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.

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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.

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.