Championship Weekend Projections

Updated: January 20th 2018

It is Championship Sunday! What an amazing slate of games last weekend. The Eagles hung on at home in a thrilling victory that stunned a bunch of critics. New England unsurprisingly throttled Tennessee despite the Titans striking first with a score. And then Sunday, in what many thought would be a defensive battle, the Jaguars and the Steelers combined for 87 points with the Jags edging the Steelers by 3 points, sending the Steelers and their fans depressed into the offseason. And then for the finale, Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs in walk-off fashion at home to beat the Saints on what is being called the Minnesota Miracle. Below is a recap of how we have all performed over the past two weeks:

  1. Stephen Wendell: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS
  3. Bob Cowper: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: Wildcard Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 4-0 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 0-4 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS  / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS
  7. Dave Sanders: Wildcard Weekend: No Picks / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 2-2 ATS

The table is set for an incredible Championship Sunday, and here are our writers’ projections for this weekend:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots (Line NE -7.5): ML – 2 JAX & 4 NE// ATS – 5 JAX & 1 NE
  2. Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles (Line MIN -3.5): ML – 4 MIN & 2 PHI // ATS – 3 MIN & 3 PHI

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) @ #1 New England Patriots (13-3) [Line: NE -7.5]

Stephen Wendell: Well I certainly underestimated Jacksonville last week. I have to tip my cap to them as they came into Pittsburgh and played without fear and handed the Steelers a crushing defeat. Even though Tom’s hand may not be 100%, I don’t think the Jag’s miracle run continues, as the Patriots (even if led by Hoyer) find a way to get it done at home where they have won so many games before in January.  Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Jaguars 13.

Matt Papson: At 6-2 ATS, Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Jaguars 21.

Robert Cowper: Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. Defense travels. These may be cliches, but cliches become cliche for a reason. I can’t believe I’ve convinced myself of this but I’m taking the Jags and their defense to overcome the Patriots offense. It’s part contrarian pick but it’s also based on stats. The Patriots are the second best offense when it comes to turnovers; just 6.5% of their drives end in a turnover. The Jags on the other hand are prolific at creating turnovers; they rank third, creating turnovers on 15.8% of drives. Something’s gotta give and I think it’ll be New England losing the turnover margin battle. One area where the Patriots offense is not elite is when it comes to protecting Tom Brady – they rank 15th in sacks allowed and 12th in sacks allowed per pass attempt (which helps control for the fact that they pass more frequently than many teams). Not surprisingly, if you’ve watched any of their games, the Jags are second in both categories on defense. Another reason I think the Jags will have the better turnover margin is that Blake Bortles is being utilized differently in the playoffs. Through the regular season he averaged over 32 attempts per game; so far in the playoffs he has attempted 23 and 26 passes. His attempts are down and so are his interceptions (13 on the season but none in the playoffs). One reason his attempts are down is because he’s running more often: 28% of his 2017 rushing yards came in the two playoff games. Throughout all of December (5 games) Bortles had just 67 yards and so far in January (2 games) he has 123. The Jags need to keep the game plan the same and they will win a close one led by their defense and kicker Josh Lambo. Projected Score: Jaguars 19 – Patriots 11

Matt Goodwin: I’m sure I’m in the extreme minority here, but there’s something about this Jaguars team that seems 2013 Ravens-like and potentially even like the 2014 Seahawks. Both of those teams had to climb their respective conferences after coming just short in season’s past. This Jaguars team, buoyed by key free agent additions on the defensive side like Calais Campbell and the instant success of #4 overall draft pick Leonard Fournette have turned it around in one season. While nobody seems to ever be able to completely neutralize the Patriots offense, this one feels like the Jags have the talent to do just that and their offense has been efficient and confident enough to win different types of games. If the Jags had a weapon like Allen Robinson in this game, I’d be more confident in the pick, but I’m rolling with them nonetheless as I think Telvin Smith can contain Gronk and Jalen Ramsey will do his thing, while receivers like Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook do enough to compliment Fournette’s running and Yeldon catching passes out of the backfield. Give me the Jags in a “shock the world” upset.  Projected Score: Jaguars 23 – Patriots 20.

Nick AndrewsThis is the matchup everyone expected for the AFC Championship, Pittsburgh Steelers Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots. Jokes aside, this actually might be a better game than if Pittsburgh had made the trip to Foxborough. There are only two things that have prevented Tom Brady and Bill Belichick from having another handful of Super Bowl rings: 4-man defensive pressure and Tom Coughlin. The Jaguars have both of these which is why I think they have a better shot to make it to the Super Bowl than the Steelers ever did. Belichick and Josh McDaniels will certainly use a different game plan to try and counter the pressure but it definitely will make things interesting. What will be more interesting is which Blake Bortles shows up to play? The Patriots are unlikely to give up as many opportunities as they Steelers afforded him last week so can Bortles make three or four drives that result in touchdowns over field goals? I think that will be the difference in Sunday’s results. Projected Score: Patriots 23 – Jaguars 16.

Bernard Faller: Rookie Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars run game pounded Pittsburg last week. The formula remains the same this week relying on a stout defense and limiting the Patriots offensive touches with the run game. The challenge will be scoring against a New England defense which closed the year strong giving up only 14 points per game in the last 13 contests after a brutal first four weeks of the season. This could be closer than some think but I will bet against New England when Tom Brady retires. Maybe. Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Jaguars 16

#2 Minnesota Vikings (13-3) @ #1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) [Line: PHI -3.5]

Stephen Wendell: I was more optimistic than most last week, picking the Eagles to win outright, and I feel the same way this week. Foles showed he can play under immense pressure, and ultimately, I think the home crowd and playing outdoors proves to be the difference this week. The Eagles win on a late 4th quarter touchdown and head to Super 52 for a rematch against their last Super Bowl foe, the Patriots. Projected Score: Eagles 21 – Vikings 17.

Matt Papson: At 6-2 ATS, Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Eagles 19 – Vikings 17. 

Robert Cowper: Meh. That’s how I’m feeling about the Vikings and Eagles matchup. There are some interesting storylines, my favorite being “how did Jeff Fisher manage to be 4-12 with three playoff QBs on the Rams’ roster last year,” but I’m just not into it. We all agree that losing Carson Wentz takes some of the sizzle out of this game. Nick Foles is steady and reliable enough to not be a liability but I don’t see him winning this game for the Eagles because the Vikings defense is first in so many categories that I lost count. I think the game will come down to Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon. He only got 8 carries to Latavius Murray’s 19 last week but with Murray running headlong into Fletcher Cox I think it’s inevitable that they’ll change strategy. I think we’ll see a game similar to the one McKinnon had against the Bengals when he caught 7 balls for 114 yards. Let’s not forget that Minnesota has the added incentive of playing a Super Bowl at home. (did I mention that I’m a Cowboys fan?) Projected Score: Vikings 23 – Eagles 16

Matt Goodwin: I’m really excited about this game and how could anyone not be after Stefon Diggs’ walk-off touchdown last week? One game away from hosting the Super Bowl, the Vikings take on the underdog Eagles in a likely grind-it-out matchup. Since teams can’t really run on the Vikings, it will be imperative that Nick Foles and the Eagles get creative on offense and try to attack the Vikings secondary. Good luck with that as I don’t think Alshon Jeffery gets separation on average DBs, let alone Xavier Rhodes. Beyond Zach Ertz, I think guys like Nelson Agholor, Corey Clement and Trey Burton will have to get going in the passing game for the Eagles to be able to do much on offense. In order to win this game, the Eagles defense will have to make life terrible for Case Keenum with constant pressure. In the end, causing turnovers is the Eagles best shot at getting back to the Super Bowl without Carson Wentz. I think the Eagles’ time will come sooner than later and I’m not just saying this for Matt and Stephen’s benefit (maybe even next season), but I’m taking the Vikings this weekend as they just seem to be a “team of destiny”. Projected Score: Vikings 19 – Eagles 16

Nick AndrewsWow. Wow. Wow! No offense to the Eagles but I think that Saints vs. Vikings might have been the real NFC Championship game. Drew Brees did everything he could to vanquish the best defense in the NFL and the Saints still fell just short. The Eagles also boast a strong defense which should make this a low(er) scoring game. However, I don’t think Nick Foles can rise up to the level that Drew Brees needed to take down this Vikings squad. The Eagles best shot is for their defense to create short fields with turnovers and 3-play drives increasing their scoring opportunities. I don’t see them sustaining many 60+ yard drives. If the Vikings gain a two score lead at any point, this one is over. Projected Score: Vikings 24 – Eagles 10.

Bernard Faller: The Jeff Fisher nightmare continues as two quarterbacks who struggled under Fisher for the Rams over the previous two seasons are playing for the chance to go to the Super Bowl. I can not wait to see two of the best defenses in the league face off. Minnesota gets the slight nod with a slightly more reliable offense in a low scoring contest on the way to a home Super Bowl. Projected Score:  Vikings 17 – Eagles 13.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

FA Expectancy: Kyle Shanahan

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Throughout the offseason, I will be preparing a collection of articles that will focus on free agents and trade candidates. The articles will discuss the player in question, and what the move does to their value, as well as what their landing spot means for their new and old teams.

Kyle Shanahan – HC, San Francisco 49ers

I want to take a different approach to my FA Expectancy than I normally do and look at new 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. More specifically, I want to see what type of coach he is and what his presence brings to the 49ers from an offensive standpoint. I also want to examine what his departure means for several high profile Falcons’ players.

A Team Saviour?

Shanahan began his coordinating career in Houston with the Texans from 2008 till 2010. His two seasons with the Texans he executed a balanced offense with 21 and 29 passing TDs to 16 and 13 rushing TDs respectively. In 2010 Shanahan was hired as the offensive coordinator underneath his recently unretired father, Mike, in Washington. For the first two seasons, they were a terrible offense. Led by Donovan McNabb (2010) and Rex Grossman (2011) they averaged only 18.5 points per game and failed to score 10 rushing TDs in either season. Then in 2012 Washington infamously traded for Robert Griffin III and the offense exploded around him and fellow rookie Alfred Morris. The Shanahan’s did an excellent job of keeping the offense simple and allowed both Griffin and Morris to control the game one the ground. The team finished with 22 rushing TDs (2nd overall) and averaged over 27 points per game, good for 4th overall.

Unfortunately, the offense took a step back in 2013 finishing average to below average in offensive statistics. This was likely due to the injury that Griffin suffered in the playoffs the season before as he became unable to execute the scramble drill that allowed the offense to make big, downfield plays. Both Kyle and his father were fired at the end of the season. Kyle became the offensive coordinator in Cleveland for the 2014 season and while awful in the passing game the team did have success running the ball, ranking 4th with 17 rushing TDs.

In 2015 Shanahan moved to join the newly hired Head Coach Dan Quinn in Atlanta. Quinn was the defensive coordinator of the Legion of Boom Seahawks that went to two Super Bowls and combining him with Shanahan was praised throughout the league. The team went through growing pains in their first season after starting off undefeated through the first month but failed to make the playoffs. Much like their record stated the offense was average with rankings of 21st in scoring, 23rd in passing and 13th in rushing. Then the offense exploded last season finishing top 3 in all three categories on their way to the team’s second Super Bowl appearance. The day after the Super Bowl Shanahan used his success to land the head coaching job in San Francisco, a team that was 27th in scoring in last season.

Having laid out his 8-year career as an offensive coordinator the below graphs show how Shanahan led offenses have done since 2008. For context, I have also listed the QB-WR-RB combo that led each team.

 

 

 

Kyle Shanahan Offensive Standings
YEAR Team SCORING S. RANK S. AVG PASSING P. RANK P. AVG RUSHING R. RANK R. AVG
2016 ATL 33.8 1 22.8 38 2T 24.6 20 3T 13.8
2015 ATL 21.2 21T 22.8 21 23T 26.3 13 13T 11.4
2014 CLE 18.7 27 22.6 12 32 25.2 17 4 11.9
2013 WAS 20.9 23 23.4 20 24 25.1 14 13T 12.8
2012 WAS 27.3 4 22.8 24 13T 23.7 22 2 12.5
2011 WAS 18 26 22.2 19 23 23.3 8 26 12.5
2010 WAS 18.9 25 22 21 22 23.5 9 24T 12.5
2009 HOU 24.3 10 21.5 29 5T 22.2 13 18 13.4
2008 HOU 22.9 17 22 21 13T 20.2 16 11T 14.9
AVG   22.9 17.1 22.5 22.8 17.4 23.8 14.7 12.7 12.9

 

Featured Starters
YEAR QB REC RB
2017 Brian Hoyer Pierre Garcon Carlos Hyde
2016 Matt Ryan Julio Jones Devonta Freeman
2015 Matt Ryan Julio Jones Devonta Freeman
2014 Brian Hoyer Andrew Hawkins Terrance West
2013 Robert Griffin III Pierre Garcon Alfred Morris
2012 Robert Griffin III Josh Morgan Alfred Morris
2011 Rex Grossman Jabar Gaffney Roy Helu
2010 Donovan McNabb Santana Moss Ryan Torain
2009 Matt Schaub Andre Johnson Steve Slaton
2008 Matt Schaub Andre Johnson Steve Slaton

 

Suffice to say that other than last year’s juggernaut Falcons and a magical season from a pair of rookies in 2013 his offenses have been pretty pedestrian. Matt Kelley of RotoUnderworld discussed how backward it is to assume that coaches who have had generational talents at a position are somehow going to make mid-tier to mediocre talent into fantasy stars. He even specifically talks about this infatuation with Kyle Shanahan and his Coach Klein-like advantage of motivating and play calling. If you want to listen to his full discuss you can find it here. Be warned that it does include some NSFW language.

What to Expect in San Francisco?

Football wise the 49ers were in complete shambles last season which is reflective in their two wins and 31st overall finish. Shanahan and new first-time General Manager John Lynch brought in veterans Brian Hoyer and Pierre Garcon, both of which Shanahan has worked with in the past, to have some stability in the passing game. I have already looked into the passing game in my Pierre Garcon article and discussed how Hoyer and Garcon can have appeal as low-cost options in 2017. Looking deeper into past seasons my 2017 prediction would be that the offense will fall somewhere between Shanahan’s 2013 Washington team and his 2014 Cleveland Browns. This would suggest that passing TDs would be hard to come by and therefore Garcon will need to rely heavily on collecting targets to hold WR3 value.

As we can see from above other than Matt Ryan the options at QB have been below average at best. This, along with the reputation his father had to turn any athlete with two legs into a 1,000-yard rusher, may be an indication as to why most Shanahan led offenses lean more heavily on the run. For those that are concerned that negative game script will force Shanahan to have to pass more frequently it has shown that even with mediocre teams Shanahan has always stuck with his running game. There is definitely fantasy appeal to having a Shanahan led backfield.

The question now becomes, “Who will be the primary back once the season opens”? They inherited Carlos Hyde who has been a workhorse back when healthy and also drafted Joe Williams in the 4th round. Apparently, Shanahan was adamant that the team take Williams for him to use in his offense. This has many thinking that Williams is the guy to own in San Francisco which has moved his rankings to the mid-second round in rookie drafts believing that his time will come sooner rather than later. But there has been news out of San Francisco that undrafted RB Matt Breida is looking better than Williams in practice and again Matt Kelley (in a separate discussion) mentioned back in May about how he was skeptical about Williams being ahead of Brieda on the depth chart come week 1. Have a listen here if you want the 3-minute conversation (again NSFW). Because of this for 2017 you want to stay the course with Carlos Hyde and try and acquire him from any panicky owners that don’t think he will return his usually RB2 value.

Will Atlanta suffer a Super hangover without Shanahan?

Other than Shanahan leaving the offense stays relatively the same. They still have Julio Jones who is top 3 of everybody’s receiver rankings. They still have Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman who make up one of the best 1-2 backfield combos in the league. And they still have Matt Ryan who is an ascending QB talent in the prime of his career. Regression probably is expected but that’s what happens when you have a record setting offense. Hopefully, not as bad as Cam Newton and Carolina last year but regression is expected nonetheless. Let’s be clear though that it won’t be because of Shanahan leaving. Remember that the team was middle of the road with Shanahan in his first season, statistically so we should expect the team to be somewhere between their mediocre 2015 season and their outstanding 2016 season.

If you are looking to acquire value from this team out of the previously mentioned players I would be trying to acquire Tevin Coleman. Devonta Freeman’s contract ends after this season and depending on what he is asking for it might be more economical if the Falcons let him go and draft another RB to pair with Coleman. This could open up the whole backfield in a strong offense to Coleman making his 2018 stock skyrocket. Worst case scenario Freeman signs a new contract and Coleman is in the same place he is now, a mid RB2 value in PPR leagues.

 

Make sure to continue to read more Free Agency Expectancy articles throughout the offseason to be prepared for your summer Auctions. Have a player that you want me to evaluate? Send me a message on Twitter @naandrews19.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

Cap Analysis: Falcons

Updated: March 7th 2016

Atlanta Falcons

Trending: Flat →

After putting together five consecutive winning seasons with four playoff appearances from 2008-2013, the Falcons have been perennial disappointments the last three years. The Dan Quinn era got off to a fast start with five consecutive wins to start the season (6-1 through first seven). But, the team lost seven of its final nine regular season games. I’m always leery of coordinators who become head coaches shortly after their predecessors became head coaches.

In addition to current general manager, Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons front office now contains three other former general managers helping them evaluate talent – assistant general manager Scott Pioli, and national scouts Phil Emery and Ruston Webster.

The Panthers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the Bucs appear to be on the rise, so the Falcons will almost undoubtedly end up with between 6 and 10 wins – though I would tend to lean toward the high side.

Projected 2016 Team Salary$128.5M (not including escalators and not likely to be earned incentives)

Projected 2016 Cap Room: ~$30.7M (~$155.27M Estimate; ~$3.9M Rollover)

Situation: Strong

The Falcons are right in the middle of the pack with approximately $31M in cap space. However, the team has four marquee players at key (and typically expensive) positions under contract for at least the next two years – Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Jake Matthews, and Desmond Trufant. The team badly needs a pass rusher, but there are several serviceable veteran pass rushers available in free agency, especially if you include all of the 4-3 and 3-4 pass rushers.

Notable Free Agents:

Atlanta FAs

The Falcons only have a handful of notable free agents, and only one, Chris Chester, started every game of the season last year. 

Top Projected Cap Hits:

Atlanta Top Proj Cap Hits

As mentioned in our Lions evaluation, the Falcons are one of four teams that have two players with top 25 top charges – Matt Ryan is 7th and Julio Jones is 23rd. As we’ll address in the next section, two of the players on this list may not be on this list in a week.

Cap Casualty Watch List:

Atlanta Cap Cas

Tyson Jackson has yet to live up to expectations that came with being drafted third overall in 2009. While he does play both inside and outside, he’s yielded exactly zero sacks in 32 games with the Falcons. If released, he’ll still count for $4.8M against the cap, but it would save the team $4.75M in cash.

Likewise, Roddy White would still count for $3.775M against the cap if released, but between base salary and roster bonuses, the team could save $4.25M in cash. I think it’s very unlikely fellow receiver Devin Hester remains with the team, at least on his current contract. [Editor’s Note: Roddy White has since been released].

Because of a lack of depth on the defensive line and at tight end, Jonathan Babineaux and Jacob Tamme will almost definitely be back.

Extension Watch List: 

Atlanta Ext Watch List

The Falcons can exercise Desmond Trufant’s fifth year option, pushing his expected free agency to March, 2018.

Robert Alford, who starts opposite Trufant, will be a free agent in 2017. He’s shown promise in his first three seasons, notching seven interceptions in 41 games. The team surely wants to keep him, though they may prefer to move him to the nickel if they invest a high draft pick in a corner or sign one in free agency. If an extension is reached before the start of the season, Alford should command something similar to the 5-year, $24.6M contract the Steelers gave Cortez Allen before the start of the 2014 season.

Position Needs: 

Defensive End, Safety, Tight End.

Sleeper Watch: 

Matt Ryan is going to have to throw the ball to somebody other than Julio Jones. With Roddy White being released, whoever the Falcons sign, draft, or promote to start opposite Julio should be in line for a lot of targets.


Matt Papson (@RealitySportsMP) formerly worked in football administration for the Philadelphia Eagles. He is the President, co-founder and creator of Reality Sports Online, a fantasy front office platform that enables fantasy owners to build and manage their fantasy team like a professional sports general manager. The Reality Sports Online platform has been featured in Fortune, on Bloomberg TV, and was the 2012 Fantasy Sports Trade Association Rookie of the Year.

Sources: Spotrac, Pro-Football Reference, and Rotoworld

More Analysis by Matt Papson