Around The Shop, I’m always popular with the kids in the neighborhood on Halloween. I invest a few bucks in buying full-size candy bars and the kids make their way in throughout the day. I do this for a couple of reasons – it’s good for business to have kids talking up the nice people at The Shop and I don’t much care to clean up broken eggs or broken glass Nov. 1 on a regular basis.
When the bell rings and a little kid comes in (I even give candy to the big kids with no discernable costume and a pillow case for a candy bag because they tend to do the worst in retribution damage if turned away empty-handed), it’s always fun to hearsay gleefully, “Trick or Treat.”
But, when it comes to football players in fantasy lineups, Trick or Treat means two very different things. A “Trick” is a player who is putting something over on you. You keep playing him and are consistently mystified by the garbage he gives you in return. A “Treat” is a player you want to keep playing because, while he doesn’t hit every week, he consistently gives you what you’re looking for.
Most of the fellas from The Shop league rolled in Monday and, as is my time-killing wont to do, I took a poll of owners as to who they think are the Tricks of the 2017 season and who are the Treats. These are the results of that non-scientific, but reality-based polling.
Amari Cooper, Oakland. With the exception of one huge game against Kansas City, in the other six games, Cooper has caught just 23 passes for 294 yards and one touchdown. He’s been a roster load almost every week and one giant week (when he was benched by most intelligent owners) doesn’t change that.
Julio Jones, Atlanta. He keeps getting propped up as in the same class as Antonio Brown, but the numbers just aren’t there. He has one touchdown, one 100-yard game and four games with five or fewer receptions in his first seven. In fantasy terms, he’s been a solid starting wide receiver, but without the huge individual weeks, he just isn’t giving owners the return on investment they wanted.
C.J. Anderson, Denver. In his last four games, Anderson has rushed just 47 times for 192 yards, has just seven receptions and hasn’t scored a touchdown. He’s gone from a starter to a roster liability in the span of a month.
Cam Newton, Carolina. He has thrown no touchdowns in three games and just one TD in two others and his best game of the season was at New England when a lot of owners were benching him on principle. Perhaps no player has been more disappointing because so much was expected of him.
DeMarco Murray, Tennessee. He has more than 60 yards in one game, brings nothing to the passing game and has scored just two touchdowns. It keeps looking more likely that Derrick Henry is taking over sooner than later.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona. His overall numbers look good (45-494-3), but they’ve been concentrated into two games and the rest has been disappointing. He’s hard to play with confidence, especially with Carson Palmer out.
Deshaun Watson, Houston. In his last five games, he has thrown 18 touchdowns – including 16 in his last four – and has become a must-play fantasy guy. He has turned DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller into fantasy stars and, along the way, is becoming one himself.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams. Eight touchdowns in seven games with 627 yards rushing and 300 receiving, he has backed up his breakout 2016 season with even higher heights and he’s on pace for more than 2,000 yards this season – if not more.
Dak Prescott, Dallas. He was second-fiddle last season with Ezekiel Elliott tearing things up, but this year has been a different story. In his last six games (four on the road), he has thrown two or more TDs in five of them, three TDs in three of them and has three rushing touchdowns as well. He’s a must-start unless you have a Tom Brady as your other QB on the roster.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville. All he does is score touchdowns. He has played in six NFL games and hasn’t had a single game in which he hasn’t finished with a touchdown. Kareem Hunt is getting a lot more of the attention, but Fournette has lived up to his billing and delivered on what was advertised coming out of the SEC.
Jordan Howard, Chicago. In his first two games, Howard had just 22 carries. In his last six, he has rushed the ball 23 times a game and has averaged 100 yards a game. The Bears offense is brutal, but he’s the show and brings it when given the opportunity.
Adam Thielen, Minnesota. He only has one touchdown and one 100-yard game, but he’s on pace to catch almost 100 passes and is the only NFL player with five or more receptions in every game this season.
Alex Smith, Kansas City. He’s always been fantasy poison. Kareem Hunt gets all the attention, but he had six touchdowns his first three games and very little since. Smith has been a guy you expect to get one TD at best, but he has two or more touchdowns in five of seven games, three or more in three games and no touchdowns in none of them. He’s always been consistent, but never consistently strong.
Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers. With eight touchdowns in eight games and a pace to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 60 passes has earned him the right to be mentioned among the best.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati. He isn’t lightly the town on fire, but, he’s the consummate backup QB that you can start in a pinch. After an ugly start, he has thrown two or more touchdowns in four of his last five games and has replaced Eli Manning of the classic one-week, plug-in QB fantasy owners often need. It’s no coincidence that A.J. Green has at least one TD in four of the last five games, either.
Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia. Carson Wentz is the faceplate of the Eagles offense, but Agholor has been the engine, scoring a touchdown in five of seven games.
- What makes Miami’s epic beat-down at the hands of the Ravens last Thursday even more stunning was something that hadn’t been noticed by many outside The Shop. In their previous 17 regular season games prior to supplying the butt in an old-fashioned butt-whoopin’ what would you suppose their record was? Would you believe 13-4? It is possible for a team to fly under the radar when they’re playing dominant football.
- For those who saw Sunday’s Houston-Seattle game may have seen the best regular season game in years. A game that featured four ties and five lead changes in the final 17½ minutes. Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson combined to throw for 854 yards and eight touchdowns, four players had more than 100 receiving yards and three players had two touchdowns. For a pair of teams known more for their defense than offense, that game was proof that every NFL game is unique and capable of being an instant classic.
- Zeke Elliott wasn’t tearing things up early on – rushing 76 times for 277 yards and two rushing touchdowns in the first four games, an average of 19 carries for 69 yards and a half-touchdown a game. In his last three, the old Zeke has returned. He has rushed 88 times for 413 yards and four touchdowns – an average of 29 carries for 138 yards and better than a TD a game, making those who took the risk on him heading to pay window on a weekly basis.
- What is it about Seattle and the AFC South? In four games against teams from the NFC, Seattle has allowed just 43 points – less than 11 a game. In three games against the AFC South, the Seahawks have given up 89 points – an average of 30 points a game. Look out when Jacksonville comes to town in December.
The razor’s edge
- Fail to the Redskins (Again) – There has been a sentiment that the Washington Redskins are a legitimate playoff contender. They’ve overspent for Kirk “You like that?!” Cousins two years in a row and have the delusional belief that they are in line to make a Super Bowl run. The fact remains that the Redskins were a 5-7 team in December 2015 before going on a four-game run to win the NFC East with a pedestrian 9-7 record before being quickly dispatched from the playoffs. In the 23 games they have played since, they have a record of 11-11-1, which won’t put anyone in the playoffs this year – much less a team that is 0-3 in its division with two of those losses coming at home. The only certainty is that Washington isn’t going to triple down on giving Cousins the franchise tag in 2018.
- I Wasn’t Hacked – It’s one thing when a player who is being grossly underpaid and his team prevents him from hitting the open market or getting the long-term deal he deserves. It’s another when a player pops off for no reason other than selfishness. Martavis Bryant is a supremely skilled player, but he has run afoul of the NFL more than once – he missed the entire 2016 season after yet another positive drug test. He wasn’t liking the fact the rookie JuJu Smith-Shuster was getting more attention than he was and decided to take to social media to vent and demand a trade. All that got him was work on the scout team. With the trade deadline looming, Bryant’s name is likely going to come up, but it would serve him right for the organization that has stood by him when he couldn’t live by the rules of the CBA to bury him on the scout team and let him leave at the end of the season. Martavis has nobody to blame but himself for his current situation.
- Who’s No. 1 (Next April?) – The Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers took different paths to close out the first half of their season with records of 0-8. Hard as it was to believe, Cleveland actually held a 16-15 lead over Minnesota in London before the Vikings hit the switch and put the boots to Cleveland – scoring the final 18 points of the game and turned a tight game into a 33-16 blowout. The Niners, who have made their legacy of O-fer stockpiling by playing close games – losing four of their first six games by three points. But, on the heels of getting slapped around 40-10 by Dallas, the 49ers fell behind 20-0 on midway through the third quarter – on their way to a 33-10 slapping from the Eagles. Both teams are still looking for a win and the search may continue for some time.
- No Cork Popping in Miami – A lot of teams have gone into Baltimore and lost, but few have taken the unholy beating that the Dolphins got laid on them by the Ravens in another unfortunate stand-alone primetime game. The Ravens have struggled to put up points against anyone this season, but the Dolphins got lit up for 20 points from the Baltimore offense in the first half and 20 more points in the fourth quarter thanks to two defensive touchdowns by the Ravens. A one-game anomaly? Don’t bet on it. Every other team in the league is going to look at that pounding and learn from it.
- London Calling? – Following Minnesota’s win over the Browns in London, several Minnesota players and coaches were asked by the local media in England if they thought the NFL might expand to place a permanent franchise in London. Most of them said that the experience was fun and the fans were clearly passionate about the game, but defensive end Everson Griffen shot down the idea that it simply isn’t logistically possible to expect a team to take an eight-to-10 hour flight across an ocean to play a game and then come back home and pick up the next week. Never underestimate the greed of the NFL, but placing a permanent team in London will likely have bad consequences if it means teams packing up their organization and rolling into London every year. They may have the best of both worlds in England seeing eight different teams come in once and leave then have a team located in their city and create travel nightmares throughout the league.
- Motor City Bad Men – When Detroit went into Minnesota in Week 4 and came away with a 14-7 win, it appeared like all the stars were aligning for Detroit to make a playoff return – a wish that took on more traction when Aaron Rodgers was lost for the season in Green Bay. But, after winning in Week 1 at home against Arizona, the fans of the Lions haven’t seen the home boys win since – losing 30-26 to Atlanta, 27-24 to Carolina and 20-15 to Pittsburgh. Sunday night’s loss may have been the most depressing of all of them. Matt Stafford threw for 423 yards and moved the offense up and down the field, but couldn’t get into the end zone. They got in the red zone five times and into 1st-and-goal situation three times and not only didn’t come away with any touchdowns out of it, they only came away with nine points. With three straight losses overall and three straight home losses, the Lions have gone from the NFC North driver’s seat to the trunk in a hurry.
- Indianapolis Way Below-.500 – The Indianapolis Colts have been in a downward spiral since the start of training camp when the news on Andrew Luck was sketchy and non-committal as to when he would be back on the field. The hope was that, if the Colts could stay in the mix, they could survive long enough to make a division title push late when Luck would return. There are certain games during the course of a season that set the course for what follows. For the Colts, that game was Sunday. The Colts dominated the Bengals in many facets of the game. They ran better (28 carries, 115 yards vs. 21 carries for 58 yards), they dominated third down offensive conversions (8 of 16 vs. 4 of 11) and ran many more plays (71 to 53). But, with a six-point lead in the final seven minutes, quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw a Pick-6, the Colts dropped to 2-6 for no reason other than themselves. After halftime, they have been outscored 147-54, including 92-25 in the fourth quarter. Indy isn’t a horrible team, but failure in the fourth is never an option and it’s been the defining theme of their season.
- Inmates Running What? – It’s not unusual for players, coaches or even owners to make statements they regret. But Houston Texans owner Bob McNair may have stepped into Donald Sterling territory when he made the misplaced remark about inmates. Many of us have heard the phrase that you don’t let the “inmates run the asylum” – a common reference to things being a little too insane for rational thinking. However, McNair took a turn on that phrase, stating that there were “inmates running the prison.” – a very different take on an old phrase. Given the impetus of the kneeling stance players have taken – a perceived racial inequality in the criminal justice system. McNair can do all the apologizing and explaining he wants, the toothpaste is out of that tube and won’t be put back in anytime soon.
- Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – It’s hard to imagine that the Tampa Bay Bucs were 2-1 after three weeks and taking passengers on their bandwagon. In hindsight, homes wins against the Bears and the Giants doesn’t hold the impressive nature it may have in September. They have lost four straight games in a division that doesn’t tolerate losing – New Orleans and Carolina are currently playoff teams and Atlanta is the defending NFC champ – the Bucs are the floating corpse of the division. In the three road games they have played, Tampa Bay has allowed 34, 38 and 30 points and the teams that have squandered them aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts – Minnesota, Arizona and Buffalo. With three of their next four games on the road, it would appear a promising 2017 season has seen the ship sail and they’re leaving the Bucs behind.
- The Not-So-Mighty Oak – When the Oakland Raiders improbably beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the final seconds of the Thursday night game in Week 7, it was seen as saving their season. For a team that lost only four games in all of 2016, the Raiders appeared ready to get back into the race. With 10 days to prepare for Buffalo, the Raiders had a lot to win by going into Buffalo and taking out the Bills on Kahlil Mack’s return to his college hometown. Instead, they learned they had a lot to lose, getting blown out by the Bills 34-14, dropping them to 3-5 with five losses in their last six games. The trendy pick to win the AFC West is now trying to keep their heads above water with the most difficult part of their schedule still to come. The Black Hole seems more appropriate to describe the team’s playoff potential this year, not their rabid fan base.