This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.
The Sorry State of the Game
I played the game, "Sorry," quite a bit this past summer because my six-year old daughter enjoys it, in part due to her uncanny run of luck the first 10 or 15 contests (I have since caught up, usually crushing her and sending her into a rage beyond anything any of us have felt after the worst bad beats of our lives.) One thing I learned about the game is going around the board the traditional way is far less effective than waiting for a lucky card that advances (or reverses) you right to the end. The variance is what makes the game go, and there's so much of it that if everyone's playing it right, there's no skill involved whatsoever.
The NFL has always been a nice mix of skill and variance. There's the down-in and down-out play-success rate, the performance in the trenches and the keeping off balance of the defense by the offense and vice-versa. But the funny-shaped ball also has its odd bounces, and the fumbles, pick-sixes and cornerbacks slipping for long TDs has a huge effect. Some people don't like this because the outcomes seem too random, but without the noise, everyone could see the signal, and there would be no edge. The key to a good game is a delicate balance - enough luck to make it challenging, enough skill for there to be a challenge at all.
In the past couple years, we've seen more variance pumped into the game via rule changes. First was the catch rule which heightened the requirements for a catch and put into play an arbitrary process on which games could turn. This year, the ticky-tack personal foul rules designed to protect quarterbacks are opening the variance latch wider. (This is of course, on top of the massively inconsistent and discretion-based PI and holding calls which already turned games.) Players are being flagged for hitting the QB just as he releases the ball, they're flagged for taking down a moving target who's trying to spin away and gash them downfield for a big gain. They're being flagged whether or not the hit is on-time and whether or not the QB is harmed. The enforcement is, of course, inconsistent, and the rule itself is contrary to the spirit of NFL defense which is to hit the player with all you have, so long as the hit is on time and not with or to the head.
The result is an entire new class of arbitrary first downs, extended drives and potential for altered outcomes. We're not at the Sorry state yet, but every time the NFL puts more responsibility for the results in the hands of the refs at the expense of the players, it's playing with fire.
Week 2 Trivia
Week 2 - Guessing the Lines
Last week, I looked at the schedule and made my own lines, before comparing them to the actual ones, and I think I'll make it a habit - for now.
Here's what I have as of Tuesday morning:
|Game||My Line||Guessed Line||Actual Line||ML-AL|
|Ravens at Bengals||3.5||3||0||3.5|
|Panthers at Falcons||3.5||3.5||5.5||-2|
|Colts at Redskins||4.5||4||5.5||-1|
|Texans at Titans||-2||pick'em||-2.5||0.5|
|Eagles at Buccaneers||-3||-2.5||-3||0|
|Chiefs at Steelers||5.5||6.5||5||0.5|
|Dolphins at Jets||3.5||3.5||-1||4.5|
|Chargers at Bills||-7.5||-7.5||-7.5||0|
|Vikings at Packers||2||2||0||2|
|Browns at Saints||7.5||7||8.5||-1|
|Lions at 49ers||4.5||3.5||3.5||1|
|Cardinals at Rams||10.5||10||10.5||0|
|Patriots at Jaguars||1.5||pick 'em||-2||3.5|
|Raiders at Broncos||6||5.5||4.5||1.5|
|Giants at Cowboys||2.5||4.5||3||-0.5|
|Seahawks at Bears||3||2||3||0|
I reserve the right to change my mind for Beating the Book and the Supercontest, but I think it's helpful to give it an early look.
Right now, it seems like I'm on the Jaguars, Bengals, Jets.
Week 1 Observations
• The Sunday night game was frustrating. I had the Packers against the spread, and that was easy to let go of because it wasn't a Supercontest pick and they were down 20-0 in the second half. But my lone Ravens survivor entry would have benefited had Green Bay lost, and I also have a Rams/Packers side-bet with Dalton Del Don. But it wasn't simply that Chicago lost, but how they lost. Up three with two-minutes left and facing Aaron Rodgers, Matt Nagy settled for a short field goal on 4th-and-1 rather than going for the win, then and there? How dumb to be up six – sure, a FG doesn't tie the game anymore, but now instead of going for the tie, the Packers are forced to go for the win – and rely on your defense against Rodgers who had solved it all quarter.
The Bears were lucky the Packers scored so quickly and left them plenty of time to get a game-winning field goal. But instead of running their offense with short dump-offs and screens to their backs, they abandoned it and had Mitchell Trubisky – who did not look sharp – drop back and fire the ball 15-20 yards down the field on four straight throws.
• Rodgers left early in the game, but played at his usual level after he returned, with 9.5 YPA and three TDs. His back up DeShone Kizer was unsurprisingly terrible, something that could matter as Rodgers is getting more tests on his knee this week.
•Khalil Mack wasted no time getting going for his new team with a pick, a sack and a touchdown.
•Randall Cobb had a huge game, thanks to the game-winning 75-yard TD catch, but he caught eight other mostly short passes too. Davante Adams was quiet most of the game, but had a 50-yard catch and a TD on the penultimate drive. Geronimo Allison looks like the clear No. 3 with eight targets. Jimmy Graham (four targets, eight yards) was an afterthought.
• A road matchup against the Panthers isn't easy, but the Cowboys offense is toothless. No downfield throws, six sacks taken. Dak Prescott and Jason Garrett are way too conservative. This might give Cole Beasley some PPR value, but his ceiling is five or six TDs.
• Zeke Elliott will get his, but he's probably not going to catch more than 50 passes, and the offense is a drag.
•Christian McCaffrey had 10 carries to C.J. Anderson's seven. Both got touches inside the five, but Cam Newton and the fullback scored the TDs. McCaffrey did have six catches for 45 yards, but if you were expecting a workhorse, you've probably been had.
• Newton salvaged his day on the ground as he often does, and no receiver did anything of note. Greg Olsen is likely out for a while if not the entire season.
• While McCaffrey's not a workhorse, Adrian Peterson surely is – 26 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 70 more (though in garbage time.) He's the lead back on a competent offensive team, and his light workload the last two years probably buys him a final solid season if he stays healthy.
•Jordan Reed caught four of five targets for 48 yards and a score. If he's healthy, he's a top-seven TE, especially with Walker and Olsen going down. Between Reed and Thompson, and slot man Jamison Crowder, there might not be much left for the outside receivers.
•David Johnson broke through late with a score, but the Arizona offense looked terrible with Sam Bradford. Can't imagine it'll be long before Josh Rosen takes over, barring a significant turnaround next week. Larry Fitzgerald, 10 targets, nine catches, 76 yards, got his at least.
• If Doug Baldwin (both knees) misses significant time, it's a free-for-all among the Seattle pass catchers. Will Dissly, a fourth-round rookie, led the team in receiving this week, but it could be Tyler Lockett (who did nothing until one blown coverage for a 51-yard TD), Brandon Marshall (TD, second TD called back for OPI), or anyone else. One silver lining for Baldwin is the new (right) knee injury - if it's only a couple weeks - might buy him enough time for the original (left) one to heal.
•Russell Wilson (3 TD, 9.0 YPA) did just fine against a tough Denver pass defense without Baldwin, so he might be okay while we figure it who he's throwing to.
•Royce Freeman was okay – 15 carries for 71 yards – but so was Phillip Lindsay who had the exact same ground-stat line. The difference was Lindsay also caught two passes for 31 yards and scored, while Freeman did not receive a single target. Devontae Booker had two targets for 11 yards.
• Every year the stat guys love the Chargers, and every year they disappoint. Joey Bosa is out for several weeks, the special teams gave up a TD on its first punt and they dropped a "home" game to their key rival despite being favored by 3.5 points. No one ever went broke betting against the Chargers.
•Philip Rivers got 8.3 YPA, three TDs and 424 yards, though, bolstering further his untouchable stats-to-wins ratio.
• Say what you want about Melvin Gordon, but if you took McCaffrey over him, you might want to re-check the definition of "workhorse". Gordon had 15 carries and 13 targets, nine catches and 166 YFS, and that was despite Austin Ekeler getting 87 receiving yards and a TD.
• As a Kareem Hunt backer, I'm concerned. He had 16 carries, which is fine, but I don't like the trick dump-offs to Tyreek Hill and De'Anthony Thomas at the goal line. It certainly helped Pat Mahomes (four TD passes), but those should be Hunt's TDs. Hunt also got only one target and no catches. It's not panic time by any means, but those little vultures here and there chip away at his status as a first-round pick.
•Tyreek Hill is a monster. He had only eight targets, but he converted them to seven catches for 169 yards and three TDs (including a return.) The Chiefs defense isn't good, so they'll be in their share of shootouts, and the real test for Hill will be whether he ever gets 12 or 15 targets. As it stands he could get 120 targets for 1,300 yards and 11 TD, but the real Antonio-Brown-esque upside will only kick in (especially in PPR) if he gets to 150 targets.
•Sammy Watkins seems like the guy he was on the Rams – a decoy more than a primary look, but it's only been one game, albeit disturbingly one where neither Travis Kelce nor Hunt were involved as receivers, and Watkins still didn't see much work.
•Saquon Barkley got most of his production on one play, but he broke tackles and showed off his 4.4 speed on it. He caught only two passes, but had six targets, so he's likely game-flow proof.
•Sterling Shepard had seven targets and Evan Engram five. The only thing that can stop the Giants core stars is Manning's inaccuracy. But this system and personnel will put him in position to succeed against most teams (Manning had 6.1 YPA and a pick-six.)
•Leonard Fournette went down early with a hamstring injury, but looked sharp and caught three passes. To the extent he's healthy, he'll still have a major workload as a runner and receiver, and the Jaguars seem optimistic he could be back for Week 2.
• The Giants pass defense played well – Janoris Jenkins is a former Pro Bowler, and Eli Apple had one of the better games of his disappointing career. Accordingly, Blake Bortles and the receivers didn't do much, but it looks like Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook are Nos. 1 and 1A.
• It was bad timing for DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and the Saints defense to revert to 2016 form all at once. The result was 293 yards, three TDs and one concussion (Jackson) between them. Ryan Fitzpatrick had 417 yards, 14.9! YPA, four TDs and a rushing TD. It was one of the bigger fantasy QB games of all time, and one has to wonder if Jameis Winston will get the job immediately upon his return from suspension. Either way, as bad as the Saints defense looked, the Bucs passing offense is loaded.
•O.J. Howard had only two targets but 54 yards receiving, i.e., he picked up where he left off last year. Chris Godwin also went 4-3-41-1. Cameron Brate didn't catch either of his two targets. Keep in mind Winston is the one who typically targets Brate.
•Peyton Barber was merely passable, didn't have any catches. Ronald Jones was a healthy scratch.
• If the Saints defense is half as bad as it looked, Drew Brees will go down as one of the steals of the draft. He had 439 yards, 9.8 YPA and three TDs. Michael Thomas had a monster 17-16-180-1 line, and Alvin Kamara went 12-9-112-1 as a receiver and scored twice on eight carries for 39 yards. Whether Kamara sees a full workload as a runner won't be clear until the Saints are actually leading for a decent stretch of game.
• With so many receivers banged up, Rob Gronkowski had a big day, but his target share (eight of 39) was nothing unusual. He just does a lot with the work he gets. Philip Dorsett and James White (seven and nine targets, respectively) were the only other relevant factors in the passing game. Dorsett who went 7-66-1 might be entering the circle of trust. Chris Hogan had five targets, but caught only one pass for 11 yards.
•Rex Burkhead led the team with 18 carries, but caught only one of three targets, and that was with Sony Michel out and Jeremy Hill tearing his ACL. The medium- and long-term distribution in the Patriots backfield is still murky, but count on White to get the targets.
•Tom Brady had an unremarkable 277 yards, 7.1 YPA, three TDs and a pick during a relatively easy win. He didn't seem especially bothered by the absence of Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman.
•Deshaun Watson had a poor game – just 5.2 YPA, a pick and a lost fumble. He did have 40 rushing yards and moved well.
•Jimmy Garoppolo had his chances, but threw three picks in his first loss as a starter. He still managed 7.9 YPA and threw for 261 yards and a TD against a tough defense on the road. Don't be concerned.
•George Kittle's stock went way up. He's healthy and looks like Garoppolo's first read, going 9-5-90. Dante Pettis made a great catch on a long TD and had five targets. He could fill in for Marquise Goodwin, if Goodwin misses time. Pierre Garcon didn't do much with six targets, and neither did Trent Taylor.
• The Vikings ran the same offense as last year – with Kirk Cousins doing what he had to, Adam Thielen out-producing Stefon Diggs, though Diggs scored, Kyle Rudolph catching a TD and the backs splitting the ground work, though Dalvin Cook saw seven targets for 55 yards. Latavius Murray will be involved for now, though.
• The Titans season went downhill in a hurry. Marcus Mariota is already banged up, and Delanie Walker is out for the year. Jonnu Smith is interesting at TE, but only in deep leagues. Dion Lewis outsnapped and outproduced Derrick Henry by a wide margin, scoring the TD and getting involved as a pass catcher. Corey Davis is the No. 1 WR, and it's unclear how the rest of the pecking order will play out, or how much it will matter.
•Kenny Stills is still the Dolphins best receiver, though targets were roughly an even split between him, Jakeem Grant (return TD), Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola. And that's with DeVante Parker still out.
• Adam Gase wasn't joking apparently when he said Frank Gore would split carries. Gore actually ran better than Kenyan Drake, though Drake saw four targets. But this was an odd game with multiple lightning delays.
•Joe Mixon had a big day – 149 YFS and a score. Keep in mind it was against a soft Colts defense, but the good news for Mixon is Gio Bernard had only one carry and one catch.
•Andrew Luck wasn't efficient but went for 319 yards and two scores on 53 attempts. Expect Luck to be among the league leaders in attempts if he stays healthy. Jordan Wilkins got the start at running back, but didn't do much – 14 carries for 40 yards and three catches for 21. Nyheem Hines had 37 snaps (compared to 46 for Wilkins) and was involved in the short passing game (9-7-33.)
• If it were possible to award both the Browns and Steelers losses, the league should. Ben Roethlisberger threw three picks and lost two fumbles, continuing his subpar road play, and the Browns couldn't cash in, thanks to a blocked field goal in overtime. The Steelers also missed a 42-yard field goal in overtime in part because they saw no particular need to advance the ball any closer, despite rain and wind.
•Le'Veon Bell lost some leverage in his holdout as his replacement James Conner went 31-135-2 on the ground and 6-5-57 through the air, typical Bell numbers, though Conner lost a key fumble. Whoever starts for the Steelers is a workhorse, though I wonder if Bell reported for Week 2, whether they saw enough from Conner to split things up as Bell apparently seems to want.
•Antonio Brown saw a whopping 16 targets, but had a relatively modest 9-93-1 line. Ever-efficient Juju Smith Schuster went 8-5-119 but didn't score. Jesse James went 5-3-60, serving as the offense's No 4 option.
•Tyrod Taylor had a nice game on the ground – 77 yards and a TD, but managed only 4.9 YPA through the air.
• How very Jets it was for Sam Darnold to throw a pick six on his first NFL pass. But how very Lions it was to get outscored 48-10 from that point on. Darnold looked a bit herky-jerky to me, but that's to be expected in his first-ever pro game. He moved well, and his arm looked strong. I'd bet against him being anything special, but that's always the safe bet with young QBs, irrespective of pedigree.
•Quincy Enunwa looks like the team's top target with a 10-6-63-1 line. It was all short stuff, but Enunwa is 6-2, 225 and runs a 4.45, so he's capable of big plays. Anderson caught his only target, a 41-yard TD, and he'll be integrated further when the game-flow warrants. Terrelle Pryor caught all three of his targets for 49 yards too.
•Bilal Powell actually saw more carries than Crowell, 12 to 10 and ran well (60 yards), but Crowell got 102 and scored twice. This looks like a 50/50 time share, and Powell could get more catches when game flow warrants.
•Matthew Stafford had one of his worst games as a pro – four picks, including one returned for a TD, 6.2 YPA in a home game against the Jets. The lone bright spot was Golladay – 12-7-114. He looks like a star in the making and even chipped in with a tackle and forced fumble after a Stafford pick.
•Golden Tate went 15-7-79-1 and given the state of the running game and defense is a lock to get his 90-ish catches should he stay healthy all year. Marvin Jones had a few near-misses on big plays, finishing at 8-4-54. With no TE of which to speak, all three should be playable most weeks.
•Theo Riddick went 7-5-15 through the air and led the team with 20 yards rushing, but it was ugly on the ground. Kerryon Johnson looked quick, but had nowhere to go, and LeGarrette Blount was stuffed whenever he touched the ball.
• People were mocking Jon Gruden on Twitter, but I thought his game plan was fine. He just got poor QB play from Derek Carr and was outgunned everywhere else. With Amari Cooper (3-1-9) locked down by the Rams secondary, the Raiders don't have anyone else who can make a big play.
• Except apparently TE Jared Cook who went 12-9-180, tying him for the fourth most receiving yards for a TE in a single game in NFL history. Interestingly he also has the ninth most, making him the only TE to have two games in the top 10 (though Rob Gronkowski has three in the top-16.) Needless to say, Cook warrants a pick-up, despite his history of sporadic big games and long-term disappearances.
• Carr threw for 303 yards, but was otherwise awful with egregious picks that gave away the game.
•Jordy Nelson's 4-3-23 is more or less what I expected of him. I still like Cooper a little, but he struggles against top corners and has a tough CB schedule.
•Jared Goff wasn't great, but I like that he took plenty of shots downfield, and the stats don't show the two big PI penalties on Brandin Cooks. You have to love the cheap forward-hand-off passing TD he got to Todd Gurley too. Goff will have a big year, and Sean McVay was still running play-action passes late rather than predictably handing it to Gurley to chew clock.
• Cooks went 8-5-87 plus two massive PI penalties. The Rams traded a first-rounder for him, then paid him, and it looks like they intend to use him plenty.
•Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods each saw nine targets, with Kupp getting the TD. All three wideouts will be involved, but Cooks in the field stretcher.
•Todd Gurley had a ho-hum 20-100 and 3-39-1 day, just business as usual.
•Greg Zuerlein missed one kick from the infield dirt, but drilled four others including a 55-yarder than might have been good from 70. He looks like he should have another monster season.