Note: If you came looking for fantasy football recommendations, I don’t have anything for you. This season, Football Fantasy! here at Field Gulls will offer a recurring daydream considering the weekly football schedule from a perspective of entertaining narratives and wished-for results across the non-Seattle Seahawks landscape. Here, we welcome storylines and silliness to topple other interests from week to week as we deliver the lowdown on the rest of the league from the land of make believe. For more detailed explanation of the picks, look here.
With the tightness of playoff contingencies directing so much of focus during the last weeks of the football year, it’s easy to forget the delightful side plots that gave us reason to get invested in games all weeks across the map. Next week will be more of an anthology scrapbook of the year in Football Fantasy! collecting the choices and preferences in the entirety of their alternate-dimension fancy to show just how far from intention our reality frayed, but what about the rest of those things we celebrated—the players and teams we discovered or learned to enjoy this football season—that had nothing to do with wins and losses.
Of course no mention of fun had during the year 2017 at this corner could be complete without the Football Fantasy! MVP, or at least that’s what 50-odd receptions and 800 yards can get you if you’re a plucky receiver plucked out from his NFL cradle and traded to a team expected to be football’s worst, then guide them to respectability with surprise explosive performances and a quality of leadership formed from an upbringing amid L.O.B and W.O.O.T.S royalty: Jermaine Kearse.
But then discussing cuddly wideouts brings up the nearest challenger as FF! mascot, Juju Smith-Schuster, the luckiest name in publishing. Who like a deity’s universe or Jim Carrey’s career seemed to get almost spoken into being by this page in September, and turned into one of the league’s actual premier rookies.
Remember also the Jacksonville Jaguars the princes of sacks and INTs, fashioned out of a mold of Football Fantasy!’s desires for bold, outstanding defense, hatcheting through the ossified AFC crust. Less happily, we’ve wished the Cleveland Browns upset the balance of the firmament nearly every week and been left thirsty. But we’ve found love for the less highlighted roles: defensive tackles (Eddie Goldman), and return specialists (Jamal Agnew) and quiet protesters (Kelechi Osemele), and crusaded against the overhyped (Carson Wentz) and overcooked (Bruce Arians).
We’ve blown kisses to Cam Newton ...
Feather in your cleat...? ♂️ pic.twitter.com/BOubsye5ql— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 12, 2017
... immediately after scolding him, because the fluttering of support as distant as we practice here is a fickle matter, and sensitive to kindness but also creativity.
So we’ve argued against recycled complaints about NFL parity and stirred memories of ancient franchise histories going back to the AFL and beyond—the AAFC. We’ve tried to paddle more deeply and scan more broadly than rowing a course through national and local dialogs might dictate. Because football in 2017 was nothing if not weird, boring if not tickled. The only thing more goofy than believing a few weekends of kneeling protests turned a series of football games unpredictable is believing those predictions stood a chance to begin with. We may hardly ever back the Patriots around these parts, but we are expatriates from the land of make believe and would rather salute intuition sourced in squeezed fists, uniform fabrics and memories of laughter. It’s better to be wrong than have the wrong spirit, we say.
Just ask the fans in Cleveland who remain interested beyond the oddball lark of their squad’s ineptitude. If all they were allowed to cheer were wins on Sunday they’d have moved to Pittsburgh.
So awkward that Baltimore has to play the Colts right after the Cleveland Browns. It’s like the football version of A Night with My Ex.
My choice: Ravens
Sharp pick: Indianapolis (+13.5)
A Brett and Teddy duel, if this game gets to that, would be so fun for the NFC North. People forget how young Teddy Bridgewater is but even after losing almost two years to injuries he’s only seven months older than Hundley.
My choice: Vikings
Sharp pick: Green Bay (+8.5)
The Panthers are kind of a forgotten challenger in the NFC but at 10-4, any losses by the New Orleans Saints might set Carolina up with a home playoff game, and they’re technically still in range of the 2nd seed. On the other hand, two Panthers losses could drop them all the way behind Seattle. And if the Saints do beat the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, a Tampa Bay upset here would guarantee one of those NFC South opponents pick up the two straight losses the Seahawks need from them. If Seattle does manage to make the playoffs, I would rather they go on the road in New Orleans later in playoffs than play on grass in Carolina anyway.
My choice: Buccaneers
Sharp pick: Tampa Bay (+10)
Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears
The Bears are so bad the people of Cleveland are actually talking themselves into a win this week. The December 24 date is even the same week the Browns defeated the San Diego Chargers for their only win in 2016. But the win last year that felt like an auspice of things to come—as sure as the release would feel good in the Cleveland locker room, I don’t believe it could deliver the same promise of development two years in a row. Ha ha that would take two wins!
My choice: Browns
Sharp pick: Chicago (-6.5)
If I said the local writers in Cleveland were delusional, this guy covering the Bengals somehow made a way to say Cincinnati is like the Los Angeles Lakers by saying they’re nothing like them at all:
“The Lakers are struggling, much like the Bengals, with talented pieces who haven’t quite fit together in some time.
“At Paul Brown Stadium, there isn’t any spotlight, no retired numbers, and the banner hanging in the upper deck is always taken down by game-time. ... The Bengals franchise has no Kobe, no soothing voice to tell them everything is going to be alright.”
Wait what banner do they hang in Cincinnati in the upper deck and then remove? Oh it’s the one that says, “HOPE IS NOT A PLAN”.
My choice: Bengals
Sharp pick: Cincinnati (+4)
The Chiefs are gonna walk to the playoffs after toppling both the late division challengers the last two weeks, but their season has been awful similar to Miami’s. Emphasis on awful.
Neither team lost from Weeks 3 to 7, and neither team won from Weeks 9 to 12. Kansas City is better by more than just the two wins that separate these clubs, with a scoring differential 147 points ahead of the Dolphins, but that only makes the Chiefs’ decline even more sad.
My choice: Dolphins
Sharp pick: Miami (+10.5)
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
New England already won the division, but wouldn’t it be glorious if 2017 were the year the AFC East actually took some notches out of Bill Belichick’s merciless control of the region? The Patriots haven’t won fewer than four of its division contests for 18 years, including in 2008 when the Dolphins took the banner. I picture Belichick masterminding covert operations like secret assassinations and extraordinary rendition to undermine his competitors like the CIA during the 1950s collapsing foreign governments and throwing people out of windows.
After Miami dismantled Tom Brady on Monday two weeks ago, it’s time for Buffalo and the New York Jets to follow through the uprising and end the cycle of New England terror. If nothing else this season a mini Patriots collapse could give us the prospect of a rematch of this game in the first round in January with Belichick all but chemical bombing the field and the press area, deflecting rumors about a feud with Brady like some behemoth Kaiju.
My choice: Bills
Sharp pick: Buffalo (+12)
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
The upside to the doomsday Sunday Night Football scenario introduced by RJ Ochoa and mentioned in Thursday’s Dallas Cowboys post is that it only triggers if the Falcons also lose this game Sunday.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera gets the impression that next week's game at Atlanta will be flexed to 8:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve, particularly if Carolina beat Tampa Bay on Sunday and the Falcons beat New Orleans. That would make the finale in Atlanta for... https://t.co/I3rsrD1511— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) December 22, 2017
That possibility of Seattle drawing dead still after two straight wins represents a limiting of the Seahawks’ outs even in the case of an Atlanta loss, for sure, but the chances of it coming into play also shrink in the scenario Seattle still needs first and primarily. Both Panthers and Falcons losing is of course most desirable of all.
My choice: Saints
Sharp pick: New Orleans (-5.5)
Los Angeles Chargers at New York Jets
Ordinarily I would poison this one by trying to keep hope for the Chargers—and by that I mean chaos in the AFC, plus the odds of a real NFL home playoff game featuring 15 percent capacity—to win their division. But after the sweep by Kansas City, Los Angeles is all but eliminated so that frees up the choice to cheer for Kearse some more.
The kid from Lakewood just lost nine NFL games in one season for the first time ever. Indeed Kearse has been in new losing territory ever since the Jets lost their seventh way back before Thanksgiving. You’d have to go back to 2009 when Kearse was a true sophomore for the last time he lost so much. No wonder he looks so young again starring in New York’s offense.
My choice: Jets
Sharp pick: Los Angeles (-7)
Readers of this space were prepared for the Rams domination of the Seahawks in the punting game because as we detailed just weeks ago Los Angeles gets its biggest edge against the competition through special teams. Greg Zuerlein isn’t Pharoh Cooper but the Rams kicker was the NFL’s leading scorer and, responsible for 36 percent of L.A.’s scoring production, carried virtually their whole positive point differential by himself.
Zuerlein’s replacement Sam Ficken will provide some of that action, most definitely, since many of his kick opportunities came already in the red zone, but no matter who you’re picking your going to see some Rams fans standing on their hands when Ficken’s kicking.
My choice: Titans
Sharp pick: Tennessee (+6.5)
Brock Osweiler shook up the world with a startlingly efficient game on 17 passes last Thursday—an extraordinary QBR of 99.2, highest of the season.
If ever you needed proof that ESPN’s total QBR rating system might not be perfect - Highest 'Total QBR' for a single game this season goes to...the Heist last week! https://t.co/Y1SSlafqaE …— Michael Lombardi (@mlombardiNFL) December 20, 2017
But the Redskins defensive front is not the Colts defensive front: With an adjusted sack rate twice as high as Indianapolis but an aggressiveness vulnerable to run blocking, Washington will have to try to keep the Broncos into passing situations to avoid getting chewed up like the Colts last week, although it would be fun to see a team mow down a whole quarter one one drive again. Denver isn’t even sure yet if it will play Osweiler again, or if the squad wants to spend the reps scouting Paxton Lynch, but it sounds like last week’s starter Trevor Siemien is out either way—giving the Redskins perhaps a ripe opportunity to trample the young passer.
My choice: Broncos
Sharp pick: Washington (-3.5)
Jacksonville Jaguars at San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers made good on their unwieldy point spread against another AFC South foe last week, but the Garoppologic behind this line is staggering. The Jags are a legit Super Bowl competitor with far superior defense to anything the former Patriot faced since at least the fourth quarter against Seattle. In fact with finishing dates against Sacksonville and at the Rams’ vicious squad, Jimmy Garoppolo’s sterling reputation will be flaking like fools gold by the time he gets to free agency. And San Francisco is surely dumb enough to tag him like a franchise player anyway.
My choice: Jaguars
Sharp pick: Jacksonville (-4)
Wait till Kurt Warner shamelessly tries to ingratiate himself as the lifelong symbol of Ramhood during these playoffs after posturing as the Cardinals’ ambassador to football success during their recent visits to relevancy—and lets neither forget Warner is also a former Giants quarterback too. I’ll be surprised if the Hall of Famer doesn’t make an appearance on the New York sideline for this game.
My choice: Giants
Sharp pick: New York (+3.5)
The last great Oilers team went 12-4 in 1993, ending the season with 11 straight wins including a 10-7 victory over eventual NFC finalist San Francisco on Christmas—the last and only time a Houston pro football team played on December 25 until this week. One week later, Buddy Ryan got in a fistfight with Kevin Gilbride on the sidelines against the Jets.
The Oilers collapsed after that, losing the the Chiefs in their playoff opener and then falling to 2-14 in 1994, costing Jack Pardee his job after Pardee had dispensed with Ryan in the offseason. Ryan’s replacement, Jeff Fisher, later converted his interim coach label into a fulltime job overseeing Houston’s rebuild and transition to the Tennessee Titans. So in a sense, who knows what kind of wicked consequences this game will have on Seahawks football two decades from now? Aside from booing the Steelers, that’s a perfectly good excuse to ignore your family and watch the early game.
My choice: Texans
Sharp pick: Houston (+9.5)
Last time Marshawn Lynch was in Philadelphia it was for hernia surgery.
If Kansas City has already beaten the Dolphins on Sunday, the Raiders will be eliminated by the time they kick off on Christmas (because Oakland needs Miami in any tiebreaking procedure with the Titans to trigger three-way head-to-head record instead of conference games), which will turn this into E.J. Manuel versus Nick Foles. If the Packers somehow beat the Vikings, granting the Eagles the top seed, Lynch and LeGarrette Blount will probably be found touring around Philly comparing sandwich parlors and taking Shawn’s prescription to any of the dispensaries poised to open there next week, six months from when the first permits were issued in June.
My choice: Raiders
Sharp pick: Oakland (+9)
On the year:
My choices (straight up): 82-128 (7-8 last week)
Sharp picks (against the spread): 100-93-7 (6-6-3 last week)