On the Monday before our league championship at The Shop (wish me luck), we hand out the money winnings for those who aren’t in the finals and a form similar to a Pro Bowl ballot.
We asked the owners to pick our All-Shop team, based not solely on numbers, but the combination of where players were ranked before the draft (or auction) and who was the best value. This is the All-Shop team for 2017.
QUARTERBACKS – Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson. Both were drafted in our league a little later than I expected, especially Wentz who I loved prior to the draft and just missed out on as my backup to Tom Brady. Both became must-start players who won a lot of games for owners.
RUNNING BACKS – Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. I was surprised that both Saints running backs made it, but how do you bench them? Keeping in mind that a lot of owners were drinking the Adrian Peterson Kool-Aid and devalued both Kamara and Ingram. Gurley was a no-brainer. Leonard Fournette and Le’Veon Bell got a consideration, but two Saints and a Ram won the vote.
WIDE RECEIVERS – Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Adam Thielen. Brown earned his spot despite being the first wide receiver taken in most drafts. Hopkins was consistent despite having a carousel of quarterbacks and Thielen came out of nowhere to become a weekly yardage and reception monster. Keenan Allen and Jarvis Landry didn’t fall far behind, but it was hard to argue.
TIGHT ENDS – Jimmy Graham and Kyle Rudolph. Both of them made the team because they scored touchdowns in bunches week after week. Evan Engram was a nice surprise and Gronk, Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce all lived up to their hype, but Graham and Rudolph got the most respect because they were bargain purchases and posted scoring numbers not typically seen from tight ends.
KICKER – Greg Zuerlein. Not only was he a late kicker pick, but he has dominated by a big distance over everybody else.
A lot of these guys will end up in the Pro Bowl, but, in The Shop league, they helped a lot of teams enjoy the success that brought them to the playoffs and, while most weren’t first- or second-round picks, they were the difference-makers for the 2017 fantasy season.
- What is going on with referees these days? We have yet another hard-to-justify explanation of what is and isn’t a catch that may have tipped the balance of power in the AFC and whether a first down was picked or not being determined by a folded up index card. The catch vs. ground rule is something that needs to be discussed, but, in an era where technology can provide coverage showing fractions of inches as to whether a player was in bounds or out of bounds, the old-school chain gain has to go. Put a laser on it and, if the ball touches it, it’s a first down, not some old guys running out 10 yards of chain and two orange sticks to determine it.
- Hat’s off to Antonio Brown, who before injuring his calf, went over the 100-catch mark for the fifth straight time. There was a time not too long ago that if you did that once or twice in your career, you were assumed to be a Hall of Famer. Brown has made it look simple with his fifth straight season over 100, giving him a five-year total of 582 receptions.
- You’ve got to hand it to the Jets. They knew they had a tall order going into New Orleans to pull off an upset, but they took their enthusiasm to a new level, getting called not once but twice for having 12 men on the field.
- The Giants have looked like hot garbage much of the season due to injuries and poor play, but you had to appreciate the effort they put in against the Eagles. If not for a couple of bonehead special teams play, they might have won that game and thrown the usually low-key Philly fans into full panic mode.
The razor’s edge
- Same Old Song and Dance – Few teams have been more frustrating this season than the Arizona Cardinals. Injuries have killed their offense and their defense has been sporadic, but they have been the most inconsistent team in the league, unless you define inconsistent by not being able to string together winning streaks. They are 6-8 and out of the playoffs for more than just a QB carousel that has included Drew Stanton to Blaine Gabbert back to Stanton. The Cardinals have been at .500 four times, but never being able to string back to back wins has been what has killed them and they had numerous chances to do it. Whether there needs to be a change at the top is up in the air, but no winning streaks doesn’t bode well for the guys calling the shots at the top.
- My Better Half – Big shocker on Thursday night last week. The Indianapolis Colts had a lead at halftime and ended up losing the game – their 11th loss of the season. Why was losing to Denver such a big problem? It’s that it has happened so losses. Of their 11 losses this season, the Colts have led at halftime in seven of those games – almost unheard of. If they could close out games, they would likely be in the playoffs, but they’ve been outscored 223-91 after halftime. They really have nobody to blame but themselves for where they’re going to finish and, almost a year away from the game hasn’t got Andrew Luck back into playing condition, which may lead to a changeover in the offseason.
- Implosion Coming? – The Carolina Panthers are rolling on the field, but there is a lot of internal turmoil going on. Owner Jerry Richardson has been called to the carpet both sexual harassment and making racist comments and linebacker Thomas Davis is facing a suspension for a cheap shot on Davante Adams. For a team that has a legitimate claim as a Super Bowl contender, it would seem the biggest distractions aren’t coming from outside noise, but from inside their own building. Richardson has said he will sell the team at the end of the season, which will likely end up being the same kind of “punishment” Donald Sterling faced when he was sold for the Clippers – get about $1 billion more than the franchise has been valued at over the years. Teams don’t sell often in the league, so shed no tears for Richardson. He will get paid handsomely to leave.
- Anatomy of a Collapse – The Houston Texans are a classic example of a team that has been devastated by injury. They lost J.J. Watt early in the season and, in a 41-38 shootout loss to Seattle, lost dynamic rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. At the time, the Texans were only 3-3, but, at that time, it was thought they could salvage the season and stay in contention. Sunday, they lost for the seventh time in the last eight games to fall to 4-10. The offense has been horrible, scoring two touchdowns or less in each of their last six losses, but their 45-7 blowout loss to Jacksonville was the final straw in a season that started with promise has got to the point where waving the white flag and preparing for 2018 and a comeback that may or may not include head coach Bill O’Brien.
- Is Lewis Going to Be Tending Marvin’s Garden in 2018? – Maybe the best thing that happened to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday was that the rumor leaked that Marvin Lewis would be leaving as head coach after 15 years – a report Lewis denied, but there’s no denying that he’s going to be shown the door at year’s end simply to pacify the fan base. The season has been a dog from the start. After scoring just nine points in their first two games, most of Cincy’s losses were in close games. In their last two – at home against Chicago and at Minnesota – Cincinnati has been outscored 67-14. The best news for Bengals fans was that all the talk was about Lewis and not how awful this team has become once depleted by injuries.
- A Game of Inches – The Oakland Raiders came into 2017 with many picking them as the favorite to win it all in the AFC West. A four-game losing streak early in the season dug the Raiders a hole deep enough that many questioned whether they could pull out of that nosedive. After winning four of six games, the Raiders were at 6-6 with a chance to knock division-leading Kansas City off their perch that they had held all season. That didn’t happen. After losing to K.C., the best the Raiders could hope for was a wild card berth. That went away when Derek Carr dove for the end zone in the final minute and the ball came loose inches from the goal line. Dropping to 6-8, not only will they not return to the playoffs, but they will need to win their final two games to avoid a losing record. When you’re 4-4 at home, the playoffs don’t come calling very often and the Black Hole will be enduring the first of multiple disappointments coming when the team bails out and heads to Las Vegas.
- Pass the Tennessee Whiskey, I Need a Stiff Drink – The Tennessee Titans had the AFC South in the control much of the year. As Houston and Indy fell by the wayside, it was clear the division title. On Dec. 3 when the Titans officially put a bullet in the head of the Texans, Tennessee was 8-4 with a win in hand over Jacksonville. With their next two games against teams with losing records – at Arizona and at San Francisco – the Titans appeared destined to be a playoff team. That has changed badly over the last two weeks, losing 12-7 at Arizona and 25-23 against the 49ers. The Titans are two games behind Jacksonville with two games to play and appeared destined to, at best, be a wild card team. But, the problem with that is that being a wild card would entail playing on the road. Tennessee has lost five of their last seven road games and their only wins have come against Cleveland and Indianapolis, who just about everyone beats. The Titans will be at home for their last two games. That’s the good news. They will have to go on the road if they make the playoffs. That’s the bad news.
- We Got Robbed – A lot of the guys at The Shop have had problems with the way the NFL interprets what is and isn’t a catch. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a chance to lock down the No. 1 seed with a win over New England at home and appeared to have the game in hand. In the final minute, tight end Jesse James caught a pass with both hands and, as his knee was going down, he tried to reach the ball out to the goal line. He got it there, but, when the ball hit the ground, it moved and the play was ruled incomplete after review. It wasn’t a diving catch on the sidelines trapped against a player’s body. This was in the middle of the field with a clear hands-away-from-the-body catch and a football move trying to push it past the goal line. We all know what happened from there and it seems like the football gods are against the Steelers right now.
- The Best Laid Plans – I found it amusing that, when it was announced that Aaron Rodgers was coming back for the final three games of the season, how everyone magically assumed that the Packers would easily go 3-0, despite playing at Carolina, vs. Minnesota and at Detroit – all three teams with legitimate postseason aspirations. Even national talking heads with decent reputations for understanding the game opted to ignore the fact that the Packers running game is an inconsistent mess and the defense, especially the secondary, is young, depleted and awful. The Packers lost and their playoff hopes swirled down the drain with them – primarily due to three interceptions thrown by Rodgers that he likely wouldn’t have thrown if he was 100 percent. With Minnesota on the schedule with a lot to play for, the Packers have put their franchise player at risk for no good reason. Brett Hundley could have lost to the Panthers just as easily.
- The 12th Man Leaves Town – There have been a lot of questions about the viability of the Seattle Seahawks as the big daddy of the AFC West. The franchise has been in decline – albeit a slow decline – since going to back-to-back Super Bowls, but they maintained the reputation of being the top dog out West. Not only has Los Angeles changed the guard at the top, the reason has been that Seattle doesn’t have the home field dominance that made them who they are. The Seahawks are 8-6 – 4-3 at home and 4-3 on the road. They have lost three of their last four games at home, dropping games to Atlanta and Washington prior to Sunday. Not only did they lose to the Rams, they got humbled 42-7. It was an epic beating and one that likely will kill any chance of the Seahawks making it to the playoffs this season.