Note: If you came looking for fantasy football recommendations, I apologize. 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.
The drunken Chinese poet Li Bo once remarked about the difference between clear wine and thick wine: “Of both I have quaffed deep, what need have I to study the sutras? At the third cup I penetrate the tao. A full gallon—nature and I are one…” The desired outcomes I spelled out with my heart so far in this column have been mostly thwarted (12-17). But I predicted as much. Sailing on a ship of dreams is a lonely art. And yet, the picks I made against the spread, even though I advised you not to bet them, are doing quite well (18-11) after a hot week 2. That’ll cover your juice. Perhaps there’s something wise to this practice of separating the two aspects of choosing winners that clears any temptation for an emotional blush from the rational conscious? By separating the two instincts I get to have them both, and reach the truth. Maybe I can take this holy loneliness, and with it mark the end of the loaning of my only-ness. Or maybe it’s just a stretch of luck.
Li Bo after all drowned while chasing a reflection of the moon in a lake. In week three I see many of my gambling picks match up with my preferred winners, and that’s almost certainly not a good sign.
On a pace for more than 800 yards and close to 60 receptions, Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp is the top rookie receiver so far. The versatile Rams wideout leads all 2017 draft picks in receiving DYAR and DVOA, and also leads a team with Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin in targets. It’ll be cool to catch such a super pup come out of the cupboard in this contest of California clubs, but it’ll be confusing construing Kupp’s carving and cutting when a kit contrast of coal capped off by rust rubs up against his suit of copper-colored crust.
My choice: 49ers
Sharp pick: Los Angeles (-2.5)
Baltimore Ravens vs Jacksonville Jaguars (in London)
It’s always enjoyable making fun of Blake Bortles but last week Justis Mosqueda discovered how in 2016 Bortles was actually incredible in an area of the field where many other quarterbacks suffer: Close to the goal line, Bortles threw 19 touchdowns against only one interception and took no sacks!
Blake Bortles is the opposite of Cousins. Horrible between 16s (551/3,670/5 TD/13 INT/32 sacks) but elite in the RZ (55/201/19/1/0)— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 16, 2017
That’s an even more impressive accomplishment considering Bortles had just five touchdowns but threw 13 interceptions in the more wide-open part of the field between the 15 yard lines, and got sacked there 32 times. Unfortunately, Bortles’s failures in that fat middle made sure he threw 10 times as many passes there as down near the end zone. I’m sure the Jaguars wished Bortles could get to the extreme edges of the field where he excels more often, but then again if London represents one goal line and Jacksonville the other they probably wouldn’t mind if Bortles ended up getting lost somewhere in the middle.
My choice: Ravens
Sharp pick: Baltimore (-3.5)
This matchup pits Denver defensive coordinator Joe Woods against one of his mentors, Leslie Frazier, on the Bills sideline. Woods was defensive backs coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 2006 until 2013, where Frazier was his DC and later head coach from 2008-2013. Of course the defenses don’t actually match up on the field so the tilt that’s more significant for the game is former Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison going against Woods—the two shared a staff in Denver for the last two years.
Dennison is tasked with adapting a Buffalo offense that doesn’t really have the personnel for the Gary Kubiak-inspired schemes Dennison wants to run. As a result, a Bills offense that last year was the top ranked rush attack by DVOA (and yards and yards per carry) under Anthony Lynn—and still has Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy, but now without Sammy Watkins—hasn’t really found its identity yet. Buffalo is 20th in efficiency and just 16th in rushing, and scored three points against the Carolina Panthers in week 2. With the Broncos entering as the third-ranked defense against the run, it could get uglier for Dennison—and Taylor, who the Bills are just setting up to fail.
My choice: Bills
Sharp pick: Denver (-3)
I mentioned both of the last two weeks how Chicago has had bad juju, losing all its receivers.
Meanwhile the Steelers have good JuJu—JuJu Smith-Schuster. Pittsburgh’s second round pick didn’t catch any passes in week 1 but had three receptions on four targets and a touchdown against the Vikings. In a crowded Steelers offense, with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Le’Veon Bell, tight end Jesse James and even Eli Rogers, that’s not bad. In all that offensive traffic, Smith-Schuster, who will surely go into book publishing after his NFL career, should try to make his pay for now with kick returns.
Unfortunately, in that field JuJu has been bad on two tries, without any returns back to the 25 yard line and one disastrous 4-yard runback against the Cleveland Browns. I wish JuJu better, um, fortune this time—but I still hope the Bears have some magic tokens.
My choice: Bears
Sharp pick: Pittsburgh (-7.5)
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
The Saints are again the worst defense against the pass, allowing a crazy 101.7 opponent DVOA. That’s more than 30 percent higher than the next worst pass defense! Stats are more extremely distributed now than they will be after larger samples and opponent adjustments, and yes New Orleans played Tom Brady and the Patriots in a revenge-type scenario, but the Saints also put Sam Bradford with a bum knee on a Hall of Famer trajectory in week 1.
There have been just two games where a pass O averaged 10 yards per pass with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Both came against NO https://t.co/JbflPL5F2v— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) September 18, 2017
One fellow writing for USA Today, insisting Bradford’s big game was not a product of his opponent’s defense, even suggested shipping the former R-A-M off as a specimen for aliens to study. Well, former MVP Cam Newton doesn’t have the hottest numbers so far in 2017 (60 percent passing, six sacks) but Newton might be an actual alien—and I fully expect him to land his space ship all over the New Orleans secondary on Sunday.
My choice: Panthers
Sharp pick: Carolina (-5.5)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Speaking of Bradford, he’s fine. He’s dandy. He’s Halloween candy (You can have him now or you might have him at the end of October. Who cares really?).
"Sam is fine. He might play one game from now, he might play six weeks from now. Either way, he's fine." -Mike Zimmer on Bradford's status— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 17, 2017
I picture Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater eyeing each other cagily from stationary bicycles across the Minnesota training room, each wondering if he can rehab his knee fast enough to beat the other back onto the field.
My choice: Vikings
Sharp pick: n/a (no line)
Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts
In a week with plenty of interdivisional and interconference matchups—(I find pairings like Bengals-Packers, Bears-Steelers, Falcons-Lions or Raiders-Redskins intriguing because we so seldom see them)—one of the most interesting from a franchise-history standpoint is Browns-Colts. Both were originally formed in the old All-American Football Conference in the 1940s before becoming two of the dominant clubs of the NFL during the 1950s and 1960s, and then both got sent to the AFC when the new conference formed after the league merger (only the Seahawks have made the leap the other way). More recently, both got tangled up in a triangular tug of war with Baltimore, where the Colts came from before they decamped for Indiana and where the old Cleveland organization moved to become the Ravens before reconstituting as the latter-day Browns.
Both Baltimore and Cleveland have known the desolation of football extinction. After this game, both proud cities may want to revisit those times.
My choice: Browns
Sharp pick: Cleveland (-1)
Everyone knows the New York teams have an easier time stitching players into the quilt of collective consciousness, so wouldn’t it be fascinating if Jermaine Kearse became a legit national star just by virtue of being far and away the most productive Jets player this year? What if this is the dawn of a Hall of Fame path for Kearse? The consequences could be farther-reaching in Seattle than even normal regret or lovelorn. Remember the legend of what happened to another franchise after it traded another quixotic athlete to a New York club? What if this is the start of an 85-year … curse of Chop Chop?
Okay these Jets aren’t going to turn into 1920s Yankees. Delete, delete.
My choice: Dolphins
Sharp pick: Miami (-6)
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Bill O’Brien should have stayed at Penn State. He’s not only an asshole, he’s also a fool. What kind of dummy trades the chance to lord over a (problematically-) devoted college town for generations for a brief spin on an NFL hamster wheel? O’Brien is going to get fired and the next Texans coach will get to relish the fresh fruits of Deshaun Watson skipping through NFL defenses into an actual playoff berth. Actually this might be the best world after all.
My choice: Texans
Sharp pick: Houston (+13.5)
Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions
The Falcons are undoubtedly still one of the best teams in the NFC, but they have given up backdoor comebacks in both games already as big leads shrank to narrower ones. That should be alarming after what they tell me happened in the Super Bowl. The upshot in this clash of 2-0 teams is that it’s Detroit’s defense, which was last in efficiency in 2016, keeping it in games so far—the Lions are number four in tentative defensive DVOA against just 13th for Matt Stafford’s and Jim Bob Cooter’s offense.
I’m looking for more aggression from Detroit. I see Golden Tate bluffing past Atlanta defenders, whirling through the deep middle and taking self-portraits with the ball in the corner of the end zone.
My choice: Lions
Sharp pick: Atlanta (-3)
For all the excitement over Carson Wentz’s 2nd straight 300-yard passing week, the Philly pass offense is still 18th in DVOA, with Wentz himself just 21st in efficiency and DYAR and 16th in QBR (with a below-average 47.7 score in his “good” game Sunday).
Subtract this ridiculous off target pass off the defender’s fingertips and he’s 24 for 46 (52 percent) last week for 280 yards and 2 interceptions with 6 (!) sacks. That’s an ANY/A of 3.8!!!
(This play also had a nil effect on the game, even if you count the reception, since the kicker subsequently missed what would have been the game tying field goal as time extinguished the half.)
My anti-Wentz crusade is wide awake and very healthy.
Wentz also rushed four times for 55 yards which is nice. Maybe he really is a Cam Newton type—but that’s still half the Eagles rushing offense. After 52 yards by running backs the first game too, he’ll need to be Newton to make any difference on the ground.
Wentz will be bailed out as usual by Philadelphia’s pass rush getting to Eli Manning and turning the score into an overhanging shelter for the overrated sophomore. Free Geno!
My choice: Giants
Sharp pick: Philadelphia (-6)
The Chargers may well be eliminated—they’re 0-2 with all teams in the AFC West already 2-0—but they’re the best worst team. Here’s to hoping they climb up the division a little bit before it’s really too late.
My choice: Chargers
Sharp pick: Kansas City (-3)
Cincinnati Bengals at Green Bay Packers
I don’t think Bill Lazor was expecting Ken Zampese to get fired so soon: Asked whether the Bengals’ quarterbacks coach turned offensive coordinator will call plays from the field or the stadium box, Lazor said: “I am not prepared to make that comment yet.” I get he may want to be careful about giving away any changes to forestall Green Bay from adjusting in advance, but I can’t see how dissembly about where he calls plays gives any competitive edge. It just sounds like Lazor was not prepared for any of it, even though he’s been the coordinator in the past in Miami. Lazor also asked “Where are we as an offense?” and said “We’ll let the philosophy work its way out as we go” and “What we need to do—the philosophy—is to score as many points as we can.”
Good thing Cincinnati is getting a fresh start.
Here’s a fun philosophical question: What happens when John Ross gets the same chance to expand his role in the Bengals offense that the Packers’ Kevin King got in upgrading his snaps from six against the Seahawks in week 1 to 40 versus the Falcons last week?
My choice: Bengals
Sharp pick: Cincinnati (+9)
Oakland Raiders at Washington Redskins
When these two teams met in Super Bowl XVII, Barry Manilow sang the national anthem and Bronko Nagurski performed the ceremonial coin toss. Washington became the second of four teams all time to lose a Super Bowl after winning the previous year (we won’t mention the others), and rushing told the story of the game.
However, you wouldn’t know it by volume or success rate: the Redskins only rushed it one time fewer (32) than Los Angeles, and gained seven first downs on the ground to the Raiders’ eight. MVP Marcus Allen famously ran for a championship record 191 yards, but even if you edit out the 74-yard sprint that inflates his stats L.A. still crushed John Riggins and Washington on a per-down basis, 4.9 yards per carry to 2.8.
30-odd years later, Kirk Cousins has been bad—he’s 26th in DVOA and QBR, and 27th by DYAR—but Fat Rob Kelley and the Redskins ground game have been the offense’s engine. Kelley’s extra cushioning reportedly even protected him from a broken rib, so with Marshawn Lynch on the other side, expect running the football to be again the difference.
My choice: Raiders
Sharp pick: Oakland (-3)
Bruce Arians got bailed out by Jacoby Brissett’s overtime interception last week. The Dallas offense will make sure this one is nowhere near that close.
My choice: Cowboys
Sharp pick: Dallas (-3)
On the year:
My choices (straight up): 12-17 (6-9 last week)
Sharp picks (against the spread): 18-11 (10-5 last week)