Football Weekend Recap: What I thought I knew

Several teams reshaped my expectations

Much of the football weekend was not about football (Some of my early thoughts are on Twitter, but more to come on that in a podcast later this week), but the on-the field entertainment was as high as its been over a Saturday and Sunday as it’s been in a while. Apart from close games, much of the thrill came from teams defying or surpassing our expectations. Just when I think I have a read on the season, I’m reminded how little I know for certain. Let’s look at eight things I thought heading into the weekend and how they held up.

Oklahoma State’s offense can’t be stopped
TCU showed you may not be able to shut the Cowboys down, but you can contain them enough to get a win–even in Stillwater. The Pokes still racked up just under 500 yards, but they were only on the field for 21 minutes and were out-rushed by 140 yards, while averaging just 3.3 yards per rush. The meek effort on the ground (by their standards) combined with 4 turnovers was their undoing. Turn them over and hold their running game down and Oklahoma State is beatable.

Weird things happen in Iowa City
This one proved true. Penn State broke Hawkeye hearts on the last play of the game, but Kinnick Stadium still provided the drama akin to what it has seen in the past.

The SEC East is hapless
This one got complicated. Vanderbilt got spanked by Alabama, Kentucky found a way to lose to a less than impressive Florida squad. Tennessee and South Carolina edged out wins against sub par competition and Missouri was embarrassed by Auburn. However, Georgia dominated Mississippi State and looks like maybe the only SEC team that can challenge for Alabama’s throne. The division as a whole may be in trouble, but Georgia may be enough to flip the script.

It’s hard to come back after a hurricane-induced layoff
Tested across the collegiate and professional ranks, the results were mixed. Florida State looked lost, but NC State is a tough match up and the Seminoles were starting a new quarterback. Miami let Toledo hang around, but pulled away while UCF blitzed Maryland to the tune of an easy 38-10 victory. In the NFL, The Buccaneers and Dolphins looked good in their first game back, but it’s possible the crazy travel schedule and emotional roller coaster took its toll as both teams laid an egg this past Sunday. It will take more games to properly contextualize the hurricane’s layoff, but one can’t help but root for all these teams as they represent embattled areas of the nation.

Thursday games are a dud
My distaste for Thursday games has been documented. Yet, last week’s expected dud between the Rams and 49ers yielded a thrilling 41-39 contest featuring plenty of offense, an onside kick recovery and interested viewers. We’ll see if this was the anomaly it seems to be or the start of a run of entertaining Thursday contests.

Roethlisberger struggles on the road
The loss to the Bears may have more to do with an underrated Chicago defense holding down the Steelers rushing attack, but Big Ben’s road struggles did rear their ugly head.

The Raiders are Super Bowl contenders
Pump the brakes. Maybe Washington is better than expected and this was a West Coast team playing in the East. Still, this was a night game so body clocks shouldn’t enter the equation and Derek Carr had his worst game in a long time–held under 120 yards and tossing two interceptions. This team may not even be the best in its division. It will be fighting for second place next weekend at Mile High.

The Jets won’t win a game
So maybe no one truly expected 0-16, but it seemed shockingly possible. That was until the Jets controlled the game against the Dolphins and looked convincing in a 20-6 win. Time will tell, if they can duplicate the effort or how much a win over the Dolphins means, but a win has got to feel good for Todd Bowles and co.

Double Take: NFL Debates

The Rams, AFC v. NFC, Thursday and London Games, Fantasy Trades

The following is a lightly edited extract from a back and forth I had with Nick Yusko. We like to challenge each others ideas as we figure out what we think. Here, we went in on some NFL topics.

Rams

Coming of a surprisingly entertaining 41-39 victory to move to 2-1…

Josh: Are the Rams a playoff team?

Nick: No I can’t see that happening. The Rams, granted their offense has looked much much better than a year ago, but they’ve beaten the Colts and 49ers. And lost to the Redskins. None of those teams are playoff teams in my mind and none of those teams play much defense either, which I think attributes some to the offense looking better.

Josh: I went back and forth on this team before the season, and eventually settled on the under for their wins. But a couple things have changed my mind. One, while I agree the teams they’ve beaten aren’t juggernauts, they did manhandle the Colts and the 49ers might be an underrated challenge. Plus, their schedule doesn’t get too much tougher as Jaguars, Giants and Saints all look like winnable games. The biggest thing though is how bad the Cardinals look. That really could be 2 wins (certainly 1) I didn’t see coming. Plus, the Seahawks are struggling and the Rams have had their number anyway. I think they are going to be right there for a playoff spot.

Nick: Just remember, this was a team that started 3-1 last year with wins over Seattle, Tampa, and Arizona. Then lost 11 of their last 12 (only beating the Jets) the rest of the season. The offense is better, but they still like to turn the ball over. Gurley has 4 fumbles (lucky to have only lost 1 in 3 games) and Goff threw a bad pick in against the Skins in their only truly big pressure possession. Even worse question marks are on the defense. The Rams rush defense has been absolutely shredded the past 2 weeks by a Redskins team that can’t run the ball and by a 49ers team that hadn’t scored a touchdown yet before last night. The next 2 weeks will be telling of their playoff potential in my mind as they travel to Dallas and host Seattle (2 playoff teams). You mentioned some winnable games but the 2nd half of their schedule looks pretty rough down the stretch with a 6 game stretch of @Minnesota, vs Saints, @Arizona, vs Eagles, @Seattle, @Titans.

Josh: You’re right, they need to stockpile some wins early. The Goff pick is concerning, but y’know what helps? Not having Jeff Fisher–that guy was just out of touch and really held this team back (this is a fun video). I think they get to 7-2 or 6-3 and then grind to 9 or 10 wins. That might be good enough

Nick: Ah, well Jeff Fisher–tied for the most losses in NFL history–certainly wasn’t helping. I think their ceiling is probably an 8-8 team, but even if they somehow eclipsed that with 9 wins… you mentioned 10 which I think is a stretch… I don’t see them winning that division still with the Seahawks and Cardinals. Over the last 5 years the average NFC wild card team has averaged 10.6 wins, including 3 teams that have been left out with 10-6 records. With a number of competitive teams in other divisions – ATL, TB, CAR, DAL, PHI, GB, MIN – I don’t see them eclipsing that number.

Josh: Imma say they go 9-7, second in their division and will need help from two of Carolina, Minnesota and Detroit to get a wildcard. Playoff caliber–may come up short.

Nick: I’m gonna say they go 7-9, still a year away from being a real contender.

AFC vs. NFC

Josh: So you kind of hinted at another thing I want to get into in talking the depth of the NFC. I think the AFC is the stronger conference this season, what’s the NFC’s case?

Nick: Right now if you just look at records, the AFC does seem stronger, especially the AFC West, plus the Patriots and Steelers looming. But honestly how strong is this conference? I’d like to point out I am basing my thoughts on projected growth over the year and then potential in the playoffs. Between the AFC South and East, you have the Patriots and maybe the Titans; I don’t think you are very high on them but someone has to win that dreadful division. The other 6 teams are trash. In the North, the Steelers look legit and the Ravens defense is scary but is anyone actually going to be afraid of Joe Flacco over the course of the year? And in the West, I see the Raiders as legit SB contenders but regular season stud QB Alex Smith (he wins a lot of games somehow) and Trevor Simian doesn’t strike fear into me come playoff time. Overall I’ll cede that the top 3 teams are very very good, but the lack of overall depth and absolute garbage at the bottom – Jets, Bills, Browns, Colts, Jags and even the Bengals and Texans – make me believe that the NFC is stronger.

Josh: To stay with listing negatives: The NFC has maybe one good looking division. The NFC West’s contenders have looked like a mess. The East was supposed to be good, but Dallas just got rolled, Eagles/Redskins have a lot of questions and the Giants look awful. In the North, there may be 3 good teams, but there’s a lot of injuries for Vikings and Packers and I don’t trust the Lions. I like the Buccs and Falcons down south, but am worried about the Panthers. So, I see falcons and Buccs with Packers and Seahawks maybe hanging around. Gonna have to see a lot of progression to believe they can put forward even 4 legit playoff squads.

Nick: I think overall though you have greater depth in the NFC. I’m a believer that the Seahawks will figure out their offensive line and I think Arizona will figure out how to regroup without David Johnson. I think in the East, at least 2 of those 4 teams will be playoff caliber. The Cowboys are still my favorite but I think Wentz could make a 2nd year jump like Mariota and Carr did. And if the Giants figure out their line they still have a very good defense that they rode to an 11-5 record last year. The North has the Packers, who everyone knows and respects, and the Lions have looked pretty solid so far. We’ll have a better idea about them maybe after this week. The Vikings have a solid defense and their offense looks more promising if Bradford can stay healthy. And down South you have the Falcons and Bucs, who are both very good teams, and the Panthers defense seems healthy and ready to dominate again this year. If Newton shakes off the cobwebs and gets fully healthy I think they are a dangerous team like a few years ago. My point being, while the NFC does not have a team that stands out as elite, like I think the top 3 in the AFC, they have better overall depth. Once the 6 teams are set in the AFC playoffs, people will pick the Pats and then a few die hard fans will pick their Steelers or Raiders to reach the Super Bowl. In the NFC playoffs, I think a case could possibly be made for any of the 6 teams that make it have a chance to make a run and reach the Super Bowl.

Josh: A lot of ifs in the NFC. Sounds like we agree the top of the AFC holds up, but I would argue the AFC has depth too. Out West, I think the Chiefs are Super Bowl contenders and Broncos are playoff threats (Chargers would be if they can find the snake venom antidote). Pittsburgh and Baltimore should capitalize on the Bengals and Browns’ woes and use their strengths (Steelers O, Ravens D) to coast to the playoffs. In the East, Miami can be a playoff caliber team and Buffalo and the Jets have not been as terrible as thought. The South is trash, but Watson and Mariota are exciting QBs who might can pull an upset if they make the playoffs. The depth is right there with the NFC and I’d take Chiefs, Raiders, Steelers, Patriots before all but Falcons and maybe Packers Super Bowl wise.

Thursday and London

Josh: So, which is worse, London Games or Thursday games?

Nick: Ahaha that’s actually a pretty hard one in my opinion. I don’t like either, but Thursday’s are worse… barely

Josh: I think both are brutal, London usually gets sub-par teams and Thursday is just too short of a turn around. I like the London idea–but its execution is a bit off

Nick: The only redeeming factor about London is that since both teams are bad the games are usually fairly close. There are exceptions, i.e. the Patriots have been there 2x and slaughtered both opponents. But there’s also last year’s joke, a tie between the Redskins and Bengals. I don’t like the London idea at all.
Thursday nights aren’t fun for anyone. It messes around with the resting period between games and usually are of an inferior quality. The majority of people who tune in are fantasy football fans. No one else gets excited to tune in and watch the Bengals vs Texans, Rams vs 49ers, Jets vs Bills, etc. The only Thursday that is acceptable is Thanksgiving.

Josh: We agree on Thursday–bad all around, Thanksgiving only please. London I get. You want international fans and they give teams the option to take the next week off. So, I get what they’re going for and I think it means a lot across the pond

Nick: I think the NFL wants to eventually move a franchise over there though. And I don’t like the thought of that. If you wanna have a few games a year over there, especially to expand the audience (and in the Jags case actually make more profit from a home game there than in Jacksonville), I guess it’s alright. The bye week afterwards isn’t that much of a reward still. The Ravens requested to have a later bye week because a week 4 bye is very early and means you have to play 13 straight to end the year. The NFL was like “sure no problem guys, we’ll give you a home game against your bitter rivals the Steelers the following week and then have you go to Oakland the week after that.”

Josh: Haha, i guess it worked out better for the Jags…who get the Jets. I’m with you that I can’t see a franchise there with current technology, but it’s good to try and make the game more international. That’s pretty brutal for the Ravens though…

Nick: I read that they are debating using games like that in London or Mexico City (or China for the Rams and 49ers next year) as a punishment for teams that are relocating. It seems the globalization is inevitable but that’s considered a “punishment” because it forces them to give up a true home game as well as the effects on the players body clocks.

Josh: Well…that’s interesting. Shocking to see the NFL with such vindictive management tactics...

Fantasy Trades

Josh: Fantasy football has been a huge reason the game has grown like it has–and is one reason guys like us watch as many games as we can. But, you have some things to say on Fantasy Trades, right?

Nick: I don’t even want to get started on this lol. Some people just are absolutely clueless when it comes to a player’s value. If that’s the case, you should just keep to the waiver wire and your own team. I hear you’ve had some pretty fun offers made to you this past week?

Josh: Yea, i got offered Rex Burkhead for Mike Evans…. so that was cool. I will say, people don’t wanna look stupid when the trade goes through so they are overly cautious. I mean i made what i think was a pretty fair trade: gave Demaryius Thomas, Jordan Howard, Devante parker; got OBJ, Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr.. And you still get questions and you still worry. So everyone wants to dominate trades and thus offer some lame ones.

Nick: Yeah the jury is still out on that one but it seems pretty even on the surface. I also don’t understand why the guy who has scored the 2nd most points so far would be looking to trade. Obviously his team is pretty solid; I would expect that people seek him out for trades and not the other way around. I also hate trades where people basically try to buy a player from you so they offer 2 for 1 or 3 for 2. Cause most leagues, but ours in particular, people carry a full roster so you immediately have to drop one of the guys you’re receiving in the trade or someone else on your roster. Which if they’re on your roster you must feel something about them.
I’m also pretty against trades in general too. Just my style of fantasy,

Josh: Yeah, both of us are more waiver wire centric. So I have enjoyed at least attempting to bring the negotiation dynamic into play. But yeah, it’s tough when your not on the same page or people clearly don’t have valuations correct. In general, with unlimited waivers you are probably better off just looking there. Less hassle and can get similar value. If you limit waivers, trades become more crucial.

Nick: I enjoy the prospect of talking about trades and proposing deals. But then never actually following through on them.

Josh: Classic.

College Football Picks

Best bets and other thoughts

I broke down the big games of the week on the pod, but wanted to post my best bets after combing through those games and many more. As for the big games I’m not picking, here are my final quick takes:

Alabama -19 @ Vandy
I like the Commodores this season, but think Alabama shows its head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. Vandy will rally in the next few weeks, but ‘Bama covers here.

TCU @ Oklahoma State -14
I think the Cowboys are top-5 caliber, but 14 is a lot of points against an offense like the Horned Frogs’. I think the Cowboys cover, but garbage time scares me.

Penn State -13 @ Iowa
Penn State’s offense is a lot better than anything the Hawkeyes can offer in all 3 phases. I’m staying away because weird things happen in Iowa City, but the Nittany Lions should cover.

Best Bets:

NC State +13
Tough spot for Florida State breaking in a new QB after three weeks off. They may win, but it will be close

Maryland -4
Maryland’s offense has looked potent through three weeks and UCF is another team that could struggle after an Irma-forced layoff. This should be a shootout, but the Terps pull away at home.

Wake Forest -5.5
Wake Forest has been as explosive as any team in the nation (against less than formidable foes, but still). Appalachian State is a name that scares bettors, but this team won’t hang with a Demon Deacons squad that may be a player in the ACC title race.

Mississippi St +4.5
I have not seen enough from Georgia to think they can move the ball if Mississippi State shuts down the run. I like Nick Fitzgerald much more than Jake Fromm and think Mississippi State wins this battle of the bulldogs

Colorado +11.5
I can’t shake how rough the Huskies looked against Rutgers and Colorado has looked formidable in their first 3 games. In Boulder, I think the Buffaloes push the Huskies and even if they lose it will be a one-possession game

Last Week: 3-2
Season: 7-2-1

 

 

NFL Sentencing

Quick takes on every NFL game

The football went up a notch this week. The Falcons looked dominant, the AFC West is loaded, the Pats are definitely better than the Saints and the Seahawks offense is brutal. It’s too early to draw large conclusions, but each game gave us something to take away. The early season is a learning process–for the teams and making picks. Here’s what we learned this week…

Texans 13, Bengals 9
Texans > Bengals > Thursday Night Football (yuck)

Panthers 9, Bills 3
Carolina’s defense can be great if it stays healthy, the offense is already banged up and may not be that great healthy.

Buccaneers 29, Bears 7
The Winston-Evans combo and an electric defense makes Tampa Bay very dangerous, while Mike Glennon makes the Bears very worthless.

Steelers 26, Vikings 9
Case Keenum is bad at football.

Cardinals 16, Colts 13
Both these teams are in trouble, but the Colts really found a way to lose this one.

Patriots 36, Saints 20
These teams are going opposite directions with aging quarterbacks, reminding us how the franchise as an organization makes such a huge difference (uh…Tom Brady helps too).

Ravens 24, Browns 10
These teams seem pretty set in their identity–the Ravens as a dominant defense and just enough offense and the Browns as improving, but not quite ready.

Chiefs 27, Eagles 20
Kansas City is overwhelmingly balanced and just good.

Titans 37, Jaguars 16
The Jaguars have to get a lead early and hang on and Tennessee needs to find ways to get their weapons going earlier.

Raiders 45, Jets 20
They Jets were more feisty than expected, but the Raiders offense is going to be hard to stop for anybody.

Dolphins 19, Chargers 17
The Chargers are so snake bit that even Jay Cutler is coming back against them.

Broncos 42, Cowboys 17
Trevor Siemian has been the biggest surprise in the NFL, but Denvers defense hasn’t slipped much at all without Wade Philips.

Seahawks 12, 49ers 9
The 49ers are terrible (except Carlos Hyde), which should terrify Seahawks fans.

Redskins 27, Rams 20
Neither of these teams wanted this game, but Washington may have found a better formula in leaning less on Cousins and more on the ground game.

Falcons 34, Packers 23
Green Bay was very banged up, but the Falcons continue to prove the doubters (me included) wrong.

Lions 24, Giants 10
We’ll learn more about the Lions next week against Atlanta, but we know the Giants offense is a mess.

College Football Surprises

The good and the bad I didn’t see coming

USC 27-24 in double overtime. It was an ugly game for about 55 minutes. There was a wild end to the first half with a pick-six and a check-down turned Hail Mary and a crazy end to regulation with Texas going ahead only for Darnold to easily drive the Trojans down the field for the tying field goal. USC survived after stripping Texas at the goal line and it was just a magical game. Nostalgia, tradition, rough edges, dramatic moments–this game was everything we love good and bad about college football. And very few saw it coming.

Not many thought the 2006 Rose Bowl rematch would be close and surprises are what make the sport great. There are several this season. Not every surprise is a positive one, but they are what keep us tuning in on Saturdays.

Good Surprises:
Clemson
We knew they would be good, but I don’t think we expected to see a team so close to–if not exceeding–the level of last year’s championship squad. The defense is dominant and if Kelly Bryant is as good as he looks it could be trouble for everyone else.

Vanderbilt
You could see the Kansas State win coming, but the Commodores look like a threat in the SEC East, Continue reading “College Football Surprises”

NFL Week 2 Picks

Quick pitches for my best bets

If you’re not convinced quickly, it might not be right for you. That’s the approach I’m taking with the picks this week. The NFL is off to a bit of a sluggish start in general so its hard to feel great about a lot of these teams, especially with some of the lines this week. I found five I like and I think I can pitch them all pretty simply. If you want a longer explanation, check out the podcast. If it doesn’t feel right, be careful.

Packers +3 @ Falcons
Revenge. Rodgers is better than Ryan, Packers defense is improved. Falcons looked rough against the Bears. I think the Packers can win so I’ll take the points.

Seahawks -14 v. 49ers
Go with what you know. The 49ers are awful. Seahawks have question marks, but they should not be exposed here.

Raiders-14 v. Jets
Same approach. The Jets are unquestionably bad. More than two touchdowns worse than the Raiders.

Rams -3 v. Redskins
Washington is not good either. I am betting against the teams I really think are terrible. The Rams aren’t as good as they looked last week, but they can handle Washington at home.

Buccs -7 v. Bears
Emotional setting. Buccaneers ready to launch a playoff run and the Bears won’t look as sharp as the did against the Falcons.

Last Week: 2-2-1

Power 5 Sleepers

Week 3 Picks included

Earlier this week, I noted the strength of each conference at the top. Each one has a team well set up for the playoff race and most have more than one. Looking at each conference, you can identify the 2 or 3 favorites:

SEC: Alabama, LSU, Georgia
ACC: Clemson, Louisville, Virginia Tech
Pac-12: USC, Washington, UCLA
Big 12: Oklahoma, Oklahoma St.
Big Ten: Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio St.

Thats not an exhaustive list of favorites, but its a pretty good idea of which teams we expect to hear from at the end of the season. Yet, each conference has a team that, through two weeks, looks like it might be able to unexpectedly get into that conversation. These sleeper teams are ones I see with shots to get to their conference championship games, which will have them in the New Year’s six discussion–if not more.

SEC: Vanderbilt
Derek Mason has improved the Commodores record every year since he took the helm in 2014, getting Vandy to a bowl last season. This year, led by a stout defense and QB Kyle Shurmur (the Vikings’ offensive coordinator’s son), they look ready to make some noise. They already put the clamps on a good Middle Tennessee State team and crushed an FCS foe like they should. It’s tough sledding to have Alabama, @Florida and Georgia in consecutive weeks, but the SEC slate is always difficult. The SEC East is wide open and if they can pull an upset and get to 9-3 they have a shot to get to Atlanta.

This week: I love Vanderbilt +4 against Kansas State. K-State is a tough matchup for anybody, but the game is in Nashville and Vanderbilt is ready to get a big win heading into their Bama game next week. Continue reading “Power 5 Sleepers”