on him regardless, and it looks to be the better end of the deal considering that McCaffrey had a great pre-season. Picking a great RB early in the draft was a pretty smart move coming from Carolina, who have an aging Jonathan Stewart on their roster. The only worry going in to this fantasy football season is how many rushing touchdowns McCaffrey will see his first year in the big leagues. When on the goal line the Panthers generally will still hand off to Stewart, but they also have the option of looking for their all-pro tight end Greg Olson, or they’ll have Cam Newton run it in to the endzone himself. McCaffrey is his own special breed, though. He will be utilized more so on the receiving end, running the flat routes or quick screens. We could potentially be talking about McCaffrey being up there as some of the greats such as Darren SprolesDanny Woodhead, or Matt Forte. Expect to see Christain McCaffrey have just as many receiving yards as he does rushing yards this year, which makes him extremely valuable for PPR leagues in fantasy football.

 

#1 – Kareem Hunt

Possibly the most over-looked running back in the draft this year, Hunt has the most potential to make an identity for himself among the fantasy football world. With Spencer Ware tearing his MCL, it has the gate wide open for Hunt to take over as the new face of their offense. For fantasy football owners, there is no question that Hunt will be taking the majority of the work load on the Chiefs. It’s a nice sigh of relief knowing that Hunt is the starter, but it only adds to the value knowing that the Kansas City is a run-first type of offense. The only question when it comes to their offensive roster is whether or not Patrick Mahomes will take over as starting quarterback this year or not. Andy Reid is one of the most well respected coaches in the NFL, so whether he sits or starts Mahomes people will just his judgement. If Mahomes does become a starter this year, they may capture the same type of lighting in a bottle magic that the Dallas Cowboys had last year with Dak and Zeke. Either way, Hunt has looked impressive during his pre-season, and no matter which quarterback is under center he has a good offensive line to help him out, and an even better defense to rely on to keep the time management on their side. Alex Smith doesn’t throw too many passing TD’s, so the majority of the Chief’s scoring is going to be coming from the running game.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Super Bowl or Bust

Every year fans and analysts alike make their predictions of the most likely teams to make the Super Bowl. Steelers are on the list almost every year, and for good reason. Everybody from Pittsburgh will vote them in because the Steelers are among the biggest fan bases in America, and reporters like to vote them in since they have one of the highest winning percentages in football. They won six Lombardis for a reason. At the end of the day though, votes and popularity isn’t what it takes to get to the biggest game of the year. It’s the team who wins games, and Pittsburgh just added another knight to their army by signing Joe Haden from the Cleveland Browns. He may be that small switch that makes a giant difference towards making a deep playoff run this season.

Steelers have been praised for their offense for quite a while now. They have the “Three B’s”, and that statement alone people already will recognize Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. It’s definitely not an exaggeration either, considering that Brown and Bell are generally selected within the first four picks of the first round in every single fantasy football draft. Despite being such a high octane offense, the Steelers have still been falling short when it comes to making the Super Bowl. Certainly their offense isn’t to blame for this! Perhaps they need a big boost in their defense. After all, defenses do win championships, and Pittsburgh has done just that. Instead of having the Three B’s on offense, the Steelers could have their own version of a holy trinity on their defense as well. Look at some of these names they have who have very Pro Bowl worthy potential. They have James Harrison, who not only has intimidated Father Time himself into submission, but is the very definition of a beast. To compliment him on the line backing core they draft TJ Watt, the hopeful younger brother of JJ Watt from Wisconsin. Now they have Joe Haden, a great shut down corner to help out the defensive backs while the line backers and defensive ends bring the pressure. Those three names alone could be the big “it” factor the Steelers need defensively — they could be their own Big Three.

The defense hasn’t been the only factor stopping the Steelers the past seven years from a Super Bowl appearance. There’s been two major factors in their way: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. With Manning gone it helps Pittsburgh’s chances, but with Brady around it’s still a fight to the finish between the two franchises. Granted Brady is officially in his 40’s now, you can’t count out anything with the Patriots as long as Belichick is still around. The NFC West will be a big factor in the playoffs this year as well, with every team looking to be young and dominant. The Steelers will have their competition for sure, and ultimately it may come down to something as simple as if the team can stay healthy. The past two seasons Roethlisberger has been hit with injuries and hasn’t played all 16 games. Same goes for Le’Veon Bell with his suspensions, or being hurt for key playoff games. If Steelers want to stay in the race this year, they’ll want to shoot for a #1 or #2 seed and guarantee the home field advantage for another deep playoff run.

Anything can happen during the upcoming season, which is why we’re told every game is “any given Sunday”. Steelers fans have quite a bit to be excited for, and should feel safe in knowing that once again they should be the strongest team in their division. Mike Tomlin wants another championship in his repertoire, and he knows that time is running out with how many years Roethlisberger has left in him. On top of that, Tomlin has received some criticism at his head coaching abilities. One of the critics coming from Terry Bradshaw himself last year. Tomlin seems to be a motivated type of man, and shutting the critics down once and for all may bet he motivation he needs to get to Super Bowl LII this year.

Top 5 Teams To Look Out For in 2017

There are lots of teams that fans and analysts are keeping an eye out for based on super bowl potential or for making the playoffs last year. Here I’ve made a list of top teams to look out for, even if they’re not necessarily playoff hopeful, it’s still teams with redeeming potential this year. Big changes can make bigger ripple affects among franchises, and some of those changes can be as little as one player. These are the most interesting teams to watch for the 2017 season:

#5 – Los Angeles Rams.

Jeff Fisher is gone, which means the 7-9 curse is finally lifted. Although they’re probably not playoff hopeful this year, they have a lot to look forward to. They currently rest in arguably the weakest division in the NFC, which could potentially help the Rams gain traction. Jared Goff is officially starting, and we will find out if he’s ready for the task. At least he’ll have some help with Sammy Watkins as a great target to throw to, and Todd Gurley is up in the air on whether he wants to be a booming sleeper or a troubling bust. Considering that defenses will have to focus on eligible receivers rather than stacking the box on Gurley every play, he definitely has potential this year. Not only will we see what the new and improved offense is capable of, but don’t forget about Aaron Donald this year, who was just voted #15 in NFL’s Top 100.

#4 – Miami Dolphins.

After getting a Wild Card slot in the playoffs last year, the Dolphins looked like they could coast under the Patriots once again. That is, until Tannehill tore his ACL and the team looked ready to crash and burn. People believe that’s still immanent by signing Jay Cutler, who hasn’t played a snap since November, but the logic seems sound on their decision. Adam Gase and Cutler have worked together before, and with Jarvis Landry to throw it to, a promising young running back in Jay Ajayi, and a defense that looks in tip top shape, this could be a good year for Miami. Fantasy football players have been eagerly waiting for DeVante Parker to break out, and for a guy who is a deep threat having a quarterback with the arm strength such as Cutler, this could be fate.

#3 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This one seems too easy on the list. Football analysts have been hyping the Bucs for months now, along with being the focus on HBO’s current season of Hard Knocks. With Jaemis Winston leading the charge in his third season, having a healthy Doug Martin back, sharing great chemistry with players such as Gerald McCoy and Kwon Alexander on an under rated defense, plus picking up DeSean Jackson to compliment Mike Evans on the other side of the field, then fans have every reason to be hype this season. What puts Tampa Bay a tad higher on this list is considering that they’re hungry for the playoffs this year. The Bucs haven’t been in the post season for ten consecutive seasons, and the NFC south has a strange curse where the team who was in first place the year before usually ends up in last place the following year. That’s not good news for the Atlanta Falcons.

#2 – Philadelphia Eagles.

This team might be a big sleeper lost behind the Cowboys and Giants in the NFC Beast. Carsen Wentz is coming into his second year, and looks more precise and confident than his rookie season. The Eagles dropped both the Matthews — Jordan and Ryan — and despite the losses almost look in better shape. This team is young, it’s talented, and it’s loaded on both sides of the field. Eagles acquired Ronald Darby from the Buffalo Bills in that triangle trade, and Darby’s first call to action was to pick off Tyrod Taylor in the preseason. Add Malcolm Jenkins and Derek Barnett to that mix and that’s a pretty deadly defense rising up this year. We’ll all be in anticipation on what Carsen Wentz can do with Alshon Jeffrey to throw it to.

#1 – Kansas City Chiefs.

This team shouldn’t be a surprise on why it’s good. They won their division last year, despite the AFC West being extremely tough and talented, but only because of Derek Carr going down on a key injury on the Raiders. Andy Reid knows it. He also knows that despite a very talented team, he’s not going to a super bowl any time soon with Alex Smith under center. Everyone’s eyes are now on Patrick Mahomes to see if and when he will take over. The Chiefs didn’t trade up in the 2017 draft just to let him sit on the bench for three years. Mahomes has been making some impressive plays during the preseason, and the audience in Arrowhead are waiting to see what he can do with some weapons such as Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. That’s not even mentioning their all-pro players on defense such as Eric Berry and Justin Houston.