NFL

Madden NFL: Geriatric Checkers Edition

For the upcoming Texans at Redskins game on Nov. 18, our editors assigned us a challenge: use Madden NFL to simulate the game and attempt to correctly predict the outcome.

It’s a great idea; the game has an excellent record of predicting winners, with correct calls in ten of the last 15 Super Bowls. We leapt at the opportunity, but our XBox is currently having difficulty running Madden, thanks to a minor equipment malfunction.

A new kind of sports science

But we hate to disappoint our editors! We knew it was up to us to devise a different, but equally accurate, simulation. To make it happen, we consulted two good friends of ours, Helen Hopkins and Louise Thomas. Helen and Louise are residents of an assisted living community in Daytona Beach, Florida, aged 68 and 72. They also don’t have an XBox, and they don’t know much about football, but they play a mean game of checkers, and they agreed to be our gladiators in a simulation of the coming confrontation between the Houston Texans and the Washington Redskins.

We took Helen and Louise on a field trip to One Daytona, a shopping center in Daytona Beach. One Daytona is a lovely shopping mall, located across the street from Daytona International Speedway, and they have a checkers set so large it’s visible from outer space. Helen agreed to represent the Redskins, and therefore played white (because this is a home game for Washington, and because we enjoy irony). Louise played black, symbolizing opposition quarterbacks’ bruises after spending a day with the Texans’ defense.

Drama at the weigh-in

Tension was heavy in the air. Both women recognized the burden of their responsibility, and it showed on their faces.

The trash talk began before the opening move. “I hope you got your game plan from someone smarter than your idiot grandkids, bitch,” Louise snarled. “I hope you wore your best adult diapers, because you’re about to need them, whore,” Helen answered through clenched teeth.

The battle

Louise played 11-15, a popular opening move; Helen then responded with 22-18, forming the traditional “Single Corner” opening. The two traded jumps, then plunged into a campaign of brutal ferocity that will be spoken of in hushed tones in their senior community for years to come.

Louise gained the initiative early, forcing Helen into a complex defense after one of her men was caught in an exposed position. Onlookers pointed to this as an allegory on the Redskins’ offensive line, and furious debate ensued.

Louise was the first to king one of her men, and soon had two kings to Helen’s one. In hindsight, Helen admits, it was probably a bad idea to nickname her king “Theismann.” Like the QB of the same name, Helen struggled bravely to escape, but it only took a few moves before Theismann was cornered and fell.

Analysis

After the dust settled, Helen and Louise shook hands and congratulated one another for a hard-fought match. They agreed that their game of checkers proves that the Redskins really have no business opposing a team like the Texans. “They’re outmatched; we can see that now,” Louise said, as onlookers nodded in agreement. “They’re gonna look like a squad of Pop Warner children on the field, and I feel bad about how badly the Texans are about to embarrass them. They should schedule opponents who are more at their level of football, like the Raiders, or maybe that team from Switzerland that I saw on the TV.”

Texans vs Redskins Preview

The Houston Texans, winners of six straight, look to keep things rolling when they travel to Washington to take on the Redskins. Meanwhile, the Redskins look to continue their push in the NFC East following their 16-3 victory over the Buccaneers. Despite being hit hard with injuries, Washington found a way to win, but to beat this Texans team, they will need a lot more punch from their offense.

The Texans’ side of things starts and ends with the play of the offensive line. In the last three games, Houston's front seven has allowed just 10 quarterback hits and five sacks. The improved play up front has empowered quarterback Deshaun Watson, who now looks as healthy as he did when he burst onto the NFL scene a year ago. The run game took a step back against the Broncos, mustering only three yards per rush and 98 yards total against a Denver team ranked 23rd in the league against the run. Facing Washington's fifth-ranked run defense poses a formidable challenge.

While Houston looks for a bounce-back game on the ground, Houston's offense is getting relatively healthier. Barring any setbacks, wide receiver Keke Coutee, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, could return. (Coutee is currently listed as questionable.) Running back D'Onta Foreman could start practicing this week, as he continues to make his way back from an Achilles injury. Foreman's return date is still up in the air. Statistically, Houston's offense is in the middle of the pack in passing and rushing yards as well as scoring. Getting Foreman and Coutee back will be just what the doctor ordered to complement a healthy Watson and an improving offensive line.

Washington's offense, on the other hand, laid a turd against Tampa Bay's 32nd-ranked scoring defense. Granted, the Redskins were depleted on the offensive line, but still: only two field goals and one touchdown? Now the challenge gets even tougher as Houston's ninth-ranked scoring defense, led by the resurgent JJ Watt, pays a visit. The Redskins played mistake-free against Tampa Bay and will have to play mistake-free again in order to beat Houston.

Final Take

Redskins quarterback Alex Smith has history against the Texans, going 4-2 with 10 TDs and three INTs. This time around, Smith does not have Andy Reid, nor is Washington's offensive line healthy. On Sunday, Washington was dominated in every area except the red zone and turnovers. While their effort was good enough against Tampa, it will take more than two field goals and a touchdown to end Houston's streak.

While Houston was enjoying their bye, the Colts and Titans won, keeping pressure on the Texans to maintain their division lead. But if Houston's offensive line can continue to play well, establish the run, and continue to play great defensively, then I like Houston's chances of notching their seventh straight win, setting up a huge contest with the Titans in Week 12.

All stats and rankings provided by ESPN

One Veteran's Story

It was 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night in 1992. I was five years old, had just started kindergarten, and was attending the first Texas high school football game that I can remember. During those years, it happened every year in Liberty County, Texas: the Dayton Broncos versus the Liberty Panthers. Only six miles separated these two deep-in-football-tradition towns. Back then there wasn’t a rivalry in this small county that could evoke so much emotion out of its players and fans alike. It was at War Memorial Stadium, where the X’s and O’s of football started to be ingrained in me by my grandfather, Harvey Charles Williams.

Harvey Charles was unlike anyone I’ve ever known. Those that knew him constantly talked about his smile, radiant personality, and love of all things black and gold. After deeper conversations with him over the last 30 years, I saw the scars he cared not to discuss. You see, my grandpa was drafted into military service for the Vietnam War. Like many other drafted young men, they put their hopes and dreams on hold for one of our most controversial wars. Papa never complained, though. He was proud of his military service. There were things about that time in battle that he wouldn’t speak about. I’ve learned that that is quite normal for veterans of war. He lost comrades and friends. Even though he came home, a part of him died in Vietnam.

He was a big dreamer. Once he told me that he dreamed of playing baseball professionally. He was an awesome pitcher with a fastball that was virtually unstoppable. Being in the still-segregated South, the opportunities were few. West Liberty High School is where he thrived in sports excellence. The old black high school still stands today, albeit unused. Riding by that building in Liberty, Texas, still reminds me how fortunate I was to be able to go to college and follow my dreams.

Harvey Charles was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I know from many conversations that his bleeding of black and gold didn’t stop with the Liberty Panthers; it dictated his favorite pro team. Much like the local high school team, the Steelers gave my grandpa his weekly dose of pride in the fall.

I always carry at least one Steelers player on my fantasy team. This strategy was solely for my weekly football conversation with Papa. He didn’t care about about my love for all things fantasy; only how Antonio Brown was the reason I won the championship. I can hear him now: “Suga, you only win because you have them Steelers on your team.” I’d laugh while saying, “I know, Papa, but it’s all those Houston Texans too.” He supported my love for the Houston Texans; as long as it wasn’t the Dallas Cowboys, I was still deeply loved.

This football season is my first in my life without him. He passed away on January 31. Often brokenheartedly, I watch the Steelers highlights because, like him, I bleed black and gold to a certain extent. As I sit here on this Veterans Day, I am reminded that my favorite veteran is celebrating the festivities from a seat high above. There aren’t enough words to thank him for his service or for cultivating my love for sports. Today is somber in a lot of ways. It is a reminder that life is bigger than sports, but sports can also be the needed medicine for life.

Dissecting the Texans Remaining Schedule

The Houston Texans are on their well-deserved bye week, following their 19-17 win over the Denver Broncos. The win over the Broncos was Houston's 6th straight, and they look to keep their charge towards the playoffs going when they resume play November 18th at Washington. The Texans win streak has caused quite the buzz from whether or not they can win out, to whether this squad is legit enough to contend for a championship. Let's take a look inside the numbers, as well as how the rest of the year will go down.

11/18 AT Washington

The main concern for the Texans will be how they get everything cranked back up after the bye. Houston has been on a roll, so could having a week off slow their momentum? Over franchise history, Houston is 7-9 following their bye week,

My Thoughts: The Redskins are dealing with a barrage of injuries to their offensive line this week, so there's a chance they will be trotting out almost an entirely new group against the Buccaneers. Houston's stout defense could possibly face a diminished Redskins offense, barring any new injury updates. If Washington is still depleted along their offensive line, we know JJ and the boys will be licking their chops.

Redskins quarterback Alex Smith does have history against the Texans, though he does not have Andy Reid coaching him, nor does Smith have the supporting cast he had with the Chiefs. In his regular season career against the Texans, Smith is 4-2 with 10TD's and 3INT's.

The Redskins are a solid 5-3 who could pose a challenge to the Texans, especially if Alex Smith can make plays with his legs and establish a rhythm, as well as Adrian Peterson having a monster day running the ball. The bye may slow down the Texans momentum a bit, but Watson's healthy and the defense is playing great. Houston may run away with the game, but knowing how all but one of their wins have been by one score, I think this one will be close.

11/26 Home against Tennessee

Following the matchup with the Redskins, the Texans have a three-game home stretch. Two of those games are against the Titans and Colts with the Browns sandwiched in the middle. What could possibly be better than a primetime game against the arch-rival Titans? The Titans handed the Texans one of their three losses, Week 2 behind Blaine Gabbert: 20-17.

Prediction: When referencing division matchups, numbers go out the window. It's all about pride, and if two teams are in contention, jockeying for playoff seeding. Having already lost to the Titans, if the Texans are going to wrap up the division, they must get the split. Houston is currently 6-3 overall, 2-1 inside the AFC South, and 5-2 against the AFC as a whole. Losing to the Titans again could give everyone in the division the belief that the division title is still attainable. The Titans are not an offensive juggernaut, but they do boast the NFL's number one scoring defense (I am intrigued to see how they fare in Foxboro.) Mike Vrabel has done a good job coaching the Titans, and it is always a battle when the Titans and Texans square off. Now, however, the Texans have more to gain this time around than Week 2. Houston grinds out their 8th straight, and this win essentially gives the Texans a vice grip on the division.

12/2 Home against Cleveland

Cleveland is a decent team led by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, however, they are the most poorly-run organization in professional sports. Recently, the Browns not only fired head coach Hue Jackson but also offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. Cleveland is a team who is a couple of bad breaks in games away from being .500 (or even first place.)

Prediction: This game has trap tattooed all over it, and if the Texans come out lollygagging and let Cleveland believe they can snatch this game, Houston is doomed. However, since they are chasing the AFC South crown, along with chasing down the Chiefs and Patriots for the top two spots in the conference, this Texans team is mature enough to handle a lowly Cleveland team at home.

12/9 Home against the Colts

The Texans wrap up their three-game home stand against the team which ignited their win streak. The Colts stormed all the way back from 18 points down to go to overtime, ultimately coming up short. The over-analyzed play call from Colts head coach, Frank Reich, could have resulted in a tie, had he punted rather than electing to go for it on 4th down. I still believe Reich going for it was the right call: Luck was on a roll, and the issue was more of a matter of execution. The Colts did not execute the play, and the Texans won the game. The Colts right now are 3-5, and their postseason chances hang on the next two games as they face the Jaguars and Titans.

Prediction: Whether the Colts are still in the race or not when they face Houston, they have Luck back; as long as he is healthy, the Colts are a team to watch out for. Like the first meeting, this game could become another shootout. The Texans are much better now, and defensively are one of the best in the league; Watson will outlast Luck at home and Houston gets the sweep.

12/15 AT the Jets

Here is something no one is accustomed to: a Saturday game in the NFL. Like the matchup with Cleveland, this game is yet another trap. Facing a bad team with a rookie quarterback, knowing a matchup on the road against the defending champion Eagles follows, the Texans maturity will be tested. The question will be, can the Texans avoid overlooking the Jets?

Prediction: Playing on Saturday will throw both teams off a bit. For Houston, if the streak is still intact, the top two seeds should still be in play. With that in mind, Houston will come out and handle their business and should be 11-3 heading into the final two games.

12/23 AT the Eagles

Two days before Christmas, we get to unwrap a matchup with the defending champions. Though the Eagles are not as hot as they were a year ago, they still are a force to be reckoned with. This game is more of a Bill O'Brien playoff tune-up game, as he goes against Doug Pederson, who is one of the best coaches in the game. O'Brien will either face Andy Reid or Bill Belichick in the playoffs, assuming the Texans get there. How he fares against Pederson in a hostile environment, two games before the playoffs, will be a telling sign of what could happen in January.

Prediction: Two days before Christmas, on the road, against the defending champions, the Texans are going to not only have to play their best game, but also coach their best game. The division by now will probably be wrapped up for Houston, and if the Texans are still within reach for the AFC's top two seeds, this will be a big game for them. Honestly, I think the streak ends; as good as the Texans are, the Eagles will probably be needing this game more for their playoff hopes. Depending on how the Chiefs and Patriots are playing, this loss could guarantee Houston plays Wild Card weekend.

12/30 Home against the Jaguars

At this point, this game is probably meaningless for Houston. If it isn't, something went very wrong for the Texans. For the Jaguars, depending on what transpires in the next few weeks, this could be a game they need for a wild-card spot, or they could simply be playing for pride. If, for some reason the top two seeds in the AFC are still up for grabs, then the Texans need to do everything they can to win. Would the Texans rather go on the road and freeze their buns off in Foxboro or Arrowhead? Or would the Texans prefer to be warm and toasty, and let their fans blow the roof off of NRG? The only way starters play significantly for Houston is for the chance to be the number one or two seed.

Prediction: The outcome of this game simply comes down to what playoff scenarios are on the line for both teams. Before the season started, I predicted the Texans would go 12-4 and I am sticking to it. Houston will go to the playoffs having their best season under Bill O'Brien. Whether they are a number 1, 2, 3, or 4 seed is yet to be determined.

Wrapping Up:

Dez Bryant blowing his Achilles in his first practice as a Saint is yet another reminder in the NFL to never take anything for granted. On paper, the only game outside the division Houston could, and likely will, lose is against the Eagles. Barring anything catastrophic, of course, this team has a similar feel to 2011 where things are starting to click. This time around, I hope the Texans can remain healthy enough to see where this ride ends.

Texans: Just Win, Baby!

What the Texans have done has been legendary.

Whether you feel love, hate, or indifference to this Texans team, you can’t deny what they have been able to accomplish in the past six weeks. Currently, your Houston Texans are riding a 6-game win streak after starting the season 0-3. No team has rattled off six wins after starting the season with three straight losses since the New York Giants accomplished this feat in 1970, via Kriste Rieken. After defeating the Broncos on a last-second missed FG by Broncos kicker, Brandon McManus, the Houston Texans moved to 6-3 and now have a comfortable lead in the AFC South.

I won’t sit and pump sunshine and rainbows. These wins have been hard-fought, extremely difficult wins for this team to compile. The offense has sputtered, the defense has looked broken, and they have played down to their competition. Throw in some questionable play calling, and this team seemed destined to be at the bottom of the league.

Yet, here we are. Be it grit, determination, or just plain luck; this team has been able to win. We can sit and compare them to the Rams or Patriots. We can break down every stat under the sun. Football is about making plays, and the Texans have made enough of them to rack up six wins in a row. Now, the Texans must continue to win and separate themselves from the rest of the division.

The Texans are currently in the driver’s seat and control their own destiny. They are entering a much-needed bye week, and are coming up on the part of the schedule that is in their favor. In the remaining seven games the Texans face the Redskins, Titans, Browns, Colts, Jets, Eagles, and finally, wrap it up at home against the Jaguars. Only the Redskins and Eagles are .500 teams out of the bunch and pose the only true tests to the team.

If the Texans ever want to make noise in the playoffs, they need to go 6-1 in a convincing fashion and enter the postseason red-hot. If the Texans can win the next six out of seven games, not only will they go into the postseason as a 12-win team, but they may be flirting with a first-round bye, a first in this team’s history. So, to put it simply: the only thing the Texans need to do is… Just Win, Baby!

Stats Courtesy of www.HoustonTexans.com

Texans: Contenders or Pretenders?

Are the Houston Texans “Contenders” or “Pretenders?” Is Houston’s six-game win streak all smoke and mirrors, or are they really putting the NFL on notice to generate respect? Starting the season off 0-3 against Tom Brady, Marcus Mariota, and Eli Manning and not putting up a single W, seemed to spell disaster for the Texans’ 2018-2019 season. Then something in Week 4 clicked, as the Texans have rattled off six straight wins against some decent (but not brag-worthy) opponents.

The Texans stumbled out of the gate against the New England Patriots, having no answer for Rob Gronkowski and of course, the arm of Tom Brady. Watson threw for a meager 176 yards on a 17/34 passing day. Next up was the Texans first divisional opponent, the Tennessee Titans, led by former Texans Defensive Coordinator, Mike Vrable. The Titans absolutely embarrassed Houston with a trick play on what appeared to be a punt, but turned into a 66-yard touchdown pass from Byard to Cruikshank early in the game.

Houston’s worst loss of the season came against the Eli Manning-led Giants. This week, Eli suddenly turned into his brother Peyton, and torched the Texans for 297 yards and two touchdowns to pair up with rookie RB sensation Saquon Barkley’s 82 yards and lone rushing touchdown. 0-3 was not exactly the start Bill O’Brien was looking for after coming off a very disappointing 2017 campaign.

I for one was ready to write this season off, and was already looking forward to the draft in September. Then October rolled around, a new Texans team appeared, and boy was I wrong! The Texans started by knocking off their divisional opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, and then grabbed the bragging rights over Texas from the Dallas Cowboys. Next, the Texans obtained a sure-fire win against Buffalo, which was followed by a surprising win against the imploding Jaguars. Their streak continued with a very convincing win over Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins, and most recently pulled off a squeaker in Mile High over the Denver Broncos.

So what changed? Did the offense suddenly become unstoppable? No. Did the defense turn into the Legion of Boom? No. Did Bill O’Brien become some football mastermind? No. To me it’s been a combination of opponent coaching mistakes, inferior talent on the other side of the ball, some very good play-making from several players, and just some down right, knock down, hard fought football from the Texans to rack up six straight wins.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the Texans didn't earn these wins, but also I'm not saying they did, either. I guess what I'm trying to say is, they've done just enough to win these games, something already difficult to do in the NFL, for a shocking six straight weeks.

Now we sit in the bye week, which couldn't have come at a better time in the season, as the Texans are pretty banged up and getting thin at some very key positions. So how does the rest of the year look? Well, if the team can get some key players back (Jonathan Joseph, Aaron Colvin, D’Onta Foreman, Zach Cunningham, and potentially Jermaine Kelly), I’d say they have a real shot to finish the season out with at least ten wins. They have three divisional games left: the Jets, Browns, Redskins, and defending Super Bowl Champs, The Eagles. Don’t let these teams fool you: the Browns have lost several close games; the Eagles are battling; and the Titans just made Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys look absolutely foolish on their home field after one of the worst offensive starts I’ve ever seen.

The Texans will have their hands full with the Redskins and Adrian Peterson, despite some recent injuries to a few members of Washington’s offensive line, and a defense with former Texans’ safety, DJ Swearinger. Definitely a winnable game, the Texans could very well bang out ten straight wins and lock up the AFC South in early December. Now that’s fine and dandy, but will they truly be satisfied with another AFC South banner? Of course not.

This season around the NFL has had its twists and turns, shocking winners, upsets, blowouts, and excitement. When the playoffs arrive, if the Texans continue to improve with the addition of veteran wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney continuing to attack opposing QB’s, I could see the Texans making a decent run into this year’s playoffs. Guys like Kareem Jackson, Deandre Hopkins, Tyrann Mathieu, and Lamar Miller will have to continue to get better and keep opponents on their heels.

Of course, those potential playoff opponents will likely include Kansas City, New England, and possibly Pittsburg or Cincinnati. Can Houston compete with these teams? Yes, if the team can stay healthy, and things continue to click for them. I would, however, be cautiously optimistic that this trend of wins continues, but don’t get your heart broken if things go astray.

Until I see Bill O’Brien make a dramatic change in his predictable play calling, I cannot see the Texans making it past the first round of the playoffs. Watching the tape of the Denver game, the Texans ran the ball on first down seven (7) times in the first two quarters of football. That’s seven out of a possible eleven first down plays Houston ran. Bill needs to mix in more plays on first downs; maybe with the addition of Demaryius Thomas, the Texans will be able to do so. I would love to see the tight ends be more involved in the passing game, especially considering the flashes we've seen from rookie TE Jordan Thomas. I understand they have been cautious with the offensive line being so inconsistent, but week by week, that group has been improving and keeping Watson upright more and more often.

So in conclusion, are the Houston Texans “Contenders” or “Pretenders?” With everything seeming to come together at the right time for them at this point in the season, the Texans are contenders. They are three wins away from matching Bill O’Brien’s best season. There are several winnable games on the docket; this is a very hungry team, with a previously un-seen type of camaraderie. Players are getting healthy, rookies are getting better week by week, and veterans are returning to form. These are all signs pointing to Houston making a push for the playoffs, and a strong one at that!

* All stats from NFL.com

Watson's Rookie Season

At the conclusion of Sunday's matchup in Denver, Deshaun Watson has completed his rookie season. Rookie Season, you ask? Yup, Deshaun has finally completed 16 games in the NFL. Yea, its spread out over two seasons, but it’s finally our first true benchmark to measure Watson against the best QB’s to step on the gridiron.

It hasn't exactly been all MVP performances and highlight reel film, but to say Watson isn't putting the league on notice is foolish. Deshaun Watson has amassed 4,088 yards passing, 36 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and a 101.7 quarterback rating per NFl.com. So how does this stack up against some of the all-time greats? Well, Peyton Manning recorded 3,739 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 28 interceptions. Tom Brady threw for 2,849 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions in his first 16 games. Now I'm not saying Watson is the next “GOAT,” but he’s certainly put up a good case for becoming a top quarterback in the NFL for the foreseeable future!

Now, of course, everyone knows about his injury in Week Nine during practice, in which Watson suffered his second ACL tear, downing him for the remainder of the season. One thing that quickly gave most hope was their memory of what Watson did in college after suffering a torn ACL at Clemson. Watson tore his ACL in 2014, missed one game, then played against South Carolina. In that game, Watson threw for 269 yards, two touchdowns, and amazingly still rushed for 13 yards and two touchdowns as well. I believe that gave everyone in Houston hope that it wouldn't take long for Watson to return to form and help lead their beloved Texans down the field again.

Of course, there have been some bad things from Watson, but he’s a rookie, so I’m not entirely surprised. Watson has this incredible ability to escape pressure that he somehow sees with the eyes in the back of his head. However, sometimes it appears he tries to do too much and runs into more trouble than he should put himself into. What do I mean by this? Watching recent games, Watson has a habit of running into sacks. Now I know everyone is going to want to place the blame on the offensive line; I implore you to trust me that it's not all their fault, regardless of how you feel about that group's lackluster performance over the last two seasons.

Watson has been sacked an astounding 49 times in his first 16 games. That is a ton of hits to take for a QB in today's NFL! Just this past week, off the top of my head, I can think of two plays where he was “sacked” in which it appears he held onto the ball too long instead of dumping it off and moving on. This area is where Quarterback Coach Sean Ryan and Head Coach Bill O’Brien can work with Watson the most and help him turn that corner to become a prolific passer in the NFL, and stay healthy!

Now I don’t want it to seem like I’m some QB guru, and that I know exactly how to turn Watson into the best QB in the league because I don’t, or I would be getting paid a ton of money, and my phone would be blowing up! These are just general observations from re-watching game tape, and keying in on some things.

With only 16 games under his belt, a 9-7 record, arguably the best hands receiver at his disposal, the recent addition of Demaryius Thomas, and Will Fuller coming back next year, I fear the best is yet to come from the young QB, and that should put fear in the souls of defensive coordinators around the NFL.

Week 10 NFL Picks

Jonathon Lee’s Week 10 Picks

Overall Record: 9-11 (Last Week: 2-3)

Atlanta Falcons -5.5

The Falcons have now won three in a row and absolutely in the playoff race at 4-4. They seem to be clicking now and were even able to get Julio Jones in the end zone last week. On the opposite side, the Cleveland Browns have now lost four in a row by an average margin of 14.5 points. Baker Mayfield and company will get it right one day, but this is way too important of a game for the Falcons and their season. Atlanta wins and covers.

Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots OVER 46.5

I hate to say this, but Marcus Mariota looked like a good Quarterback last week against what is regarded as a good Dallas Cowboys defense. Combine a healthy Mariota with the Patriots quick offense that has averaged 35.5 points per game in their six-game winning streak, and I really like this over the pick.

Seattle Seahawks +10

This is a divisional game between two teams that clearly do not like each other. Seattle was coming off a loss to the Chargers last week, and at 4-4, they are stuck fighting for their season against arguably the best team in football. While I obviously don’t think they beat the Rams, they will play with desperation and put up a fight. This is their second meeting of the season, in which the first match was a 33-31 Rams victory. I’m looking for another close game that the Seahawks cover.

Chris Kennedy’s Week 10 Picks (Last Week: 3-0):

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -3:

The Redskins have quite a few injuries throughout the offense, which doesn’t bode well for one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. The Buccaneers have scored 27 points at home this season with Fitzpatrick behind center. The Redskins defense has been fairly good this season, ranking in the top ten, but I like Fitzmagic to come in and hand Washington their fourth loss of the year.

Arizona Cardinals +17:

I don’t see this being the blowout that most are expecting. Yes, the Cardinals have been abysmal on offense this year, scoring just 14 points per game. They don’t give up a lot of big plays (20+ yards), however. On the other side, the Chiefs defense is susceptible to big plays, especially against RBs. I think we see much solid production from David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday, with a bit of Christian Kirk sprinkled in. While I fully expect the Chiefs to win this game, I’m still taking the Cardinals to cover the spread.

New Orleans Saints @ Cincinnati Bengals UNDER 54:

The Bengals will be without A.J. Green this week, which means we should see more of Joe Mixon in the passing game. John Ross will also be relied upon more, especially if C.J. Uzomah can’t go this week. The Saints have been stellar against the run this year, giving up just 56 yards per game. The Bengals defense has had their issues this season, and that will continue in this game. I just don’t see it being the total shootout that it could have been if A.J. Green were playing.

- All stats from ESPN

Finally Julio!

Touchdown, Julio Jones! A drought that began 343 days ago, spanning 12 games, while racking up 115 Fantasy Points, is how long it took Jones to find the end zone for six. Toward the end of the fourth quarter Sunday, Jones took a bubble screen and cut up field for a 35-yard touchdown. As stated by ESPN Fantasy, since the start of the 2017 season, Jones leads wide receivers with over 2,000 yards. This season he has had five 100-yard games, but struggled in the red zone. This discrepancy mystifies fantasy owners everywhere concerning Jones’s lack of touchdown receptions during that time span. 

According to CBS Sports, Jones is the highest priced wide receiver in football averaging a cost of $8,000 on Draft Kings and FanDuel respectively. This outrageous purchase price finally paid dividends on Sunday as Jones caught his first touchdown since Rockstar by Post Malone was the #1 song on the Billboard charts. 

The question most owners are asking themselves is: “Is this the start of a trend or is it an anomaly?” Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons quarterback, conveniently forgets that he has a top five wide receiver In the red zone thus giving fantasy owners around the world anxiety about trusting his memory. For his career, Jones averages 96.2 receiving yards per game which is tops in the league since 2014, as stated by Pro Football Focus.

Heading into Cleveland this weekend, against a team that is struggling to find its identity, Jones and the Falcons offense should be feasting on the Dog Pound. However, Cleveland’s defense has shown flashes of competence. In 8 out of 9 games they have picked off the quarterback. Meanwhile, Ryan is doing an outstanding job protecting the ball this season. NFL.com highlights Ryan’s nineteen touchdowns to three interceptions. Those statistics reflect remarkable ball security. Pro Football Focus shows the Browns allow offenses to score an average of twenty eight points. Therefore, this game  should be another one where the Falcons pile on the points and Jones is able to cash checks in the end zone. 

For much of the last year, Jones has been a great option at WR1 or WR2. He amasses the yards that consistently rank him in the top ten of the position weekly. If Jones can manage to string together multiple games down the stretch with touchdowns, we could possibly be seeing another All-Pro season from the receiver. In fantasy terms that means wins, and we all know what wins mean... bragging rights and financial dividends. Cha-Ching! 

The Bit: What to Think of These Texans?

The Bit: Bye Week Edition

@jchasteenwriter

So here we, as fans, sit with a team that is 6-3. This is a Texans team that is honestly a play or two away from being 9-0. This is a team seated two games atop the AFC South, a team who’s never been out of a loss, a team who’s won SIX straight games, and a team who now displays a record that, on paper, they should have.

To go on further, this is the same team that is also a play or two away from being 2-7. This Texans team underperformed on offense (and maybe even defense) their first five games, was out-coached for five of the six first games, and was down to one offensive threat until they traded for Demaryius Thomas to replace often-injured Will Fuller.

I am one torn Texans fan because I can’t tell if the Texans are a fraud, or if they are what they should be. Looking back to OTAs, I would have pegged the Texans as having a 6-3 record at their bye week with losses to New England, Dallas, and Jacksonville.

As week 10 of the NFL approaches, the Texans are ranked 14th in total yards and scoring offense per game and defensively are ranked 9th in total yards and 7th in points allowed.

I’d say the defense is right on schedule, but the offense has some slack to pick up, as most of us expected a top-five offense based on the sample Watson previewed last year. In their defense, if you take away the first three abysmal loses and the awful offensive showing against Buffalo, they are playing better in all phases of their game, and that offense (yes, credit to Lamar Miller for showing up for two whole games) is what is expected, no matter the opponent.

The optimist viewpoint of the first half of the 2018 Houston Texans is this: they control their own destiny. Offensive kinks seem to have been ironed out, starters have been lost, and some gems have been found. The offensive line is playing like a gelled unit now. Watt is BACK. Watson has worked on his turnovers and limited the number of unnecessary hits taken.

This is a team that has eight games to keep improving, because let’s face it—the only good team they’ve played is New England, and that may be the BEST team they play until the playoffs. Washington, Indianapolis (yes, they’re improving each week as well), and Philadelphia will all be tests to show us how our team stacks up against talented squads. So pay close attention to those games.

The realist in me wonders: how would Houston stack up against New England (again), Kansas City, or any of the NFC juggernauts? If that doesn’t make you a little nervous, then let me know which happy pills you’re taking, so I can partake and chug the entire bottle.

Win Streak Hits Six as Texans Survive

It was not the prettiest of afternoons for the Texans.

Outside of the thrashing Houston gave Miami in Week 8, and the beatdown in Jacksonville, all of Houston's wins have been by one score. Nonetheless, thanks to a missed 51-yard field goal from Brandon McManus, Houston notches their sixth straight win improving to 6-3 heading into their bye. With the win, the Texans not only seized full control of the AFC South but are also very much in distance of nabbing one of the top 2 seeds in the AFC.

Offensively the Texans got again another good game in pass protection, from their offensive line. Quarterback Deshaun Watson was hit only four times, all four quarterback hits were sacks*. The pass

protection has steadily improved, though against what was the 27th ranked run defense, Houston struggled to run the ball effectively. Lamar Miller after exploding the past two games with 100 yards in each contest, only mustered 21 yards on 12 carries*. Alfred Blue was a little more effective with 15 carries and 39 yards, even Watson who did not have any designed run plays delivered 38 yards on six carries.*

Houston's defense was effective against the run as they have been much of the season, limiting the Broncos to just 75 yards on the ground. Broncos quarterback Case Keenum did everything he could to stick it to his former team, he made quick reads and getting rid of the ball quickly which helped negates Houston's defensive front from fully wrecking the game.

Wrapping up

Close games can go either way if Sutton catches Keenum's perfectly thrown ball in the end zone in the first quarter we could be sitting here discussing an entirely different result. Then there is the usual reliable McManus having the worst game of the season going 1/3, including missing a 51-yard attempt to win the game Honestly when McManus walked on to the field, I thought the streak was coming to an end. After all, he has been one of the best kickers in the game, but you know the Texans are rolling when one of the best kickers misses a kick well within his range. Though it is worth noting McManus following the loss to the Texans, is now 2/5 kicking the ball in his last two games.*

The Texans enter their bye playing good football, but with plenty of room to grow. Offensively the Texans need the offensive line to continue to improve to keep Watson clean but also be more consistent in the run game. The bye will certainly aid Watson and Thomas further develop their chemistry so that they can be on the same page. Following the bye, Houston could see two key players return from injury when they take on Washington. Wide receiver KeKe Coutee who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and second-year running back D'Onta Foreman can start practicing following the bye. Whether Foreman suits up against Washington remains to be determined, but having both Coutee and Foreman return would be an added boost to Houston's offensive attack.

The playoffs are very much a reality for the Texans. The question now is, can Houston take it another level and win the city's first ever Super Bowl?

*=all stats and rankings sourced by ESPN

Dumbest Rules in Sports: The NFL Overtime System

When you introduce a new feature called “The Dumbest Rules in Sports,” it makes sense to kick it off with a look at the NFL, whose rules committee comes from a magical realm of non-Euclidean maps. After only five decades of overtime games, the NFL noticed that it had a problem: an unbalanced overtime system that lets a coin toss directly influence the outcome of a game. Rejecting proven solutions, the rules committee thought and thought, until one of them shouted: “I’ve got it! Let’s replace it with an arbitrary, bureaucratic tangle that still lets a coin toss directly influence the outcome of a game!”

How did it come to this? Let’s take a look.

A Little History

Once upon a time, the National Football League was a pretty uncomplicated organization. Wide receivers had day jobs, helmets were made of leather, and zone coverage was what your jockstrap did. And when the clock expired, the game was over.

This worked for everything but the postseason, because the concept of championships originates in the Highlander universe, where There Can Be Only One. The advent of championships required an emergency plan in case of a tie at the end of “regulation time” (a term used only by advanced theorists). In fact the “postseason” itself didn’t even exist until 1933, when a radical innovation called the “NFL championship game” was introduced. Before that, if two different teams shared the best record at the end of the “regular season” (another advanced theoretical notion), champion status was sorted out within the office of the league’s executive committee. Seriously.

Once the postseason became a thing, rule makers became anxious about the possibility of a tie, so they again consulted the Highlanders, who predictably recommended something they called “sudden death overtime.” The NFL accepted this suggestion, though their rejection of beheadings remains controversial to some. The sudden death rule was: you flip a coin to decide possession of the football, and then the first team to score any points is the winner.

This was too radical a notion to just leap into; it had to be tested, and the first NFL overtime game was won, Manhattan Project style, by the Rams in the 1955 preseason. Then, after the radiation cleared, the first postseason overtime, known as “the greatest game ever played,” was won in 1958 by the Baltimore Colts.

Things Get Weird

But from the very start, after that inaugural 1955 preseason overtime game, there was dissatisfaction -- from the winners, no less! -- with the importance of the coin toss. The winner of the toss was winning 60% of the games, which was too lopsided to be fair.

So the rules committee sat down and brainstormed ways to make the NFL overtime less lopsided and arbitrary, and hit upon the remarkable idea -- the kind only a committee of professionals can come up with -- of making the asymmetry much more arbitrary and obvious. Now, through a complicated system, it’s possible for both teams to possess the ball in overtime, provided they all remember to bring enough eye of newt.

We’re making that up about the newts, probably. Please don’t blind any newts. But if you read the official overtime rules -- go ahead, it’s only 1113 words, we’ll wait -- you’ll know that coin flip plus touchdown still equals winning without the other side ever possessing the football.

The way forward

This is all true despite college football proving that a symmetrical overtime system not only works fairly, but is ridiculously exciting to watch. Yet purists -- possibly the same people who used to wear those leather helmets -- object to the college system by saying “defense is part of the game!”

We considered this objection seriously and carefully, and sent our researchers out to investigate, and they came back to us with a stunning discovery: Not only is the defensive side permitted on the field during college overtimes, they are even permitted to try their hardest to thwart the offensive side! Defenses even affect the outcome of college overtime games!

Once we heard this amazing news, we were convinced that the current NFL overtime rules are among the dumbest rules in sports history, and we favor a college-style system.

Now please excuse us while we go and adjust our zone coverage.

Texans vs Broncos Preview

The Houston Texans will put their five-game win streak on the line at Mile High against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Like Thursday night's matchup against Brock Osweiler, the Texans again will face a former quarterback in Case Keenum. However, unlike Brock, people in Houston still cheer for Case to succeed ever since his days at the University of Houston, except this upcoming Sunday that is.

This game will be won by the team who can win in the trenches as both teams have defensive fronts capable of wrecking the game. While the Broncos are 2nd in the league in sacks with 24, and 11th overall in pass defense allowing 237.5 yards a game, and their pass defense is pretty stout, their soft spot would be against the run, as Denver is 27th in the NFL against the run. Therefore, it is imperative Houston comes out physical and establishes the run not only to stay out of 3rd and long situations, but also to prevent Von Miller and that Denver pass rush from pinning their ears back and going after Watson.

Case Keenum faces no picnic either, as Houston's defense has been one of the best all season. Led by the resurgence of JJ Watt, Houston is 10th in the league in sacks, are are just outside the top 10 in passing yards a game allowed. However, Houston is also 7th in rushing yards allowed per game. Houston's got the edge in scoring defense allowing 20.9 points a game, while Denver is 14th allowing 24.3 points per game.

Keenum, like most other quarterbacks, can hurt you with a clean pocket. Therefore it is important Watt and Company establish their presence early and make Keenum’s day as uncomfortable as possible.

Returning to the Texans’ offense, quarterback Deshaun Watson is a full-go to fly for Sunday's game. How Watson fares in the altitude remains to be seen, but the fact he can fly is a good sign that his lung and ribs are healing well. Of course, having a mini-bye week might have helped the healing process.

Making a move to help their franchise quarterback, the Texans added wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to fill the void after Will Fuller was lost for the season. Adding Thomas will help ease the pressure off of Hopkins, as well as improving the short to intermediate passing attack. Thomas is probably more ecstatic about the deal than anyone else because he now gets the opportunity to play with a stud quarterback. Since Peyton Manning retired from the NFL, Thomas has endured a struggle similar to Hopkins pre-Watson: playing with three different quarterbacks in three seasons.

Injuries

The Texans will see the return of TE Ryan Griffin, who has missed the previous two games with an illness. RB D'Onta Foreman will not start practicing until after the bye week, as he continues to rehab from the Achilles injury he suffered last season. WR Keke Coutee is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. Though with the acquisition of Thomas, along with a bye following Sunday's game, Houston may sit him out.

S Andre Hal, G Zach Fulton, and LB Brian Peters are all listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

Final Thoughts

Adding Thomas was a great message sent to the players from the front office. It shows that the Texans are not only willing to fill a need, but also show they are driven to win. Despite the offensive line playing great this past couple of games, it would have been nice to see the Texans get greedy and add a tackle or guard; someone to boost them up front, because outside of playing good defense, the Texans’ fate rests on the health of Watson.

The altitude will be a factor, as it always is, with the visiting team at Denver. But if the Texans are able to keep Watson clean for a third week in a row, along with playing with energy the entire 60 minute, the Texans will have a great chance of entering their well-deserved bye on a six-game winning streak.

*Stats and rankings from ESPN

Draft Kings Week 9 Main Slate Report

Houston Preeminence is officially LIVE, and we aren’t going away. That includes myself, as I continue to provide you with the DFS content that you crave. We’re looking at Week 9, and there are some really nice matchups to focus on. As always, I’ll share with you my “LOCK,” “VALUE,” and “FADE” picks for the Draft Kings NFL Main Slate. Let’s get after it.

QB:

Jared Goff - $6,000 (LOCK): Here is a slam dunk of a pick. Goff is going up against the Saints this week and in New Orleans. At home this season, the Saints are giving up an average of 400 passing yards per game to opposing QBs,z and they rank sixth worse in the league in total DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).v Goff has been very impressive this season, completing 67 percent of his passes, and sporting a TD rage of 6.7.z The Saints, have been allowing a completion percentage of 70 and a TD rate of 5.91.z Cooper Kupp is also on track to play, which gives Goff another piece of ammunition against this porous Saints defense.

Ryan Fitzpatrick - $5,500 (VALUE): I’m going with Fitzpatrick here until he gets benched again. Who knows with this team. In the first three games of the season, Fitzpatrick threw for over 400 yards in each game, and at least 3 TDs.z He’ll be facing a Carolina defense that has been average against the pass, ranking 20th in Pass Def DVOA.v This game has an over-under of 55, with the Panthers as a six-point favorite, so I fully expect Fitzpatrick to be slinging the ball all over the field on Sunday.

Patrick Mahomes - $7,100 (FADE): Do you know who ranks first in Pass Defense DVOA?v Or who gives up the least amount of fantasy points per game to opposing QBs?w The Browns. Yes, you read that right. The Cleveland Browns have been the best team in the NFL against the pass this season. The Brown are allowing opposing QBs to complete 60 percent of their passes (second lowest of main slate defenses), and a TD rate of only 3.32 percent (lowest on the main slate).z I know Mahomes has been phenomenal this year, but this week I’ll be looking elsewhere at QB.

RB:

Kareem Hunt - $7,700 (LOCK): While I’m fading his QB, I’m all in on Hunt. Tampa Bay surrenders an average of 118 rushing yards per game to opposing RBs,z along with 27 fantasy points per game.w The Chiefs are an eight and a half point favorite this week, which means I’m expecting Hunt to carry the load towards the end of the game.

Kenyan Drake - $5,300 (VALUE): Drake is looking to continue his fantasy success this week against the Jets. Over the last two weeks, Drake has averaged just over 21 PPR (points per reception) points.y The New York Jets are allowing 92 rushing yards per game to opposing RBs this year, to go along with 26 fantasy points.z The Dolphins offensive line ranks eighth in the NFL this year in 2nd Level Yards, meaning that they’re giving their RBs a better opportunity of gaining five to ten yards beyond the line of scrimmage.v

James Conner - $7,200 (FADE): I know that Conner has been superb this year, but he’s facing the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens allow just 70 rushing yards per game, and an insane 18 receiving yards per game to opposing RBs.z Last week, Baltimore held Christian McCaffrey to just three yards per carry, and 11 yards receiving on just four receptions.z

WR:

Robert Woods - $7,000 (LOCK): The Rams have so many offensive weapons to choose from, especially with Cooper Kupp returning to action. I’m going with Woods as my pick because the Saints are the worst in the NFL against opposing WR2, giving up 113 receiving yards per game.v Woods leads this receiving core with eight targets per game, and with the Rams projected to score almost 30 points on Sunday I think Woods has the big day for L.A.z

Amari Cooper - $4,600 (VALUE): That’s right, folks! This is the week that Amari goes bonkers. Ok, maybe not bonkers, but I think he has over 100 yards receiving and two TDs. He’s facing a Titans defense that has allowed 41 fantasy points per game to opposing WRs,w and 81 receiving yards per game to WR1.v Amari is able to line up all over the field, so look for Dallas to try him out in different areas to see if he can exploit a mismatch.

Tyreek Hill - $8,000 (FADE): Hill should see a decent amount of Denzel Ward this week, which doesn’t bode well for Hill. This year, PFF has ranked Ward as the eighth best cover corner in the league.x While Hill can hurt you in so many areas of the game. I’m going to look elsewhere at that price.

TE:

Greg Olsen - $4,700 (LOCK): Olsen found success against a stout Ravens defense last week, and I think he continues that success this week. Yes, he’s against the abysmal Buccaneers, but he’s also going to be matched up against Justin Evans. Evans is giving up a league-high 3.64 Y/RC (yards per reception completed), among NFL safeties.x

Cameron Brate - $2,700 (VALUE): While Brate doesn’t have the targets or yards that O.J. Howards does, he does have the same number of TDs and more targets in the red zone.z Carolina surrenders 18 fantasy points per game to opposing TEs, and Brate should get some opportunities in this high scoring match up.w

Travis Kelce - $6,600 (FADE): Maybe I should have just said to fade all Chiefs (except Hunt) this week. Kelce should be matched up against Jabrill Peppers, who is only allowing 50 percent of completed passing thrown his way.x The Browns just don’t allow many fantasy points to opponents in the passing game, including just nine fantasy points a game to opposing TEs.w

*Stat Source Key (v = Football Outsiders, w = 4for4, x = Pro Football Focus, y = ESPN, z = Pro Football Reference)

Week 9 NFL Picks

Jonathon Lee’s Picks:

Overall Record: 7-8 (Last week: 2-3)

Pittsburgh Steelers +2

The Steelers face the Ravens this Sunday in one of the greatest rivalries we have in the NFL. This divisional matchup always seems to be a close one and like I said last week, I believe this is the time we see the Steelers start to pull away. While I think this will be a close game, I will take the 2 points but have Pittsburgh winning this game outright.

New York Jets +2.5

This is another game that I like the team to win outright but will take the points. For the third week in a row, I am fading Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins. This is a game where Sam Darnold can show he is a liable Quarterback for the future. Give me the Jets in an easy win and put the cherry on top with a Brock Osweiler pick-6.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cleveland Browns UNDER 52

The Kansas City Chiefs are a team that has been a good bet on the over this year, but 52 points is getting high for an NFL game this far into the season. It’d be one thing if it were two high scoring offenses like the Rams/Saints matchup this weekend, but the Browns are averaging just 16 points per game over the last four weeks. The Chiefs are going to convincingly beat the Browns early and run the clock out in the second half for a final score of around 28-10.

Denver Broncos -1

I’m sorry, I know this is a Houston based website, but this is the game the Texans lose. I hate to do this, but you aren’t supposed to bet with emotions. Just think about it, the Texans are not going to win the rest of their games to finish 13-3, and that’s fine. The Broncos are a different team at home and opponents don’t usually perform well in Colorado; just look at Pat Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs losing all game before barely squeezing out a comeback win on Monday Night Football a month ago. It was only two weeks ago that Deshaun Watson had to ride a bus to Florida instead of flying because of the altitude, so that could definitely be a factor in the Mile High City. The Denver pass rush is an advantage to Houston’s offensive line. Let’s just get out of there healthy into the bye week with a favorable schedule the rest of the way. My heart and wallet disagree on this one. Broncos cover the spread.

Minnesota Vikings -5 *J-Lee & CK Consensus Pick*

If the Vikings want to go back to the playoffs, they need to win this game against the Detroit Lions. Both teams are coming off a loss, but the Vikings hung in there with the Saints while the Lions put up an ugly performance against the Seahawks. I think the Vikings get right, at home, before heading into the bye week and prepare to face the Bears, Packers, and Patriots over the following three weeks. Vikings win by at least a touchdown.

Chris Kennedy’s Picks:

Minnesota Vikings -5:

The Detroit Lions rank in the bottom five for overall DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), but also in Passing and Rushing DVOA.z This means they just can’t stop anyone whether it’s on the ground or through the air. The Vikings have only once failed to score less than 20 points in a game this season. The Lions defense is a mess, and even their top cover corner, Darius Slay, hasn’t been up to par this year. I like the Vikings at home this week.

Atlanta Falcons +1.5:

The Falcons are coming off the bye week with a two-game winning streak, and are scoring an average of 27 points per game this year.y While the Redskins defense has been stout this year, giving up the third least amount of points per game, I’ve been really impressed with the way Matt Ryan has been playing since Freeman landed on IR. I think that Atlanta comes into Washington this week and steals a victory.

L.A. Rams @ New Orleans Saints OVER 58.5:

Both of these teams have combined for an average of 66 points per game.y You add that on top of the fact that they are playing in NO, which is pretty much the “Coors Field” of the NFL, and you have the makings of a crazy high scoring game. Cooper Kupp is on track to play, and that will certainly help to open things up for Goff.

Stat Source Reference: y = ESPN, z = Football Outsiders

My Texans Weekly Mock Draft

Texans’ fans: this series will be a weekly 2019 mock draft for our favorite team. The mock draft will not have any impact from free agency or trade rumors. As the Texans season moves forward and they accumulate wins or losses, the draft slots and draft picks will be affected. I based each pick on the Texans needs, prospects, draft stock, and fit for the current team’s defensive and offensive schemes. 

The Texans’ needs are simple: Offensive Lineman and Corner. There is no starting Left Tackle on the Texans roster currently. The interior lineman position has been shaky at best. The Texans’ O-line has to be one of the most inconsistent lines of all time. In the 2019 mock draft, I prefer to use their first round draft pick on an Offensive Tackle.

The cost to the Texans for winning games is lowering their draft slots. To simulate the draft, I used a computed online live draft at fanspeak.com. So, when the Texans’ pick came up, all of the top rated OT were gone. Teams like the Jets, Cardinals, Colts, and Browns all might be looking for OT in the 2019 Draft. Talent like Jonah Williams, Greg Little, and Trey Williams will be gone very early in the first round of the draft. Unless the quarterbacks in the 2019 class really start shining, and quarterback-needy teams fall in love with them, other talented positional players will be off the board quickly.

Here We Go!!!

First Round Selection at 20th Pick - CB Deandre Baker - Georgia

Measurables – Height: 5’11”, Weight: 185lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 4.55, Reach: 34”

Deandre Baker was rated higher than other OT at 20th. Baker is one of the top-rated cornerbacks coming out of college this year. Andraez (“Greedy”) Williams gets the hype and attention, but Baker is just as talented and flashy. Not necessarily a ball-hawking corner, Baker plays his man and the ball quite well. Pass deflection ability is key in a league where the passing game is highlighted. Baker’s selection would allow the Texans to move Jonathan Joseph to second corner and Aaron Colvin can then play in his natural position as slot corner.

Second Round Selection at 47th Pick - OT Andre Dillard - Washington State

Measurables – Height: 6’5”, Weight: 305lbs., Wingspan: 83”

Andre Dillard is nice second-round talent. Dillard is in the conversation of Best Left Tackle in the draft class. With his quick feet and superb hand placement, he could be the Left Tackle for the Texans for the next 10 – 15 years. With Watson’s abilities and playing style, he will need a LT that has more quickness and is lighter on their feet than a traditional LT. Dillard has very good upper body strength. That strength will be needed when handling NFL-level top pass rushers that can bull rush.    

Second Round Selection at 53rd Pick - RB Bryce Love - Stanford

Measurables – Height: 5’10”, Weight: 202lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 4.35

Bryce Love should replace Lamar Miller and should pair with D’Onta Foreman. Barring any setback, I can see him going higher in the draft. If he is there in the third round for the Texans, he could be a must-draft for them. Love is a running back with a track and field background. Love has the speed to break away from defenders.  He also has the toughness to be a three-down back with pass-catching abilities, which has been missing from this Texans’ offense.  Stanford is known for running a profile-style offense. That style will suit him well transitioning from college to NFL.

Third Round Selection at 84th Pick  - G Ben Bredeson - Michigan

Measurables – Height: 6’5”, Weight: 310lbs, Wingspan: 81”

Ben Bredeson is a former OT that has moved inside to guard. He is projected to be a left guard that has great strength with power at the point of attack. Bredeson has very good lateral movement from his days at tackle. He truly battles against every defender that lines up in front of him. He positions himself well in pass-blocking situations. 

Properly balanced while run blocking, Bredeson seems under control and stable doing both.  He will need to improve on next-level blocking. He should be a force to go with Dillard on the left. Pairing him with Nick Martin and Zach Fulton could make the interior an impenetrable wall for years to come. Drafting Bredeson helps Head Coach Bill O’ Brian solidify the line and have some permanent players in their positions.

Fourth Round Selection at 123rd Pick  – CB Amani Oruwariye - Pennsylvania State

Measurables – Height: 6’1”, Weight: 201lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 4.57

Amani Oruwariye would be another player to add to the depth of the corner position. Without a lot of proven stars or talent at the corner spot, Oruwariye could have his chance for some real playing time. Oruwariye has great length and a very high awareness of the ball.  A proven tackler that fights off blocks well, Oruwariye has the strength and size to be a hard-hitting corner. A bit raw without a lot of starts under his belt for being redshirt senior, Oruwariye has great potential.

Fifth Round Selection at 161st Pick  –Edge Rusher Christian Rector – Southern California

Measurables – Height: 6’3”, Weight: 275lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 4.77

The Texans’ base front is 3-4, like we always hear, but a team can never have enough edge rushers.With Christian Covington not playing well, and being a healthy scratch on certain games after his return from injury, Christian Rector could be used as the main back-up at defensive end, with Duke Ejiofor emerging as star. Ejiofor and Rector could be the best natural-skilled pass rushers on the team. Picking a true 3-4 DL, will be quite different from what the Texans have been doing lately: converting talent to fit their schemes. Rector has the power and speed to be strong against run. His quickness, finesse, and power can be valuable in the passing game. As a former basketball player in high school, he definitely has the footwork to improve his pass rushing skills.

Sixth Round Selection at 194th Pick  – OL Kendall Baker – Georgia

Measurables – Height: 6’5”, Weight: 305lbs., 40 Yard Dash Time: 5.27

Baker currently plays Left Guard for Georgia, but with his size and lateral speed, he can easily move to a Tackle spot. At tackle, his lean frame and quickness could be used as a swing tackle or as depth for the Texans. He plays very aggressively and has a strong punch to run, stopping defensive tackles from getting to the ball carrier. Following Head Coach O’Brian’s philosophy for the O-line, he has the versatility to play Guard, as well. He will have to add some weight on his frame to play inside. Running backs can find holes when they run his direction, but he will need work to get his strength where he needs to be to handle NFL-level talent.     

Sixth Round Selection at Pick 237th – OL Dewrin Gray – Maryland

Measurables – Height: 6’4”. Weight: 336lbs. 40 Yard Dash Time: 5.25:

Derwin Gray is big, stout offensive lineman. Gray has shown the ability to play Guard and Tackle. He run blocks well, has excellent movement for man of his size, and was once a starter at LT for Maryland. Early in his college career, Gray showed he could play the LT position. Gray’s true position for NFL coaches is at guard with his wide frame and powerful first step in the run game. He blows off defenders to make running lanes for his running backs. An offensive lineman with his natural skills and size could have a long-term home on a roster with work and great effort.

The Texans have some holes in their roster that need to be addressed. This draft class should be able fill some of their needs and contribute.  During the free agency period, there will be some players added and lost to fit the needs of the team. Some of these prospects could see the field starting Day One. With the new additions, the Texans should improve their team and push further in the playoffs in 2019.

Source: fanspeak.com

What did the Texans Get in Demaryius Thomas?

On Tuesday, October 30th, hours before the NFL trade deadline was set to expire, the Texans acquired five-time Pro Bowl selection, Demaryius Thomas, from the Denver Broncos. It needs to be said, all of this is pending a physical before it’s official. Assuming Thomas passes the physical, he’ll join the Texans, who, coincidentally are scheduled to travel to Denver to take on Thomas’ former team, err, current team. I have no clue until after the results of the physical.

Does Thomas even fly to Houston for the physical? Seems redundant. What if he fails the physical? Is this the reverse Robert Horry-Matt Bullard trade? Rockets fans will remember when Horry and Bullard were traded for Sean Elliott. Elliott failed the physical, so, Horry and Bullard returned to Houston as the trade was voided. Horry became more aggressive and the rest is history.

Okay, obviously, I got a little sidetracked with nostalgia. Assuming Thomas passes the physical and joins the Texans, the question moves to “How will it work out?” We could turn to Twitter where there is tons of instant reaction from people that quickly Google stats and records, but what if you wanted to dig deeper and ask “What’s the whole story?” I’m not sure if I can get into the entire story, but I’ll look at some areas of concerns and other areas of optimism regarding Thomas the Texan. 

The first question is always: compensation. The Texans will receive Demaryius Thomas and will flip spots in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the Denver Broncos, along with sending Denver the Texans’ 2019 fourth round pick. Flipping seventh round picks is a footnote on this deal and is basically the equivalent of the pickle that they include with the packaging of your sandwich order at most delis. The meat of the deal is obviously, the fourth-round selection.

Fourth-round selections are usually viewed as developmental players with backup potential, special teams, and/or potential ability to become a starter. Demaryius Thomas is a needed puzzle piece, an upgrade over the current roster choices, and a no-brainer for a team that is in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC and looks to move into a stranglehold position on the AFC South, with the Broncos, basically, pulling out the white flag and sending Thomas to their opponent for this week.

So, not only do the Texans get an extended break after their Thursday Night win over the Dolphins, they now find an above-average starter who will be an instant weapon for the young quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who gets the most out of every player. That will sound like music to the ears of Demaryius Thomas, who has lived the inverse career of his new teammate, DeAndre Hopkins, to this point.

While Hopkins played with guys that would be great in the CFL, he didn’t get a franchise quarterback until 2017, and yet, he still produced. The question has been asked, what would Hopkins’ numbers look like if he had a quarterback like Deshaun Watson throughout his career?  Well, look no further than Demaryius Thomas’ early career success. After playing for the best regular season quarterback of all-time, Peyton Manning, Thomas received passes from the scraps of NFL quarterbacks, which rivaled the level of passers that Hopkins saw B.D. (Before Deshaun.) 

In the Case of Keenum (apologies) and Brock Osweiler, they received the same inconsistency and still performed, even if it was not at their peak.

We can delve into the financials of the deal a little later, but with all of the talk of Thomas losing a step and falling off, I was curious as if this was “group think” based on lack of production or factual. To try to form a researched opinion, I have compared the stats that Demaryius Thomas put up within the seasons in which Peyton Manning was the quarterback primarily, as opposed to when he wasn’t. Is the influx in numbers more about the accuracy of the pass, protection, etc.? Or has Demaryius Thomas truly lost a step at age 30?

Demaryius Thomas

2010 -  22 receptions  -  39 targets  -  283 yards  -  12.9 apc  -  2 TDs

QBs  -  Kyle Orton / Tim Tebow (Rookie year for DT and only played in 10 games)

2011 -  32 receptions  -  70 targets  -  551 yards  -  17.2 apc  -  4 TDs

QBs  -  Kyle Orton / Tim Tebow  (Missed first 5 games of the season)

2012 -  94 receptions  -  141 targets  -  1,434 yards  -  15.3 apc  -  10 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2013 -  92 receptions  -  142 targets  -  1,430 yards  -  15.5 apc  -  14 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2014 -  111 receptions  -  184 targets  -  1,619 yards  -  14.6 apc  -  11 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2015 -  105 receptions  -  177 targets  -  1,304 yards  -  12.4 apc  -  6 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler both split the season almost evenly

2016 -  90 receptions  -  144 targets  -  1,083 yards  -  12.0 apc  -  5 TDs

QBs  -  Trevor Siemian / Paxton Lynch

2017 -  83 receptions  -  140 targets  -  949 yards  -  11.4 apc  -  5 TDs

QBs  -  Trevor Siemian / Paxton Lynch / Brock Osweiler

2018 -  36 receptions  -  56 targets  -  402 yards  -  11.2 apc  -  3 TDs

QBs  -  Case Keenum (through 8 games)

If we are saying that Thomas lost a step because of the lack of production this season, then we would have to say that he lost that step after 2014. He was 27 years old after that season. Is it perhaps more believable that when Peyton Manning declined during the 2015 season and Brock Osweiler started over half of the games, that the decline may have come from horrific quarterback play? 

After being inactive in a combined 11 games over his first two NFL seasons, Thomas is the NFL active Ironman at the wide receiver position with 115 consecutive games played. The next closest is Golden Tate with 102, who, oddly enough, was also traded on Tuesday. Tate went to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a 2019 third round pick.

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Thomas is also the NFL Ironman at the receiver position for consecutive starts, with 104. He almost doubles the next closest on the list, and almost quadruples the player who is third on the list.  

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DeAndre Hopkins would come in at number two on this list if he hadn’t sat out a meaningless Week 17 game against the Colts at the end of last season. Going into that game, Hopkins had started every game of his career since entering the NFL. He was 79 of 79. He’s currently started 87 of a possible 88 games in his career.

It’s easy to see why Brian Gaine, Bill O’Brien, and the Texans decided to add Demaryius Thomas, opposite Hopkins. In Thomas, the Texans may not have added a replacement that displays Will Fuller’s 4.3 speed, but one strength Thomas has over Fuller is being able to stay on the field, and he does that better than anyone at his position.

After watching a little bit of film on Demaryius Thomas from the 2018 season, I believe that he’ll be able to fill a role similar to what Sammy Watkins provided for Kansas City against the Broncos last week. 

While it’s true that Thomas may not take the top off in the same manner as Fuller, there are several other areas that he can contribute in immediately:

- Versus Off-man, he’ll thrive in hitches and rolling outs.

- He can still kill with a double move to get over the top. (Watch late 2nd quarter vs. Jets where the safety was dead, but gets away with a blatant two-handed hit to the chest of Thomas to slow momentum enough to stop the would-be walk-in touchdown.)

- He can find dead spots in the zone with ease.

- He has good physical separation at the top of the route.

- In all seriousness, he is now one of the Texans’ best blockers. He can inline on down blocks like an extra tight end to assist with the running game, and he can throw off defenses with the personnel grouping.

- Slant and drags: my evaluation on Deshaun Watson coming out of college mentioned that his number one strength when throwing is the quick, accurate slant. The 6’3 - 230 pound Thomas will thrive on this, and drags underneath with physical yards after catch.

- Texans’ red zone struggles will receive a boost with another big target that can make contested catches, despite struggles with drops. He’ll also assist with blocking on quick screens, run routes, and down blocks from the slot.

After the brief film study, digging around on drop of production and thinking through his possible fit with the Texans, I would easily say that this was a no-brainer for the Texans. I would go even further by saying that I would be shocked if he’s not extended with the Texans or at the very least play through the 2019 season with the Texans.

If I were to have one concern with Thomas and his immediate fit, it would be in the area of option routes. We’ve seen numerous star receivers struggle in offenses with option routes. It’s not a major concern for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some miscues between Watson and Thomas early on.

In my opinion, the Texans just moved up to being the second-best team in the AFC, behind Kansas City and ahead of the Chargers and then the Patriots. The Texans killed two birds with one stone in the acquisition of Thomas as they also weakened the Patriots by not allowing them to pick up the much-needed, big-bodied receiver for the aging Brady.

Instead, Houston’s offense will be 3-D (Deshaun, DeAndre, and Demaryius) the rest of this season.

NFL Wide Receiver Rankings, Who's At the Top?

Looking at the top NFL wide receivers at the halfway mark.

We are approaching the mid-point of the NFL season, and inevitably, it’s the time of year where countless positional and team rankings along with a few half-season end-of-year awards lists are released. This is one of them. First, let’s go over some parameters for this list.

Our ranking lists have become overly influenced by fantasy football statistics. Which, is viable considering much of our small talk around the water cooler consists of that devastating 1 point loss because of that last meaningless sack on Monday night. Or that trash TD that Andy Dalton threw at the end of a blowout game to give us the bitter taste of defeat.

So let’s focus on tangible measurements, W-L record, REC (receptions), explosive plays (20 plus yard, catches), Yards and the most important, TDs, since points scored in actual football games result indirectly helping your team win. Intangible plays are recognized as well, we often call this, “the eye test.” Explosive bursts, One-handed catches, ability to separate, toe-tapping near the boundary and wide catch radiuses are in the repertoire of all the elite pass catchers in the NFL, so when we accumulate all these measurements into one receiver, who is at the top for the current 2018 season?

The current reception and targets leader in the NFL heading into Week 8 is Adam Thielen. The Vikings are sitting at 4-2-1, and he is a stalwart in their passing game. He’s also leading the league in Yards, having amassed 822 yards thus far, with Julio Jones being a close second with 812. Thielen is currently tied for seventh with three others at five touchdowns, also ranks second among receivers in YAC.

The argument can absolutely be made for Thielen to top this list with his amazing consistency this year, having over 100 yards each game and many Vikings’ fans will argue so, but let’s continue looking at the rest of the worthy receivers.

Jones.

Julio Jones is one of the purest physical specimens at the Wide Receiver position in the NFL. He’s the Adrian Peterson of receivers. If you were to comprise a receiver from top to bottom, much like AP at running back, Jones is the prototype. His 15.3 YPA average is tied for fourth among the NFL’s top 50 reception leaders. He’s second in yards and has the capability of providing some of the most acrobatic catches you will ever see. The Falcons are currently at the bottom of their division with a 3-4 record.

The most glaring statistic that can’t be overlooked is zero touchdowns this year, that’s right zero. I don’t have to inform you fantasy owners as I’m sure you’re the first to point it out to your fellow fantasy football players. His lack of red-zone, production is inexplicable, is it too few targets, lack of Falcons’ creativity missing Kyle Shanahan? Alternatively, is it that the Falcons have a legitimate, young shifty slot that supplanted the Taylor Gabriel role who was a legit no. Number one WR at Alabama? Either way, it’s mind-boggling and his lack of TDs this season means he can’t top this list.

Your favorite Texan.

DeAndre Hopkins has every intangible you want in a receiver. Wide catch radius, one-handed reception capability, DB separation and body control near the boundary abilities are all second to none. His highlight reel catches are exciting, game-changing and deflating for the opposing defender. He’s the leading receiver of the current AFC South first place 5-3 Houston Texans.

His 47 catches are tied for eighth in the league, and 707 yards are tied for third. He’s first in catches over 20 yards, Nuk is a monster. Us Texan fans are blessed to go from Andre Johnson to DeAndre Hopkins as our No. 1 option. Hopkins’ knack for the flair and timely 1st down receptions make him a strong candidate for the top but only hauling 4 TDs thus far in the season may not be a strong enough case.

Steelers top WR.

Antonio Brown is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. Who will ever forget the time he drop-kicked Spencer Lanning on a punt return. AB is having an interesting year, he’s still shown game-breaking ability, specifically with his game-winning TD against Cincinnati, but with the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, his production has dipped just a bit. His 40 catches are tied for 17th in the league, and 478 yards are 23rd. Weird, right?

You’d think a player of his caliber is ranked in the top ten of every reception statistic. He is second in touchdown catches with six, and the Steelers AFC North-leading record of 3-2-1 make him a viable option for the top spot, but at the halfway point, he still has some climbing to do in other categories to be the No. 1 receiver.

That Packer WR.

DaVantae Adams is Aaron Rodgers’ most targeted receiver this season. The rapport between them is undeniable, Aaron Rodgers is one of the best throwers of the football in the NFL. He’s currently tied for 8th with Hopkins with 47 REC on the year, tied for second with Brown with six TD catches. His 557 yards are ranked 16th, with Aaron Rodgers getting rest and healthier coming off the bye week, we’ll see DaVantae Adams put together a stellar second-half of the year. Heading into Week 8, he may not be quite there to be at the top.

Michael Thomas is one of the purest route runners in the game. He also has one of the best to ever do it, Drew Brees throwing to him. We’ve seen Brees enhance mediocre receivers in his career, but Thomas is far from mediocre. Thomas is ranked 11th in receiving yards with 588 and tied for 3rd with 53 REC. His 4 TDs are tied for 11th. The Saints are sitting atop the NFC South with their 5-1 record. Thomas’ benefit of having Brees propels him into the conversation of best receiver in the league. Let’s see if he’s able to jump to the top of the list at the end of the year, for now, he’s in the conversation.

Some others.

Odell Beckham Jr. is as electrifying a player we’ll see this year. He seems short in stature but plays like a 6’4’’ possession receiver. His slant routes are close to unstoppable. He is tied for third with 53 catches with Thomas and Jones. The New York Giants are a disappointing 1-6 on the year. Easily one of the most underachieving teams in the NFL. OBJ and the Giants will be competitive for the rest of the year, but with a horrible offensive line, Eli doesn’t have the time to get OBJ the ball. When he does touch it, he’s still amazing with the ball. His 649 yards are 4th in the league, but with the Giants struggling so bad, it’s hard to put him at the top.

Tyreek Hill is the fastest player in the NFL. Oh, how I wish we could see the fastest players race in a 60-yard dash as part of Pro Bowl week so we could settle this debate every year. He ran a 9.98 in the 100-meter dash in college. This is world class speed, couple that with the NFL’s hottest sensation of the year in Patrick Mahomes, and we have a recipe for a special year. His 7 TD catches top the league right now. He ranks 5th in yards with 635, is 2nd to Hopkins with 12 catches of 20 plus yards.

The Sunday Night play of him scoring this 75-yard touchdown is one of the NFL’s highlights and lowlights of the year. The fan that threw the beer at him at the end of play faced a charge of disorderly conduct the next day. His team is 6-1 atop the AFC West with their only loss coming to the dynasty that is the New England Patriots in one of the best games of the year. He’s a must-see player this year and the reason why I believe he’s the best receiver in the league at the halfway point.

NFL’s Top WR Through Week 7

  1. Tyreek Hill
  2. Adam Thielen
  3. DeAndre Hopkins
  4. Antonio Brown
  5. Michael Thomas
  6. Davante Adams
  7. Odell Beckham Jr.
  8. Julio Jones

It’s so difficult to quantify each of these outstanding players hard work, performance week in and out. I believe this list is honest and directly related to team performance and wins. Take the player off the team and are they still atop their division or even more abysmal? Each one of these players is amazing, and I love to watch them play week in and week out. We’ll see who claims the top spot after week 17.

All Stats from NFL.com

The Giants Have Failed Odell Beckham, Jr.

The New York Giants have a problem with their team, but believe it or not, it actually isn’t Odell Beckham Jr.

Before the Giants lost 33-31 on a record-tying 63-yard kick by Panthers kicker, Graham Gano, the Giants superstar wide receiver garnered a lot of negative backlash Sunday morning for his Sunday NFL Countdown interview with ESPN personality Josina Anderson with multi-platinum selling artist Lil’ Wayne by his side.

The 7 minute interview captured Beckham’s current frustrations with: his team’s inability to score; the Giants then 1-3 record; his thoughts on Eli Manning not passing him the ball how he wants; and teams with high-powered offenses, such as the currently 5-0 Los Angeles Rams. Anderson even asked about Beckham’s happiness with the team currently.

Beckham answered every question truthfully, and this drove media personalities, and Giants head coach, Pat Shurmur, into a frenzy. Before the interview aired, the Giants Head Coach actually confronted Beckham about his comments, which lead to the disgruntled wide receiver publicly apologizing to his teammates before their Sunday afternoon matchup in Carolina.

As for the game itself, the Giants still lost, but the offense was able to score 31 points; the most the team has scored since January 3rd, 2016 in a 35-30 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Beckham led all players with 8 catches on 131 yards and a receiving touchdown. Ironically, he even threw a touchdown pass for 57 yards to Saquon Barkley, which is the longest pass play the Giants have had in since Week 5 in 2017. Beckham also graded out as the highest rated player on the Giants with 90.7.

After the loss, Beckham addressed the media and said he doesn’t regret his ESPN interview and believed his words were a positive influence. Based on his and the team’s numbers for the game, one has to wonder why Beckham continues to receive such criticism for his comments (and basically everything else he does on and off the field.)

What makes this situation even more concerning, is that Beckham straightforwardly expressed his opinion publicly, and the team, especially their offense, responded in a way the team hasn’t in nearly two years. Despite this, the general consensus appears to be that Beckham was wrong for what he said.

It is understandable that Beckham’s past behavior earned him the reputation of being a disruptive player, and many said he made a fool of himself. Who can forget him attacking a kicking net, throwing tantrums on the sideline, and getting into an on-field fight with Redskins corner Josh Norman? However, all of this is behind him.

Ever since the Giants re-signed Beckham to a five-year, 90 million dollar extension to make him the highest paid player in his position, he has also been the leader of the team. In every game this season, he congratulated his teammates when they scored or made big plays and consoled them in stressful situations. Yet, the majority of mass media continue to make him out as a bad guy.

The Giants organization on the other hand, hasn’t lived up to their expectations like Beckham has. Back in 2016, New York finally cut ties with long-term head coach Tom Coughlin after 12 seasons, 5 playoff berths, 3 divisional championships, and 2 Super Bowl Championships. Since then, the Giants fired Ben McAdoo in 2017 after a disastrous 3-13 season, following their 11-5 season in 2016.

So far, things look the same with Shurmur, as the team is 1-4 and currently has the highest chance of earning the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. 

As a fan of the Giants, I can honestly say that the team has failed Beckham, not the other way around. He is playing in his fifth season, and, though regarded as one of the league's most polarizing athletes, he continues to produce at a superstar level. His 39 catches for 462 yards is fourth in the NFL among receivers. His team on the other hand, makes you scoff at the fact that they once won two Super Bowls in a five year span.

With an upcoming Primetime matchup against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, Beckham and the New York Giants either need to come together to produce a win or they will continue to be the media circus have been so far in 2018.

All Stats and info was used from Pro Football Reference and Giants.com

Is Lincoln Riley the Next Sean McVay?

There’s an offensive explosion happening in the NFL right now. With the changing of the NFL rules to benefit offenses, the yardage and point totals are piling up. What these changes also bring in is a change in offensive philosophy. The spread attack that is so prevalent in college football has made its way to the pros. Now coaches are studying film from their NCAA counterparts in order to learn how to implement them at the highest level.

As the dynamics of the NFL landscape change, there is a need for new and innovative minds to lead teams into the future. Look no further than LA Rams Head Coach Sean McVay as the perfect example of this. He’s transformed that team from one of stagnation and bland offensive football into arguably the most exciting team to watch on Sundays. In the next series of articles, we’re going to profile coaches who might fit the bill of what teams should be looking for if they want to make a similar jump in success. First up is University of Oklahoma Head Coach, Lincoln Riley.

Coaching Background

Lincoln got his start coaching in 2003 after playing QB at Texas Tech, where he learned the Air Raid scheme under HC Mike Leach. He was Student Assistant until 2007 when he began to coach Wide Receivers. He left in 2010 when Defensive Coordinator Ruffin McNeill brought him along to East Carolina University to run that offense. From 2010 until 2014, Riley was the Offensive Coordinator. During his 5 years there, the Pirates averaged 34.1 PPG and 448.5 YPG.

His success at East Carolina led to him getting hired as OC at Oklahoma for 2 years until Bob Stoops stepped down prior to the 2017 season. In his first year as HC, the team won the Big 12 Conference Championship and the Sooners were one game away from playing against Alabama in the national title game. His starting QB Baker Mayfield won the Heisman trophy and would eventually become the Number 1 pick in the following NFL Draft.  Here is a look at Oklahoma’s offensive ranks since Riley stepped on the sidelines in Norman:

2015: 43.5 PPG (4th in FBS), 530.2 YPG (7th FBS)

2016: 43.9 PPG (3rd in FBS), 554.8 YPG (2nd in FBS)

2017: 45.1 PPG (3rd in FBS), 579.6 YPG (1st in FBS).

2018 (as of 10/12/18): 48 PPG (8th in FBS), 524.7 YPG (11th in FBS)

Offensive Scheme

As mentioned earlier, Riley runs the Air Raid offense he learned while at Texas Tech. While the Air Raid scheme is designed to hurt defenses aerially, his version of this offense has also built an above-average running game into it. Inside/Outside zone runs are a staple of the Air Raid, but Oklahoma added counter run plays to the playbook last year. They were able to do this for two reasons: Their offensive line play is, and was, outstanding and their ability to still recruit elite RB’s.

Even so, Air Raid allows for the passing game to act as an extended running game with the use of Bubble/Tunnel screens. This offense is designed to get the playmakers in space and get them the ball quickly, whether it’s by run or pass. By spacing out the offense it also puts pressure on the D by having them cover more ground. Instead of having your offense bunched up, you spread them out and force the defense to decide who they want to cover. 

One of the staple plays of the Air Raid offense is 4 Verticals.  On this play, you have four receivers wide and have them run identical routes evenly spaced out. Receivers are given the option to break off their routes if they find open space or continue to stretch the route. This allowed for everything underneath those routes to be opened up. The defense cannot double team every receiver and it puts them at a disadvantage.

Another staple play “Mesh,” calls for two receivers to run crossing routes that opens up the middle of the field. From this very formation, the Sooners run draw plays, QB Runs, and more. They also use pre-snap motion to get their receivers into the matchups they want. Seeing as how Air Raid primarily runs out of the Shotgun Formation, and NFL offenses are in Shotgun a majority of the time now, it’s an ideal fit. With their ability to run the ball well, OU was also able to add some RPO (Run/Pass Option) plays as well, which adds another element of disguise.

Final Verdict

I think Riley would be a great hire for a team with a young franchise QB. Particularly a team who’s QB can make plays with both his arm and his leg. Had they not given Bill O’Brien an extension, I would’ve liked to have seen him work with Deshaun Watson and the Texans. I think he has the football mind to unlock Watson’s talents similar to how he was used at Clemson.

The other team that comes to mind is in Cleveland and being reunited with his old QB, Baker Mayfield. The Browns are finally respectable, largely in part to Mayfield. Hue Jackson is an okay coach but I don’t think he will be the coach to take them to true contender status. I predict that NFL teams will come knocking on Riley’s door by the end of the season, if they haven’t already.

(All stats provided by https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb)

Jadaveon Clowney Named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

Hide your quarterback! Hide your running back! Hide your first-round offensive lineman! Jadeveon Clowney’s 2018 stat line reads as follows: four tackles for loss, four QB hits, two sacks, one fumble recovery for a touchdown. Clowney is back.

Not all sacks are created equal

Clowney had two sacks on the day, but one of them happened at a critical moment of the game. The play happened in overtime with one minute and fifteen seconds left til the game would end in a tie. The Colts had been moving the ball down the field. It was second down and eleven yards to go at the Colts thirty-six yard line. Clowney, lined up on the right side of the formation, and came around on a twist with Whitney Mercilus.

At six foot five, three hundred and thirty pounds, the highly regarded first lineman taken in the 2018 NFL draft, Quenton Nelson, set his hips to block Clowney. They met at the point of attack. And BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL, Clowney had the POWER to completely bulldoze Nelson out of the way. He closed the gap with bad intentions, and sacked Andrew Luck for a loss of ten important yards. This was important because it created a third and twenty-one situation. The Colts then completed a seventeen-yard pass on the very next play to make it fourth down and four yards to go. The Colts had to make the decision to go for it on fourth and four to have a chance to win the game with a field goal, or punt it away and play for the tie. They chose to go for it, and did not make it. Clowney’s sack gave the Texans just enough breathing room to a secondary that was giving up chunks of yards to back-up receivers.

The rust is off

With off-season knee surgery, and limited participation in the preseason, the rust had been thick for Clowney. He told reporters “I’m coming along, I haven’t done a lot since the beginning of the season, no training camp, all of that, but like I said, this game should be a lot better for me. I’m expecting a lot better game out of myself this week, so just looking forward to the game.” Well, he shed that rust off like Forest Gump shed off his leg braces. He kept Andrew Luck running and running and running.

Like this.

NFL Transaction for October 2, 2018

The NFL releases their official transactions before the end of each league business day. As fans look for a leg up in fantasy leagues, or just to follow their favorite players from the same alma mater, we will provide every transaction, no matter how small.

ATLANTA:

Justin Zimmer – DT – Ferris State - WAIVED

Michael Bennett – DT – Ohio State – SIGNED (active roster)

ARIZONA:

Bernard Reedy – WR – Toledo – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

Darian Thompson – DB – Boise State – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

Demetrious Cox – DB – Michigan State – RELEASED (practice squad)

Nigel Harris – LB – South Florida – RELEASED (practice squad)

BUFFALO:

Nate Orchard – DE – Utah - WAIVED

Dontae Johnson – DB – NC State – SIGNED (active roster)

CLEVELAND:

Jeremiah McKinnon – DB – Florida International – SIGNED (active roster / from PS)

Terrance Mitchell – DB – Oregon – RESERVE LIST (placed on injured reserve)

DETROIT:

Dee Virgin – DB – West Alabama - WAIVED

DENVER:

Temarrick Hemingway – TE – SC State – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

HOUSTON:

Tyrell Adams – LB – West Georgia – SIGNED (practice squad)

Breon Borders – DB – Duke – RELEASED (practice squad)

INDIANAPOLIS:

Jeremy McNichols – RB – Boise State – WAIVED

Skai Moore – LB – South Carolina – SIGNED (practice squad)

Eric Swoope – TE – MIAMI – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

Jonathan Williams– RB – Arkansas – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

Kansas City:

Alex Ellis – TE – Tennessee – WAIVED (injured – reverts to IR if unclaimed)

Josh Shaw – DB – Southern Cal – SIGNED (active roster)

LA Chargers:

Jamar McGloster – OT – Syracuse – SIGNED (practice squad)

Steven Richardson – DT – Minnesota – RELEASED (practice squad)

LA Rams:

Sam Ficken – K – Penn State – WAIVED

Carlos Thompson – LB – Ole Miss – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Cairo Santos – K – Tulane – SIGNED (active roster)

Dominique Easley – DL – Florida – RESERVE LIST (placed on injured reserve)

Marcus Martin – DE – Slippery Rock – RELEASED (practice squad)

MIAMI:

Jordan Phillips – DT – Oklahoma – WAIVED

New Orleans Saints:

Brandon Tate – WR - UNC - RELEASED (active roster)

Darius Hillary – DB – Wisconsin – SIGNED (practice squad)

Will Holden – OG – Vanderbilt – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

Tanner McEvoy – WR – Wisconsin – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

Chris Lammons – DB – South Carolina – SIGNED (practice squad)

JT Barrett – QB – Ohio State – RELEASED (practice squad)

Rick Leonard – OT – Florida State – RELEASED (practice squad)

Arrion Springs – DB – Oregon – RELEASED (practice squad)

Deon Yelder – TE – Western Kentucky – RELEASED (practice squad)

New York Giants:

Thurston Armbrister – LB – Miami – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Kaelin Clay – WR – Utah – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Jylan Ware – OT – Alabama State – SIGNED (practice squad)

Philadelphia:

Bruce Hector – DT – South Florida – WAIVED

Toby Weathersby – OT – LSU – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Kyle Wilson – LB – Arkansas State – SIGNED (practice squad)

Pittsburgh:

Brian Allen – DB – Utah – SIGNED (active roster / from PS)

Nat Berhe – DB – San Diego State – RESERVE LIST (placed on IR)

Herb Waters – DB – Miami – SIGNED (practice squad)

Seattle:

Khalid Hill – RB – Michigan – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Will Dissly – TE – Washington – RESERVE LIST (placed on IR)

Earl Thomas – DB – Texas – RESERVE LIST (placed on IR)

Tampa Bay:

Rakeem Nunez-Rochez – DT – Southern Mississippi – SIGNED (active roster)

Tennessee:

Chad Hansen – WR – Cal – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

LaTroy Lewis – LB – Tennessee – SIGNED (practice squad)

Kalif Raymond – WR – Holy Cross – RELEASED (practice squad)

Washington:

Mack Brown – RB – Florida – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)