In The Shop League, we always get everyone together for something resembling a formal owners meeting – others would contend it’s an excuse for beer and barbecue – and we discuss things like potential rules changes, pushing back the trade deadline, etc.
But, this year, the topic of discussion was focused more on the guys who have saved or ruined the franchises in the TSL this season. The guys who were thought back in August to be the real deal have, in too big of numbers to believe, have left owners high and dry. At the same time, owners who took chances on young guys or unproven guys – like Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, Dalvin Cook (before he got hurt), Adam Thielen, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Evan Engram – have been rewarded.
I’m not sure if your league has suffered the same level of devastation – in our league, which is a pretty standard format – point totals are down across the board. I don’t know whether to chalk that up to bad lineup decisions or an overall shift in the big picture of fantasy scoring and owners who stick with underachieving players with star power than benching them in favor of more consistent scorers.
It seems to have been across the board that the early-round picks have largely been disappoints and it doesn’t matter by position.
At quarterback, Aaron Rodgers owners have been hitting the bottle pretty hard and cling to the delusion that A-Rodg might make a fantasy playoff return late in the season (don’t bet on it). But, some other QBs drafted to be starters have been big disappointments. Andrew Luck has been M.I.A. all season. Reigning MVP Matt Ryan had just four games last season with less than two TD passes, seven with three or more TDs and nine games with 280 or more passing yards. Through in games this season, he has less than two TD passes in five games, more than two in none and just three games with more than 280 yards. Ben Roethlisberger talked about retiring in the offseason and it looks like he kind of did, despite Pittsburgh’s 7-2 record. He had three or more TD passes in seven of 15 games last year. This season he has just 12 TDs in nine games, none with more than two and only four with more than one.
Running back took a big hit when David Johnson went down in Week 1, effectively ruining the season for owners with the first or second overall pick. Ezekiel Elliott saw his stock drop somewhat, but he was still drafted as an RB1 and now that his suspension has kicked in down the stretch for the playoffs, it’s been even more painful for fantasy owners. In 2016, Shady McCoy scored 14 touchdowns in 15 games with seven 100-yard rushing games and 50 receptions. In 2017, he’s decent only in PPR leagues. He has just two 100-yard rushing games – one since Week 1 – and despite having 200 touches, he has scored just three touchdowns. Devonta Freeman hasn’t scored in the last five games and has averaged 46 rushing yards a game – never having more than 12 carries in any of them.
At wide receiver, the loss of Odell Beckham Jr. was a killer. But it has been the receivers that were drafted to be played every week that are the biggest disappointments. Everyone acknowledges that Julio Jones is a Hall of Famer, but one touchdown in nine games and just two 100-yard games is not what owners were buying into early in the draft or auction. The value of all Packers wide receivers have taken a nosedive since Rodgers’ injury. It may be time for the rest of the world to come on board with what I’ve been saying for two years – I would much rather have Michael Crabtree in my lineup than Amari Cooper. Cooper has been held under 40 yards in six of nine games and, with the exception of one giant game against Kansas City when he was most likely on the bench, he’s been a load all season.
Tight end has seen injuries take a toll. Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen and Tyler Eifert have all been felled by injury and the overall production at the position has taken a step backward.
If you’re riding high this season, you either were able to avoid most or all of these players or your depth of drafting/auctioning won the day. It’s said one injury can’t kill a fantasy team, but, when it involves players you invested heavily in and they’re either gone or playing poorly every week – it’s a fantasy death by 1,000 paper cuts.
- In the four games Adrian Peterson was in New Orleans, Mark Ingram rushed just 42 times for 170 yards and no touchdowns – an average of 10.5 carries for 42.5 yards. In the five games since he’s been gone, Ingram has rushed 102 times for 502 yards and seven touchdowns – an average of 20.4 carries for 100.4 yards and 1.4 touchdowns.
- All of us at The Shop send out sincere condolences and lots of love the way of Marquise Goodwin and his family. Goodwin played Sunday against the Giants, catching an 83-yard touchdown, hours after to losing his son at 4 a.m. Sunday. We’re a pretty competitive bunch at The Shop, but we’re all family men and the Goodwin news hit a chord.
- John Fox may want to think twice about throwing the challenge flag. His decision may well have cost Chicago a chance to win Sunday – nullifying a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line into a touchback that turned over the ball.
- Minnesota’s Adam Thielen is starting to get recognized as an elite receiver. His 166 yards and a touchdown Sunday was huge in Minnesota’s road win at Washington and he is the answer to a pretty good trivia question – he’s the only NFL player in the league with five or more receptions in every game.
- A month ago, if someone put Jets wide receiver Richie Anderson in their lineup, they would have been nearly laughed off by their opponents. In the last four games, Anderson has caught 17 passes for 272 yards and a TD in each of the last four games. Now there is more cursing than there is laughing.
The razor’s edge
- In or Out – What’s It Gonna Be? – Few teams have been as painfully predictable as the Arizona Cardinals. They’ve won four games, lost five and never put back to back wins or losses together. As former Cardinals coach Dennis Green famously said, “They are who we thought they were. Their four wins have come against teams they should have beaten (Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and San Francisco twice) and their losses have come against teams the records say they should lose to (Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia, the Rams and Seattle). All we can see this week is look out Houston. History doesn’t appear to be on your side, both based on your record and it being an even-numbered game for the overly predictable Cardinals.
- We’re No. 1 (in the current draft order) – There is no organization that has been more disappointing – short-term and long-term – than the Cleveland Browns. From wasted draft picks to underachieving free agent signings, the Browns push to win a game – any game – has been next to impossible. They can hold together for a while, but always seem to find a way to fail. For most of the season, it has been the defense that has kept Cleveland in games only to have the offense ruin the party. On Sunday, the Browns offense put up 413 yards and, with two minutes left in the third quarter, led Detroit 24-17 and had held Matthew Stafford almost completely in check. In the final 16 minutes, they allowed Stafford to throw three touchdowns and lost 38-24, dropping to 0-9 and continuing to find new ways to lose.
- Far From Burfict – I’ve always been a fan of players who are emotional and can get opposition fans to hate them – in wrestling, they call that “heel heat.” But, in the case of Vontaze Burfict, his immaturity and general stupidity has cost his team dearly. His cheap shot on Antonio Brown directly cost the Bengals a chance to win a playoff game – something has evaded head coach Marvin Lewis in his tenure. He has had to give up nearly $1 million in fines in his career because of bad behavior and bad decisions. His latest was bumping a ref in the second quarter Sunday and getting ejected. As usual, he was defiant, but, in a 24-20 loss to the Titans, one has to wonder if not for his bonehead lack of thinking, could the Bengals have won the game and kept their bleak playoff hopes alive? At the 3-6, they’re all but done and, along with it, so may be his head coach, the staff and several of his teammates.
- Even When We Win, We Lose – Ask anyone who has Green Bay Packers fantasy players and they will tell you just how important Aaron Rodgers was to that offense when he was lost for the season with a broken collarbone. Guys like Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams went from top 10 receivers to guys you only play in a pinch. On Sunday, the Packers saw both running back Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery go down to injury. Green Bay has a history of player injuries, but it took A-Rodg going down to throw their other deficiencies into the spotlight. They got their first win in the post-Rodgers period Sunday against the hapless Bears, but it may be their last in a while because we’re quickly learning the Packers were Rodgers a bunch of guys – not a full team capable of a Super Bowl run.
- Kissin’ Your Cousin – The Washington Redskins seemingly can’t handle prosperity. Every time they’ve looked like they have a shot at showing signs of life, they drop an egg and take two backward steps. Back in October, they were 3-2 and had divisional games coming up with Philadelphia and Dallas with a chance to start writing their own ticket for 2017. Instead, they lost both games, dropped to 3-4 with 0-3 record within the division and put their playoff hopes on life support. After going into Seattle and getting an upset win last week, they had got back to .500 and had the opportunity to make some noise against Minnesota. They made noise all right, just all the wrong noise. Washington had a 17-14 lead late in the second quarter, but, in an eight-minute span, the Redskins offense was on the field for two plays and their 17-14 lead turned into a 35-17 deficit. In the final two minutes of the first and second halves, Washington has allowed 78 points, which explains the position they’re in right now.
- Can We Get the Bye Week Already? – Things can’t be much worse than they are for the Indianapolis Colts. Jim Irsay has come under fire for basically saying that Andrew Luck is making up pain symptoms and Luck quit believing in the Colts to the point that he’s looking to get treatment of his ailing throwing shoulder done in Europe because he doesn’t have confidence in the team doctors to get the job done. To complicate matters, when they finally have a chance to lay down a signature win, they run it down their leg. Thanks to pair of long touchdown passes, the Colts led the Steelers 17-3 in the third quarter, they allowed the Steelers to score the game’s final 17 points, including a needed two-point conversion after a touchdown in the fourth quarter and run a 10-play, 70-yard drive in the final three minutes to score the game-winning field goal as time expired. There are some franchises that just appear to be cursed some season and the Colts fall into that category, especially when they get outscored 110-28 in the fourth quarter of games.
- We Need Another Backup Plan – The Houston Texans had a lot of positives going for themselves when they made the quick decision to bail on QB Tom Savage and turn the starting job over to rookie Deshaun Watson. Watson gave the offense a spark and gave Texans fans lamenting the loss of J.J. Watt some hope that things would improve. But, when Watson went down in practice, so did any hope the Texans had of making the playoffs. Sunday against the Rams, the defense did its job, holding Los Angeles to three field goals in the first half, the last coming with 14 seconds left on the clock to give L.A. a 9-7 halftime lead. But, Savage had two turnovers and the Rams scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter – one on a 94-yard touchdown pass and the others on touchdown drives of 36 and 12 yards to blow the game open. Houston’s defense can only keep them in games so long when the offense is so inept.
- Hidin’ Go Zeke – The Dallas Cowboys had already matched their loss total of all of 2016 through five games when they were sitting at 2-3 heading into their bye week, but with Ezekiel Elliott using the legal system to stay on the field and avoid his six-game suspension, the Cowboys won three straight games, including a road win at Washington and a home win against Kansas City. They were two games in the loss column behind Philadelphia but could still control their own business with both games against the Eagles still remaining. But, when Elliott lost his last appeal, not only was he gone, but so was tackle Tyron Smith. The Cowboys first game without them was an unqualified disaster, as Dak Prescott got sacked eight times and the Cowboys got shelled like a peanut 27-7 by the struggling Falcons. With a tough slate of games coming, as things stand right now, the Cowboys are going to be hard-pressed to recover and make a playoff run if their offense is so one-dimensional and Prescott continues to take a blindside beating.
- Over the Falls in a Barrel – The Buffalo Bills had been one of the cool stories of 2017. Appearing to be a team that was giving up before the season started when it parted with some of its key players, when Buffalo got off to a 5-2 start, including home wins against Denver and Oakland, there was plenty of hope to go around that Buffalo had what it took to be a playoff team at 5-2. But, following a humbling 34-21 blowout loss to the Jets in Week 9 that saw New York run over, around and through them to the tune of 194 yards on 41 carries and three touchdowns, Buffalo lost its first home game of the season in humiliating fashion, losing 47-10 to New Orleans. It’s bad enough to allow a 100-yard rusher, but Buffalo allowed two Sunday, as the Saints ran 48 times for 298 yards and six rushing touchdowns. The playoff drought that extends back to the last century is looking more and more likely to continue in epic collapse fashion.
- Anatomy of a Collapse – Initially, the problem in Denver was with its offense. As the season wore on, Trevor Siemian got worse and the result was that a 3-1 start had turned into a 3-4 record because the Broncos managed to score just 29 points in three games against the Giants, Chargers and Chiefs. The team decided to make a quarterback change to Brock Osweiler and, while the offense came alive, in their last two games, the Broncos have allowed 92 points – 51 to Philadelphia and 41 to New England. With five straight losses, Denver has fallen to 3-6 and are hopelessly out of playoff contention because they simply don’t look like a team capable of running the table to make the playoffs. We knew their offense would struggle, but with all that talent to get picked about the Eagles and Patriots has sent the clear message that we’re in “wait ‘til next year” mode for a franchise that won the Super Bowl two years ago.