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

Questionable Offseason Moves

Updated: August 22nd 2017

Every season NFL teams make questionable moves in the offseason which makes one wonder what the team is thinking. Poor personnel decisions, salary cap management, and lack of coherent team direction cause major headaches both during the season and for the future.  I take a look at a few of these situations and examine the implications for both NFL teams and your RSO leagues.

Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars: A hope and a prayer at quarterback

I felt confident each of these teams would address the quarterback position bringing in quality veteran competition. Instead, Houston traded up in the draft for Clemson’s DeShaun Watson to compete with incumbent Tom Savage and Jacksonville stuck with Blake Bortles only resigning perpetual backup Chad Henne.

The Texans have wasted a J.J. Watt led defense which has finished eighth or better in Football Outsider’s DVOA metric for defensive efficiency each of the last three seasons. Despite the strong defense and playing in a poor division, Houston finished just 9-7 in the last three seasons primarily due to incompetent quarterback play.  Now the Texans are left with the uninspiring choice of relying on either Tom Savage or rookie DeShaun Watson.  Savage did not throw a single touchdown pass and managed only 6.3 yards per attempt (close to Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz who were among the bottom of the league) in three appearances.  The Texans managed just 21, 12, and 17 points scored in those contests.  The other option is starting first round pick Watson.  The odds of rookie quarterbacks performing well are not good.  For every Dak Prescott, there is a Jared Goff, Ryan Leaf, and E.J. Manuel who produce very little.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, maintained the status-quo by keeping Blake Bortles as the starting quarterback. Jacksonville possesses an ascending young defense built from multiple high draft picks and expensive free agent additions.  Quarterback play doomed this team to awful finishes over the last few seasons where the Jaguars won only 11 games over the last three years.  You can read about Bortles’ struggles with more detail. Simply put, Bortles has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL over his three year career.  Jacksonville then compounded the problem by inexplicably picking up Bortles’ fifth-year option at $19 million for 2018.  There is no upside to picking up the option and lots of downside.  The odds of Bortles suddenly making a significant jump in the fourth season are extremely low.  There is practically zero chance Bortles would make anything close to $19 million on the open market in 2018.  The contract also becomes fully guaranteed if he suffers a catastrophic injury which prevents him from playing in 2018.  The Jaguars probably look for a new quarterback in 2018.

RSO Consequences: Look for more of the same in Houston.  This has been among the most run-heavy offenses in the league since head coach Bill O’Brien arrived and that is unlikely to change.  Lamar Miller and rookie D’Onta Foreman should see plenty of volume.  DeAndre Hopkins and the rest of the Houston receiving core will likely be limited by poor quarterback play and low volume once again.  Neither Savage nor Watson will be fantasy relevant.

Jacksonville, on the other hand, looks to completely change the script.  They invested heavily in fourth overall pick running back Leonard Fournette and will want the running game to carry the offense.  Expect a sharp decline in Blake Bortles pass attempts this season from the over 600 for each of the last two years.  Things have gone terribly wrong for the Jaguars if Bortles throws the ball much more than 500 times.  This reduction in volume, while good for Jacksonville, likely means less production from Allen Robinson and the rest of the Jaguars’ receivers.  Bortles should provide QB2 production when playing but could easily be benched later in the season due to performance and/or the fifth-year guarantee to prevent injury.

Kansas City Chiefs: Contender or Rebuilder?

Another team making a big move on draft day, Kansas City gave up 2017 first and third round picks in addition to a 2018 first to take quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs decided to gamble on a possible future quarterback upgrade where they could have added premium playmaking talents.  Kansas City then released Jeremy Maclin, the only proven wide receiver on the roster.  No other wide receiver on the roster broke the 600 yard mark for the Chiefs.  These are moves typically made from a team rebuilding for the future, not from a team which has won 23 games over the last two seasons.  I would not say the Chiefs are sabotaging Alex Smith’s likely last season as a starter in Kansas City, but it is clear Kansas City is not providing Smith with all the tools possible to succeed and the Chiefs are questionable to make the playoffs given how the offseason has gone.

On a side note, waiting until June to release Maclin was a classless move on the part of the Chiefs. Kansas City certainly has salary cap issues but they have known about these cap issues before the free agency period began and nothing new has happened to change their mind about the move.  There is no good reason for the Chiefs to release Maclin, who has been nothing but a model citizen and teammate, this late in the offseason after teams have spent most of their cap space in free agency.  This is an issue I foresee many agents addressing in top players’ contracts next season forcing teams to make an earlier decision on player cuts.

RSO Consequences: Tight end Travis Kelce maintains his role as the dominant receiver in this offense.  The wide receiver position is a free for all.  Rookie sensation Tyreek Hill’s dynamic freshman campaign was largely supported by some, likely unsustainable, huge runs resulting in an absurd 11.2 yards per carry and a bunch of manufactured touches near the line of scrimmage in the passing game.  Will this usage continue or will another receiver step up for Kansas City?  Historically Alex Smith supported, at most, one fantasy relevant wide receiver and the upside is not extremely high considering the limited volume in the Kansas City passing attack.  Maclin should be a quality second wide receiver for the team that lands him but his fantasy value will largely be determined by where he lands.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Doug Martin Contract

By most accounts, Tampa Bay improved considerably this offseason offensively highlighted by free agent acquisition DeSean Jackson at wide receiver and first round draft pick O.J. Howard at tight end. One player who will not contribute at the start is running back Doug Martin who will miss the first three games as part of a four game suspension for performance enhancing drugs.  Martin’s production has been extremely spotty in his five year career, accumulating less than 500 rushing yards in three out of five seasons with injuries playing a key role.  He is in the second year of a five year contract which pays him a little under $6 million this season (7th highest cap hit of any running back) and around $7 million for the remaining three seasons.

The running back market has changed since Martin signed his contract. Not a single back, including high profile names Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, and Adrian Peterson, signed for more than $4 million during free agency.  Clearly, Martin’s contract is out of line in today’s market for a 28 year old back with his overall lack of production and injury/suspension issues. The Buccaneers were given an out, however, as Martin’s suspension voids the 2017 salary guarantees in his contract.  This is a golden opportunity for Tampa Bay to, at a minimum, renegotiate Martin’s contract to a level more commensurate with the market.  An outright release is also not out of the question given the current options on the team and options likely available in trade or free agency.   It is a mystery why Tampa Bay has not addressed the situation yet.

RSO Consequences: The running game was ugly in 2016 with Tampa Bay averaging over four yards per carry against only a single opponent (San Francisco’s awful run defense).  The situation could be a mess in 2017 and is one of the most unpredictable in the league.  Rodgers, Sims, and rookie McNichols could all see significant looks without Martin in an offense that could score plenty if Jameis Winston takes another step forward.  Martin’s outcomes range from being cut to taking over the lead role in an offense with many scoring chances.  I generally steer clear of heavy investment in large, uncertain running back committees and this group is not an exception unless you can get pieces on the cheap.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Changing of the Guard

Updated: December 4th 2016

Hopefully, everyone’s waistbands held up on Thanksgiving and you kept all your fingers and toes if you were brave enough to go out on Black Friday. The NFL has its own dark day where feelings are hurt and human dignity can sometimes be called into question. I am referring to the “Black Monday”, a day when coaches are released following the final week 17 games. For those of you who follow hockey hopefully any coaches who are released are left with a little more dignity than Coach Gerard Gallant of the Florida Panthers. Yikes.

Regardless, there will be at least one head coach, if not multiple, that will not be with their current teams in 2016. Others might narrowly avoid the guillotine but will be on thin ice for next season. I have pulled together a list of four coaches that I think should be let go in the next month, two that could be let go and three others who could be surprise cuts either this year or next.

Guys Who Gotta Go

John Fox, Jeff Fisher, Chuck Pagano, Gus Bradley

John FoxJohn Fox – The writing has been on the wall for a couple of weeks now and it looks like both he and Jay Cutler have worn out their welcome in Chicago. Management seems content with letting them as well as Alshon Jeffrey and starting fresh with a new crew. A new coach should be welcomed but there is a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball before anything fantasy relevant returns to the windy city. It’s a real knock on Jordan Howard who looked like he could be a decent player if there was enough around him.

 

Jeff-FisherJeff Fisher – Why does this guy still have a job!? For those who have read my articles in the past know I don’t hold back on Fisher and his questionable coaching status. He was almost given an extension early in the season but that seems to have been pulled off the table with their recent slide. Unlike Howard’s outlook with a coaching change, there can only be good things that can happen to Todd Gurley’s value with Fisher removed. Ideally, GM Les Snead should look to bring in a coach who is defensive minded and focuses on controlling the clock and running the ball on offense.

**Editor’s note Fisher and Snead have been given contract extensions which can only suggest that the Rams are okay with presenting their fans a mediocre product. If you have Todd Gurley you should be selling him before the start of next season.**

 

Chuck PaganoChuck Pagano – Some thought that Chuck wasn’t going to make it through last season but he was given a second chance to work things out with GM Ryan Grigson. The team still has no offensive line to protect their hundred million dollar QB and their defense is suspect at best. Unless the Colts make a miraculous playoff run this season I don’t see how Pagano and potentially Grigson keep their jobs heading into 2017. Hopefully, the new regime comes in and invests more into protecting their QB before his career becomes a “ya but” legacy.

 

Gus Bradley – When people said they expected Allen Robinson to regress from 2015 I have a hard time believing that they meant this bad. He has been a ghost for most of this season and borders on droppable in a redraft. Blake Bortles himself has dropped from his top 5 fantasy season last year but maybe this is just numbers returning to the average. However, the reason Bradley should be gone by season’s end though is the defense and the failure to move forward. The team has been a sleeper to win the AFC South the last two years and Shahid Khan has spent a small country’s GDP on free agents in Bradley’s tenure to try taking advantage of a weak division. Another well below .500 season should be the final straw for Bradley.

Wouldn’t Be Surprised

Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy

Marvin LewisMarvin Lewis – It would be sad to see this be the season that Marvin Lewis is finally let go. His recent successes and the strong core of players he has built up over the last 5 years made the Bengals one of the most consistent teams in the AFC. However, without having a playoff win to his record, and given the big of a step back this season it may finally be the time to remove the second-longest tenured coach in the league. A change of coaches shouldn’t hurt the value of the Bengal’s players but there could be growing pains next year with a new style of offense to learn, something Dalton has had the benefit of avoiding thus far in his career.

Mike McCarthy – Similar to Lewis McCarthy has been one of the most successful coaches over his time in Green Bay, but not all jobs are judged evenly. Title Town expects Super Bowl contenders and the Packers are far from that this year. The return of Jordy Nelson proved that there still isn’t something right in the clubhouse and it may come down to a coaching change to try and liven up the team. With Aaron Rodgers in town, the team would still be considered “in the hunt” for 2017 but they have serious rebuilding work everywhere else if they want Rodgers to ever wear the belt again.

Surprising but Understandable

John Harbaugh, Sean Payton, Mike McCoy

John HarbaughJohn Harbaugh – Four years removed from a Super Bowl victory and the Ravens have fallen out of the elite class in the AFC. Last year was a huge disappointment and this year, while the record might not be that bad, it isn’t up to the standards of what they are expected to do year in and year out. The offensive coordinator was let go earlier this season and it hasn’t improved in recent weeks. He’s likely to keep his job with a chance still at the playoffs but maybe it is time to move on to the next phase. The Ravens could turn out to be in a year what the Bears are now, a team with minimal talent and a mediocre QB that is leeching all the cap space.

Sean PaytonSean Payton – What a ride it would be since 2005 with a top 10 offense year after year and a Super Bowl trophy to hold high. But the defense has been historically bad for years now and it likely isn’t going to be fixed before Drew Brees is gone in what everyone expects to be next season. Brees moving on would likely force the team to look to start fresh with their coaching staff too and would be a fitting end to the Payton-Brees Era in New Orleans.

Mike McCoyMike McCoy – The Chargers this season read like a heart monitor and for many of its fans they may have had to be hooked up to one. With so many puzzling losses early in this season, failing to capitalize on Phillip Rivers in his prime the last couple years and the looming move to Los Angeles next year the Chargers could be looking to make a splash move.

Who do you think will be let go this season? Let me know @naandrews19.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews