Why The Bengals Fans Can Be Excited

The tide is turning for Bengals fans

By: Andy Davies

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. 

This quote from Thomas A Edison best describes how fortune has favoured the Cincinnati Bengals in recent history. Their last playoff win was on January 6, 1991 against the Houston Oilers in the Wildcard Round, a thirty-year streak that remains the longest in the NFL.  

For many Bengals fans, it does not seem long ago that they reached two Super Bowls. Their most recent visit to the big game during the 1988 season saw their offense filled with players such as quarterback Boomer Esiason, fullback Ickey Woods, running back James Brooks and wide receiver Eddie Brown.  

Esiason threw for 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 3,572 yards. Woods ran for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns. Brooks recorded 931 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns. Brown caught for 1,273 yards and 9 touchdowns. On defense, the 1988 season saw defensive end Jim Skow get 9.5 sacks, cornerback Eric Thomas have 7 interceptions and nose tackle Jim Krumrie record 152 total tackles.  

Since their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 23, the Bengals have seen a continuous decline, with only 8 winning seasons across the following 32 seasons

False dawns appeared for the franchise, when they had five straight winning seasons between the years of 2011 and 2015. They lost all five playoff games and have failed to make the postseason ever since.  

However, there appears to be a new exciting era in franchise era. After the comeback 24-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, here is why there is room for genuine optimism in Cincinnati. 

A Tough Schedule  

Their next five games will allow the world to see the true Bengals team, with games against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns in this time period. Games against the Detroit Lions and New York Jets allow them to pick up two extra wins.  

At worst, they will be 5-3. They have the personnel to earn some surprise victories. Their final eight games see them once again play the Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders. Six of their remaining opponents currently have a 3-1 record. They face a hard task, especially considering it is normally the team who wins the division that has a hard schedule.  

On paper, this run of fixtures will likely see Cincinnati miss out on the playoffs. Despite this, the goal for this franchise is not the present, it is the future. They have a young and exciting roster that gives them hope for years to come, one that could see them break this postseason win duck. 

Exciting Weapons On Offense  

There is of course, quarterback and 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow. He had an encouraging rookie year before his season was cut short in Week 10. He has started 2021 in the same vein, with some brilliant performances. He has so far thrown for 9 touchdowns, 988 yards and 4 interceptions. He showed tremendous composure when driving the Bengals down the field in the second half against Jacksonville as they scored 17 unanswered third quarter point, with 348 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the Week Four win. 

He was reunited with former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, who was taken fifth overall by Cincinnati in this year’s draft. The argument can be made that they should have taken an offensive tackle, considering Burrow was the ninth most sacked quarterback in 2020 despite playing five or six games less than most starting quarterbacks in the league. Nevertheless, head coach Zac Taylor and general manager Duke Tobin went with Chase and so far, it appears to be working out for them.  

Penei Sewell, who eventually ended up with the Lions seventh overall, was seen by many to be the player that the Bengals needed. He has so far been far from the player people expected, whilst Chase has been exactly as advertised. In his first four games, he has caught for 297 yards and four touchdowns from 25 targets and 17 receptions, giving him an average of 74.3 yards per game and 17.5 yards per reception. Burrow does not just have Chase to throw to. Tyler Boyd has recorded 259 yards so far. Tight end C.J.Uzomah had 95 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win over Jacksonville. This shows the plethora of offensive talent that surround Burrow in the passing game.  

The ground game is also an area that can excite fans. Running back Joe Mixon so far has 353 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns from 89 attempts. Depth may be an issue for the Bengals if Mixon was to go down with an injury, with Samaje Perine the next best rusher with a measly 28 yards from 9 carries and Burrow the third best rusher to date this campaign. Should Mixon stay health along with Chase and Boyd in particular, then the franchise is in a good place offensively. These are game changers on offense that can help the team produce big results. 

Improvement On Defense

Defense has seen a massive improvement under defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. They finished their 2020 campaign ranking 26th in total yards allowed (6,227) and yards allowed per game (389.2), 19th in passing yards allowed (3,859), 29th in rushing yards allowed (2,368) and 22nd in total points allowed (424).  

In the four games they have played so far in 2021, they rank 7th in total yards given up (1,292) and yards allowed per game (323), 13th in passing yards allowed (918), 9th in rushing yards allowed (374) and 8th in total points allowed (75).  

Defensive end Trey Hendrickson was one of the Bengals’ biggest offseason moves, signing a $60 million four-year deal after an impressive 2020 campaign. This acquisition was met with hesitancy, some believing he was playing his best because he was in a contract year. His 2020 season saw him record 13.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits, both being more than his previous three years in the NFL. He has started 2021 in good form, with 2.5 sacks and 6 quarterback hits. This has him projected to finish the season with just over 10 sacks and 24 quarterback hits, reaching similar numbers to those of his previous campaign.  

Linebacker Logan Wilson is joint-sixth in the NFL for total tackles (4) and only the Dallas Cowboy’s Trevon Diggs (5) has more interceptions than the 3 recorded by Wilson. Offseason addition Larry Ogunjobi has recorded 4 tackles for loss, with the defensive tackle tied for eleventh across the league. 

The Bengals are giving their head coach the best chance to succeed with the start they have made, with Taylor seen as someone on the hotseat during the offseason. Taylor will be as keen as anyone to point out that it was never the aim to challenge for Super Bowls this year. They have shown enough encouragement that with a few more additions here and there along with the chance for their young talent to develop, they can once again be challenging for playoff spots and maybe more.

Three Second Year Players To Trade Away In Fantasy

Tade away these second year players!

By: Andy Davies

Fantasy Football has become an integral part of many fans’ NFL Sunday experience. Whether you use ESPN, NFL.com or Sleeper, you are often watching Redzone and thinking about the points that your player is scoring for your team. Even when your team plays, if you have one particular wide receiver, you are often wanting your quarterback to throw to the player in question. The great Albert Einstein once said,

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe”.

This quote has a lot of relevance to fantasy football. How often will you pick a player when they are in form, only for them to hardly score any points when you add them via waivers? How often do you take a player out or leave them on your bench, only to see them recover 30 receptions, 150 yards and 3 touchdown receptions? There are plenty of players who impress in year one that you either keep in a dynasty league or take in the fantasy draft, only for them to perform well below expectations in year two.

Here are three second-year players that you should look to trade away in fantasy football, if you haven’t already.

Darnell Mooney (Wide Receiver- Chicago Bears)

Mooney impressed in year one, with 631 receiving yards from 98 targets in his rookie year along with four touchdowns. This was Mooney catching balls from Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles, two quarterbacks that didn’t exactly light up Soldier Field during their time as Chicago Bears. He now has two much more solid QB’s on paper in Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields but has so far recorded less than satisfying numbers despite leading the team in receptions (12). He has 101 receiving yards and 0 touchdowns. This has him 95th in the league for receiving yards, tied for 60th in receptions and 47th for targets. This is an average of 34 yards a game.

He hasn’t been helped by poor quarterback play. Dalton was the Week One starter and has thrown for 262 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception before injury meant he lost his starting role in Week Three to Fields, who less than impressed in his first NFL start. He had 0 touchdowns, 1 interception and just 138 passing yards. One of his specialities is on the ground but has just 46 yards from 14 carries. Of course, he is young and needs time to develop but he is not exactly someone you want throwing the ball to one of your fantasy receiver options.

Despite this, I would choose to bench him if you are in a dynasty league but remove completely from your team if you are in a keeper or redraft league. The value is there for the future but this season there will be plenty of growing pains in this Bears offense.

Jalen Reagor (Wide Receiver- Philadelphia Eagles)

Mooney may be one for the future both on the field and on your fantasy team. Reagor however, is someone you should immediately remove as he is looking more and more like an NFL bust.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts has largely impressed this season, with 5 passing touchdowns and 2 interceptions, 1 rushing touchdown along with 780 passing yards and 179 rushing yards. This has him 16th in the league for passing yards, with only Lamar Jackson (251) having more rushing yards than Hurts for a quarterback. Reagor does not have the same excuse as Mooney when it comes to which QB is throwing him the ball. He cannot even blame it on a lack of throws his way, with the second-most targets and the most receptions on the team this season. Yards is where he has really struggled, with his 107 ranking fourth amongst his teammates. This shows a lack of productivity when receiving the ball, as can be further demonstrated in his yards per reception total of 8.2. Not only is this less than tight end Dallas Goedert, who also has more yards, but this also is less than fellow tight end Zach Ertz and running back Miles Sanders. When a running back has more yards per reception than you, then there is a real problem.

Reagor was taken 21st overall by the Eagles in the 2020 NFL Draft and this was seen by many to be a reach. So far, the predictions are turning out to be true. Even in the eleven games he played in his rookie year last season, he was fifth in targets (54), receptions (31) and touchdown receptions (1) as well as ranking fourth in yards (396). With head coach Doug Pederson fired and replaced with Nick Sirianni, Reagor would have hoped for the chance to stake his claim as the number one wideout. When Philly traded up two spots to take Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith tenth overall, the writing appeared on the wall for Reagor to become the number one wideout. The way Smith and fellow second year receiver Quez Watkins have played so far, Reagor will find it hard to be anything more than a third or fourth choice wideout.

This is why you need to get rid of Reagor instantly from your fantasy teams and look for a replacement instantly. Two wide receivers that could easily be available and that are trending up are the Tennessee Titans’ wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Buffalo Bills receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Westbrook-Ikhine had 53 yards, 4 receptions and 1 touchdown in their win over the Indianapolis Colts. Many had Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley as the Bills’ two receivers to take in their fantasy teams, with Sanders often a forgotten man. He has excelled so far, with 194 yards and 2 touchdowns from 11 receptions despite being third on the team for both targets and receptions.

Tua Tagovailoa (Quarterback- Miami Dolphins)

It is likely that you are reading this having had Tua in your fantasy teams, that he is now out of your teams due to his rib injury suffered in the 35-0 loss to the Bills in Week Two. However, there are more reasons why you should get rid of the second-year quarterback altogether. His average start to the season was halted with the aforementioned injury. The heath of Tua was brought into question pre-draft last year, with a season-ending injury whilst playing in college with Alabama. People such as myself compared this situation to the one that was seen with Saints quarterback Drew Brees, when he suffered many injuries with the San Diego Chargers.

Miami didn’t take Brees in 2006 thanks to these injury concerns and everyone knows how successful he was after joining the Saints and head coach Sean Payton. Miami took the risk and so far, it is not looking like one that paid off. Tua will always be hindered by how well Justin Herbert has performed since being taken just one pick after Tagovailoa. With the past incident involving Brees in 2006, it is ironic that the Chargers took Herbert, who has been a revelation in Los Angeles and is arguably the best QB to be taken out of last year’s draft, with 5,292 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his young NFL career.

With the Houston Texans reportedly softening their stance on Deshaun Watson, who is 99% likely never to play for the franchise again. Miami have repeatedly been linked with Watson and with the combination of Tua’s injury, backup Jacoby Brissett being nothing more than mediocre as well as this Dolphins team being excellent on defense and only a good o-line and running back away from being a Super Bowl contender, Watson would immediately see an upturn in Miami’s fortunes.

Thanks to his college tape and his position in the draft last year, he is likely to find a starting job elsewhere, but he is yet to prove to anyone that he is a genuine franchise QB and someone who is good at the pro level. Therefore you should look to remove Tua from your fantasy team as soon as you can. If you have a dynasty league, perhaps you could keep him on your bench if he moves elsewhere judging by how well Ryan Tannehill has played since leaving the Miami franchise. Otherwise, you should look to see what other quarterbacks are available to have as your backup.

Fantasy football players, you are likely to make many more waiver claims until the trade deadline. Just remember to avoid these three players.

Weeks 1 and Week 2 In The NFL are in the books: Here’s what we learned

Aaron Rodgers flips the switch early in the season

By: Andy Davies

The NFL season is underway and there have already been two weeks completed. There have been some high-scoring games, with 10 of the 32 games so far totaling 55 total points or more.

We already have an idea who will be good and who may not be as good this season. Here are four takeaways from the opening two weekends of action.

Week 1 Is Always An Overreaction

Plenty of people were quick to either write off a team or praise them to death after the opening weekend. This also goes for certain players and coaches. There are 18 teams who are 1-1. This is over half of the league.

People were quick to criticize the Green Bay Packers during their 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints and also crown Saints QB Jameis Winston a ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ favorite after his five touchdowns in week one. Fast forward to week two and the Packers came back from a 17-14 deficit to thump the Lions 35-17. Aaron Rodgers threw for 255 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Aaron Jones recorded 3 receiving touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown and over 100 combined yards. Meanwhile, the Saints lost 26-7 to the Carolina Panthers with Winston throwing for just 111 passing yards and 0 passing touchdowns, with 1 rushing touchdown.

The Miami Dolphins edged a divisional win over the New England Patriots in Week One but were humbled 35-0 by the Buffalo Bills in Week Two, who themselves suffered an opening day defeat. People had Buffalo down as a team in trouble after the 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers but they got back to winning ways on Sunday.

The Titans were embarrassed by the Cardinals 38-13 in week one and many questioned Tennessee considering they lost their offensive and defensive coordinators. However, they earned a spirited comeback victory over the Seattle Seahawks in week two. Titans running back Derrick Henry only recorded 58 rushing yards in week one but was a monster in week two. Against the Seahawks, Henry recorded 55 receiving yards as well as 182 yards on the ground and 3 rushing touchdowns.

Is it easy to write off a team after just one loss? With the increasing loss of interest from teams in preseason games where starters don’t often see the field, the opening weekend is now seen by many to be like a preseason game. It is often the case in Week One that those who played starters in preseason will beat the team who didn’t. This is why you should not read too much into opening weekend results, especially with an extra game this season.

The Cardinals and Raiders Can Surprise A Few

Talking of crowning awards too early, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is already hearing people calling him the early favourite for MVP. It should be a new rule that it is illegal to crown an MVP before week 8 or 9. Last season was a great example of how Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson started it. He was projected to beat all sorts of passing records before both his and Seattle’s seasons slowed down.

These talks of Murray winning the award have come after the impressive start from the Cardinals QB. So far this season, he has thrown for 7 touchdowns and 689 yards as Arizona have a 2-0 record at time of writing.

Murray has been helped by a brilliant offensive cast around him and an excellent defense. Rookie wideout Rondale Moore topped his 68 receiving yards from week one with 114 yards and one touchdown in week two. Both Deandre Hopkins (3) and Christian Kirk (2) have helped themselves to multiple touchdowns. Defensive end Chandler Jones had 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in week one and the defense may have slacked off in week two, but still managed two further forced fumbles as well as a sack from linebacker Markus Golden.

Arizona was criticized by myself for their two biggest offseason additions being two players past their best. J.J Watt has been quiet but A.J Green has had his moments, with the touchdown and 44 yards from 3 receptions on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. However, the performance of rookie Rondale Moore and the encouraging start to the season for Isaiah Simmons has fans excited. Arizona has plenty of talent on either side of the ball along with the aforementioned Hopkins, Jones, Murray and safety Budda Baker. They can be a legitimate darkhorse, as can the Las Vegas Raiders, who have won their opening two games against playoff teams from last season, something that has never been done in the history of this Raiders franchise.

Raiders fans know more than anyone else these past few seasons not to get carried away with their team’s performances after how the 2019 and 2020 seasons have ended. However, quarterback Derek Carr seems far more confident in himself this season, as does wide receiver Henry Ruggs who has 159 yards and 1 touchdown so far. This has him projected to record 1,352 yards and 8.5 touchdowns come the end of the regular season.

This would be a massive upgrade on the two touchdowns and 452 yards he posted in 13 games during his 2020 rookie campaign. He seems far more of a factor in this offense. Their defense seems much improved, with multiple forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, 5 sacks and 1 interception across the opening two gameweeks. They have conceded a total of 44 points so far this season, ten less than the 54 they allowed in the opening two weekends of 2020.

Head coach Jon Gruden will be aware of their recent season collapses but he has never seemed more trusting of Carr than he does at the moment.

Expect more big results this campaign from the Cardinals and Raiders.

Tom Brady Is Still Tom Brady

At the age of 44, most athletes are either retired or massively declining in their performances. Not Tom Brady. He looks every bit as good as he did when he was 26 and 32. He shares similar traits with Cristiano Ronaldo in that he takes such good care of himself that he has the body of someone ten to fifteen years his junior. He threw for 5 touchdowns, 276 yards and 0 interceptions during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 48-25 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Along with Kyler Murray, he is also someone that is being crowned a way too early MVP. With 9 touchdowns, 655 yards and 2 interceptions so far this season, it would not shock many if he goes on to win his fourth MVP. With the talent on this team, he may even go on to win his sixth Super Bowl MVP award and subsequently his eighth ring.

The Joy Of Returning Fans

How good is it to have fans back? During last season, some stadiums allowed limited capacity which was good but there was something missing. We are now seeing stadiums with full capacity and it is for the better. You can once again hear true fan emotion. Fans are also being treated to some excellent games.

The Thursday Night Football season opener between the Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, fans were met by a 30-29 game that saw 782 combined passing yards. The Monday Night Football in week one saw the Raiders beat the Baltimore Ravens 33-27 in overtime, the first game with fans at the new Allegiant Stadium. The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Cleveland Browns 33-29 and there was almost an insane comeback as the San Francisco 49ers beat the Detroit Lions 41-33.

Week Two followed a similar trajectory. The Washington Football Team beat the New York Giants 30-29 on Thursday Night Football and the Tennessee Titans beat the Seattle Seahawks 33-30 in overtime despite being 24-9 down at half time. The Cardinals beat the Minnesota Vikings 34-33 after a last gasp missed field goal by kicker Greg Joseph, a game that featured excellent commentary by Gus Johnson and former NFL player and Super Bowl winner in Aqib Talib. Week Two also saw the Ravens beat the Chiefs 36-35 as Lamar Jackson finally beat his self proclaimed “kryptonite”.

The NFL is never short of drama and this season appears no different. Television networks repeatedly refer to this campaign as the “biggest season ever”. With an extra game, this has all the makings of being the best ever NFL season.

Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux can really be the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft

Oregon’s Kavyon Thiodeaux has elite potential

By: Chris Thomas

Even though the 2022 NFL Draft is months away it is never too early to speculate about who could go first overall. Two weeks into the college football season it appears that a non-quarterback may go first overall since Myles Garrett was drafted in 2017. Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is the consensus #1 non-quarterback prospect. He is also thought of by many as the potential number one prospect of this entire draft. Here is why Thibodeaux could be the first overall pick in the draft in late April. 

Lack of premier quarterback talent

An NFL Draft class is defined by its quarterbacks. Over the last couple of seasons, it feels like there has been a premier quarterback prospect that has been on top of the class and went first overall. After the first two weeks of the college football season, none of the speculated upon top quarterback prospects have been over impressive. Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler had a brutal debut where he threw only one touchdown and two interceptions against Tulane. Oklahoma barely won that game. North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell had an even worse season debut against Virginia Tech. Howell threw for only 208 yards and one touchdown. He finished the game with three interceptions as well. Both quarterbacks bounced back in their second games of the season, but at this rate, none have looked like a first overall pick quarterback. The standard a quarterback must reach to be taken first overall for it to be worth it is Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, and Trevor Lawerence.

Recently there have been a couple of quarterbacks that have gone first overall that was not worth the selection. Some of these quarterbacks aren’t considered busts but during their respective predraft processes other non-quarterbacks were considered better prospects and turned out to be much better than the quarterbacks taken first overall. Those quarterbacks are Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff. Both are solid starters but both the Browns and Rams had better options available. Cleveland could have drafted Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, or Bradley Chubb with the first pick in 2018. All three of which are considered more talented than Mayfield, when healthy. Then the Rams showed they regretted trading up for Goff in 2016 when they packaged him with two first-round picks to Detriot for Matthew Stafford. Los Angeles could have drafted Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, Ronnie Stanley, DeForest Buckner, or Laremy Tunsil with the first overall pick. 

This draft class is shaping up to be similar to the latter where there may be multiple non-quarterback prospects who could end up being better than the quarterbacks in this class. Whoever lands the first overall pick may want to learn from the previous mistakes of those teams and take the best player available which is Thibodeaux.

Production

Kayvon Thibodeaux is the number one edge rusher in a loaded edge rusher class. He isn’t just the number one edge rusher prospect in the draft class like Jaelan Phillips, Bradley Chubb, or Dante Fowler Jr. Right now he is spoken about above the likes of Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Chase Young who were elite pass rusher prospects in their respective drafts. Thibodeaux has been placed in the same tier as Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett who were no doubt first overall picks in their respective draft class. He has been placed in that tier of player for good reason. 

During his first season at Oregon, Thibodeaux had 9 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. PFF gave him a 79.9 grade that season which was the best in the Pac-12 and ten points higher than any other freshman edge rusher in the Power Five. In seven games last season Thibodeaux had 3 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Already this season Thibodeaux has a sack and forced fumble in one game played. He earned an 87.2 PFF grade for his sophomore season.

This is a player who has dominated college football over the last three seasons. Scouts have anticipated this season because Thibodeaux is now eligible for the draft. From what he has shown on the field, he is the type of player that scouts love the opportunity to analyze and potentially add to their roster. 

Multiple #1 pick contenders have a young quarterback

In a decent amount of cases when a team drafts a quarterback that team usually doesn’t improve dramatically from where they finished the season before. These are teams who selected quarterbacks early in recent drafts could be picking near the top of the draft and be in the range of this year’s top quarterbacks. These teams include the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, and Cincinnati Bengals. They are a few teams who could be in range to select a quarterback in this upcoming draft but should be content enough with their quarterback play to not consider selecting another one early this year, especially in a potentially weak quarterback class. 

Other teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, Detriot Lions, and Las Vegas Raiders have a great enough quarterback in house to pass on a quarterback. Also, the Houston Texans have shown in recent history that they are willing to take a pass rusher first overall went they have to choose between an elite one and a quarterback from a weak class (Mario Williams 2006 & Jadeveon Clowney 2014). Since they took Davis Mills in the third round it is likely they want to give him a shot to be the team’s potential QB1 before taking one in the first round. 

All of the teams listed could potentially land the first overall pick. If they land it they would likely have to choose between trading down to a quarterback-needy team or taking the draft’s best prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Dynasty flex players to trade for

Here are your dynasty flex players to acquire

By: Keith James

The NFL is back and it is better than ever. The beauty of the NFL is that it is a week-to-week game. One week a team or a player looks great, the next week not so much. Such is life in the NFL. In a dynasty, fantasy owners can win by buying the dip. Human beings are emotional creatures. We don’t always follow logic. This is never more true than in fantasy football. People take this seriously and they get angry when their players don’t perform. 

Use that anger to your advantage. Look for young players that didn’t perform where a fantasy manager may throw their hands up and say, I’m going to cut bait on this player. This is how fantasy managers can buy productive assets on the cheap. 

This week I will give three players that can be used in the flex position that fantasy managers can buy cheaper than before the season. 

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 23 years old

Aiyuk was a mystery on Sunday. There were reports that he has been dealing with injuries all off-season but he was healed up enough to suit up against the lowly Lions on Sunday. Given the 49ers history of spreading the wealth, I cautioned fantasy owners on Aiyuk in week one. In what should have been a smash spot for the talented 2nd-year player, I was concerned that the Niners were going to spread the wealth and Aiyuk could be the odd man out solely based on his injury. 

Something else seemed to be afoot with both Brando Aiyuk and Trey Sermon and there were reports both payers may have been in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse for missing curfew. Who knows. Either way, Brandon Aiyuk watched as his fellow WR running mate, Deebo Samuel went bonkers against the Lions atrocious pass defense. Deebo had 9 grabs on 12 targets for 189 yards and a long 79-yard touchdown. Of course, he also had a terrible late-game fumble. Still, BA had to watch as his fellow receiver went crazy and Aiyuk was left with zero targets. That’s not good. 

Aiyuk will likely still be seen by fantasy managers as a great young receiver. He had 15.4 fantasy points per game last year because Aiyuk is electric with the ball in his hands. After week one, however, some of the shine may have worn off. I threw out some offers for Aiyuk to fellow league mates and I recommend you do the same. He is still a player that can have a top 24 season this year and in only his second year, he can become a fantasy scoring machine if he stays healthy and grows up. The cost will likely be high but I would offer a first-round pick for Aiyuk and try to pry an exciting young player from your league mates hands on the back of a pathetic week one show. 

Javonte Williams RB, 21 years old

Get Javonte as soon as you can! I would try to get Javonte this week before he goes crazy against the Jags and becomes all but untouchable. More than likely fantasy managers will not want to part with Javonte. Fantasy managers know that Melvin Gordon will likely be a PITA for Javonte the entire year. Managers are waiting for the year two ascension and may scoff at any Javonte offers but the fact remains Javonte played second fiddle to MG3 against the Giants. As much as I love Javonte’s talent, MG3 was by far the better back on Sunday. 

Gordon had 101 yards on only 11 attempts (9.2 YPC) and looked just as explosive as he did in his Chargers days. Javonte did not look great. He looked tentative and was bottled up for only 45 yards on 14 carries. It was encouraging to see the snaps split evenly between the two backs (they both had a 50% snap share) but the 28-year-old Gordon looked explosive and the 21-year-old Williams looked plodding. 

This is the best time to strike for Javonte. As I stated, his cost will not be cheap. Dynasty owners likely invested a lot in Javonte but like Aiyuk he may have lost his shine and if a fellow league mate is a contender that just so happens to have Williams, there may be a deal to be had for a more established RB and a pick. I would strike sooner rather than later however because up next, the Broncos take on the lowly Jags. The Jags of course were demolished by what many people think is the worst roster in the NFL in the Texans. With Denver more than likely taking a commanding lead in week two against Denver, Javonte may get enough run to put up gaudy numbers. 

This may be the last chance to get what could be a top ten back in the NFL over the next three years. If a team has any interest in selling, I am trying to buy Javonte right now. His schedule at the end of the season could make patient Javonte owner league winners. With Gordon’s history of getting beat up and missing games, this could be Javonte’s backfield to own by week 10. I’d be willing to offer a player like Chris Carson and a first-round pick to land Javonte. As I say, he won’t be cheap but he will be worth whatever it takes to pry him from your league mates hands. 

Courtland Sutton WR, 25 years old

Sutton had a bad game against the Giants. Lining up against James Bradberry is never easy and Jerry Jeudy was the star receiver in this game; until his injury. With Jeudy suffering a high ankle sprain and landing on IR, his entire season is likely toast. Remember Michael Thomas last year. Even if Jeudy comes back he will likely be hobbled the rest of the year. High ankle sprains are killers for playmakers. This is the time to strike on Courtland Sutton. 

Sutton of course is working back from his own devastating injury. Sutton blew out his ACL early in the season last year and will likely take a few weeks for him to regain his confidence and explosion. Sutton was on his way to becoming one of the best young receivers in the game in 2020. Coming off of an impressive 2019 season, Sutton blew out his knee all too early. Injuries suck. Sutton owners are likely frustrated and are wondering if Sutton will ever come back. He only had 1 grab for 14 yards on 3 targets. Steady Teddy Bridgewater will spread the wealth and he found guys like Tim Patrick, Noah Fant, and Albert Okwuegbunam against the Giants. Combined those three players had 13 grabs on 15 targets for 117 yards and two touchdowns. It seemed as though everyone but Sutton had a good game for the Broncos. 

Sutton may take some time but with Jeudy going down, Sutton has the opportunity to be a true alpha in Denver. Playing against the Jaguars this week, he could be in line for a monster game. I would throw out some offers for Sutton and see if there are any bites. Again, strike before the player goes off. Denver should manhandle the Jaguars fairly easily this week as 6 point favorites on the road. Both Williams (pricey) and Sutton (cheap) could be had for a discounted price but if they blow up against the Jaguars forget about it. Remember, human beings are emotional. Both good and bad. The strike will Sutton has put a bad taste in his fantasy managers mouth and your team could have a high-end WR2 this year and for years to come. 

Latest NFC North Preview

Who will win the NFC North?

By: Andy Davies

The NFC North is a division with tremendous history. The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears are two of the three oldest franchises in NFL history, with the Detroit Lions not far behind. We have seen the Packers and Bears lift a Super Bowl but the Minnesota Vikings have failed to win a Super Bowl and the Lions have yet to even make the big game.

The division has been predominately the Packers’ in recent years, winning 7 of the last 10 division titles. Can anyone dethrone Green Bay this season?

Here is a preview of the NFC North

Chicago Bears (2020 Record: 8-8. Lost in Wildcard Round)

The Bears fans have reason for optimism and are going to the season with plenty of excitement. However, there is also distaste from the fanbase as to who is their starting quarterback is in week one. Andy Dalton will start against the Rams as first-round pick Justin Fields is made to wait, despite his impressive preseason. He was taken eleventh overall in the draft, with Chicago trading up to select him. Perhaps head coach Matt Nagy is wary of not putting a rookie QB up against the excellent Rams defense on their debut. Maybe he is honouring the tweet the Bears made that Dalton was QB1, a tweet made before they drafted Fields. 

Offensive lineman Tevin Jenkins was taken in the second-round in the team’s best attempt to protect their quarterback. Wide receiver Allen Robinson was franchise tagged this offseason, which keeps him there for one more year. Darnell Mooney will want to build on an impressive rookie season. Alongside Free Agency signing Marquise Goodwin, there is a quietly good receiver room in Chicago. 

Defensively, Khalil Mack’s numbers have declined since his career year in 2018 but the linebacker is still a threat. Along with defensive end Akheim Hicks, these are two defensive studs at the Bears’ disposal. There is not just Mack and Hicks. Safety Eddie Jackson as well as linebackers Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn are three great options for the Bears on the defensive side of the ball. 

Can the Bears get back to the playoffs? This is something many felt the team didn’t deserve last year despite starting the 2020 season 5-1. A schedule featuring the Rams, Cleveland Browns, Packers twice, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Seattle Seahawks is a tough ask for anyone and this is likely to be nine losses. This would mean they would have to win all the other games just to end the season 8-9. Fields has the chance to come in mid-season and make a difference. However, this may be late not only for the Bears’ season but also for Nagy’s job.

Prediction: 2nd in NFC North.

Detroit Lions (2020 Record: 5-11. Missed out on playoffs)

When Jared Goff is your biggest headline offseason addition, there is something wrong. There has been something wrong for many years in Detroit. Only the Cincinnati Bengals have waited longer for a playoff win than the Lions. 

Goff was the first overall pick for the Rams in 2016 but with the exception of the 2018 season that saw them reach the Super Bowl, he has been nothing more than an average quarterback. He is going from throwing to Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods to now passing the ball to Free agency signing Tyrell Williams, fourth-round selection Amon-Ra St.Brown, and Kalif Raymond, who arrived as a free agent from the Tennesee Titans. They also brought in tight end Darren Fells as backup to T.J. Hockensen, who scored 6 touchdowns and recorded 723 yards from 67 receptions. The Lions did add Penei Sewell seventh overall, who can be a gamechanger between the trenches. However, the offense will still have plenty of issues. The Lions also lost wideouts Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones in the offseason, further adding to Goff’s woes. He does not feel like the type of player that new head coach Dan Campbell would like, considering Goff’s quieter personality and Campbell talking in his first press conference that he wants to bite people’s kneecaps. 

Detroit were 32nd in total points and total yards allowed (30th in passing yards allowed, 28th in rushing yards allowed). They have not done enough in the preseason to address this. The Lions have a lot of troubles ahead this season and Campbell has a tough task on his hands. 

Prediction: 4th in NFC North.

Green Bay Packers (2020 Record: 13-3. Lost in NFC Championship)

The Packers offseason was dominated by talk of Aaron Rodgers leaving the franchise, for either retirment or another team. Both he and wide receiver Davante Adams, who were so exceptional in 2020, posted the same post which referred to the Michael Jordan Netflix documentary ‘The Last Dance’. It is likely that Rodgers, last season’s MVP, will spend just one more season in Green Bay. Can he go out with a second ring? 

Rodgers requested a trade on draft day, which dominated the media that day. The boyhood 49ers fan is likely to have done this with the hope of San Francisco trading for him. Taking Trey Lance third overall put an end to these hopes. The Denver Broncos were often seen as the team with the best chance but after months of speculation, he decided to stay put in Green Bay. Many Packers fans were extremely frustrated during last year’s draft, when the team selected Rodgers’ replacement in Jordan Love instead of a wide receiver. This is a position that Rodgers and the Packers fanbase have wanted for a while now. A true WR2 is something that Rodgers has missed, playing a big role in why they have lost in back-to-back NFC Championship games. 

Running back Aaron Jones resigned, with a four-year $48 million deal agreed. Tight end Robert Tonyan, who scored 11 touchdowns in 2020, was initially placed on a second-round restricted free agent tender, before signing the tender for $3.4 million. The Packers also traded for former player Randall Cobb, who will want to improve on the three touchdowns he scored in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Amari Rodgers was taken in the third round to add some depth to the receiver room that also features Allen Lazard and Marquez Vantes-Scantling. Lazard impressed at times last season, with 3 touchdowns and 451 yards but injury meant he played just 10 games in 2020. Vantez-Scantling continues to struggle for consistency.

The offensive line could be an issue for the Packers and Rodgers. Cory Linsley, widely considered one of the NFL’s best centers, departed in Free Agency for the Los Angeles Chargers. Left tackle David Bakhtiari will miss the opening 6 weeks of the season at least, after being placed on the PUP list. Can the line protect Rodgers, who was the 25th most sacked quarterback in the league? This shows what impact the losses of Linsley and Bakhtiari could be. 

Defensively was where Green Bay struggled in the playoffs. Cornerback Kevin King had a poor game against Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship. Eric Stokes was taken in the first round to add some competition and depth to the position. In their 3-4 scheme, nose tackle Kenny Clark, Za’Darious Smith are both brilliant at what they do. Cornerback Jaire Alexander is one of the best shutdown corners in the league, with the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey arguably the only player to do it better than Alexander.

The Packers will win this division with ease but it is the question of whether their defense can take them any further than the NFC Championship. Rodgers will be on a mission to end on a high with the Packers. However, with the strength of the Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, and the potential surprise outfit of the Washington Football Team, they may find it hard to even make the NFC Championship game this year. 

Prediction: 1st in NFC North.

Minnesota Vikings (2020 Record: 7-9. Missed out on playoffs) 

The Vikings began the 2020 season horribly, starting 1-5 before winning 5 of their next 6 games and ending the season 7-9. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson recorded 1,400 yards, breaking the record of most receiving yards recorded by a rookie. He scored 7 touchdowns, with fellow receiver Adam Thielen recording 14. Their offense developed last season, with Kirk Cousins throwing over 4,000 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. However, his vaccination status may detriment his and their season.

Players not getting vaccinated may affect several teams, but Cousins’ stance is the biggest headline maker along with Lamar Jackson and Cole Beasley. If he is not careful, they may not be scared to put third-round pick Kellen Mond in the starting role during his rookie season. Cousins, a fourth-round pick in 2011, knows more than anyone how a late draft pick can make the most of their opportunity. 

Running back Dalvin Cook will hope to continue on from his impressive 2020 season. He had career-best numbers in both yards (1,557) and rushing touchdowns (16), stats only beaten by Derrick Henry last season. He will be excellently protected by 2021 first-round selection Christian Darrisaw, who is said to be an “animal in the run game”. He will hope to be fit for week one. 

Minnesota was 27th in total yards allowed in 2020 (25th in passing yards allowed and 27th in rushing yards allowed), with only three teams allowing more total points than the Vikings. The top three players for the Vikings for sacks recorded were Yannick Ngakoue, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Eric Wilson. They are all no longer with the franchise. Even with them in the roster, the most any player got in 2020 was 5.

Eric Kendricks missed time last season and the Vikings also lost Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, and Michael Hughes to injury. Michael Pierce opted out due to COVID-19. All of these players except Hughes are returning for 2021. This will surely make a huge difference to the defense, something that will be hugely welcomed by head coach Mike Zimmer. 

An opening six games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, Seahawks, Browns, Lions, and Carolina Panthers gives the Vikings the chance to start 4-2. They then face the Dallas Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers, Packers, 49ers and Lions. There is likely to be one or two wins out of these next six games. This would have Minnesota at either 5-7 or 4-8. The Vikings then face a tough end to the season, where they face the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rams, Packers as well as twice facing the Bears. They could lose four out of these five. Looking at the schedule, the prediction here is that their 2021 record will be either 5-12 or 6-11.

Prediction: 3rd in NFC North

Buying or selling Super Bowl LVI contenders

Are the LA Rams really Super Bowl contenders?

By: Chris Thomas

From the minute the Super Bowl ends speculation begins about who could make the Super Bowl the following year. The odds change throughout the offseason as hirings, signings, and the draft happens. At this point of the offseason, the Super Bowl odds seem pretty firm, barring anything crazy. 

Recently Sportsline came up with their Super Bowl odds for the 2022 NFL Season. According to CBS Sports, they simulate every NFL game 10,000 times to figure out their odds for who will win the Super Bowl. CBS Sports also reported that those who have bet $100 on their model since its inception six years ago are now up almost $7,900.

Even though there are so many talented teams around the league only two teams can make the Super Bowl and only one team can win it. There are a lot of loaded rosters across the league, but only a hand few could be considered Super Bowl contenders. Sportsline has set the odds for every team’s chance of winning the Super Bowl next season. Here is whether to buy or sell Sportsline top-10 Super Bowl contenders as teams who could win the Super Bowl. 

1. Kansas City Chiefs (+525)

Despite losing the Super Bowl last year, many believe the Kansas City Chiefs do have the best odds of winning the Super Bowl next year. It’s pretty hard to argue against it. Kansas City did not have many major losses across their roster this offseason. The Chiefs invested a lot of capital into their biggest weakness displayed during the Super Bowl which was their offensive line. They added veterans like Orlando Brown Jr. (via trade), Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, and Austin Blythe. Then drafted high upside interior offensive linemen Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith. Also, veteran guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff and 2020 third-round pick tackle Lucas Niang are returning to the team after opting out last season due to Covid-19. That unit is deep enough to ensure that former MVP Patrick Mahomes plays behind a top-10 offensive line all year. 

Kansas City does not have any major holes across its roster. They have done a great job retaining veterans and filling voids on their roster with high draft picks over the last couple of seasons. The combination of having an MVP caliber quarterback, consistency in the roster, and fantastic coaching is what makes the Chiefs a potential Super Bowl contender this season.

Verdict: Buying

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+650)

It would be shocking to not have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers high on this list. The reigning Super Bowl champs did the impossible this past offseason and managed to retain every single player that started during the Super Bowl for them. Tampa Bay somehow managed to retain Shaquil Barrett, Chris Godwin, Ndamukong Suh, Leonard Fournette, and Rob Gronkowski in free agency. They also retained veterans Steve McLendon, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Succop, and signed veteran running back Giovanni Bernard to join their running back committee. During the draft, Tampa Bay took the best player available and Jason Pierre-Pauls potential replacement next offseason Joe Tryon. Adding a prospect like Tryon to a defense that was capable of holding Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to nine points during the Super Bowl was a great move. 

After last season it seems that anytime Tom Brady is a team’s starting quarterback they have a chance of winning the Super Bowl. Another season of Brady in that system with the outstanding weapons he has including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, (A healthy) O.J. Howard, a plethora of great running backs, and outstanding defensive play could result in the Buccaneers winning back-to-back Super Bowls. 

Verdict: Buying

3. Buffalo Bills (+1300)

After the two teams who played in the Super Bowl last year, there is a cluster of teams that could prevent one of them from getting to the big game. Sportsline has the Buffalo Bills as the team most likely to take down the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC and win the Super Bowl. At times last season the Bills looked like the best team in football. Quarterback Josh Allen took a massive leap and asserted himself as a top-10 quarterback and finished the season as the runner-up to the MVP. Last year they also added Stefon Diggs who was arguably the best receiver in all of football. Diggs led the league in receptions and receiving yards last year. On top of that, the Bills have an extremely solid roster with a couple of former Pro Bowl defensive players including Tre’Davious White and Tremaine Edmonds. They let go of John Brown who missed most of last season and replaced him with Emmanuel Sanders. 

The Bills are a really good team, but it is important to ask, how much better did the Bills get this offseason. Buffalo retained a lot of their starters from the year prior and brought in Sanders, but they did not bring any fresh blood who can make a major impact on this roster. During the draft, the Bills spent their first two selections on defensive linemen Gregory Rousseau and Carlos “Boogie” Basham. Both help fill the need Buffalo has for a premier pass rusher. But with all the veteran depth on this roster both in the interior and on the edge, how often are they going to be seeing the field next season? The answer is not extremely likely unless they show immediately that they are better than veterans Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, Efe Obada, and 2020 second-round pick A.J. Epenesa. The sad truth is that Buffalo didn’t add enough to their roster to potentially become the sole favorite in the AFC and defeated the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Verdict: Selling

T4. Baltimore Ravens (+1400)

Since Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback of the Ravens during the 2018-19 NFL season the Ravens have been one of the most dominant teams in the league. The Ravens are expected to continue that this season and may go farther this year than they have in Jackson’s previous three seasons. A couple of veteran players left Baltimore in free agency this offseason including Mark Ingram, Willie Snead IV, Matt Skura, D.J. Fluker, Matthew Judon, and Yannick Ngakoue. But the Ravens did a great job reloading their roster with more veteran and young talent this offseason to replace those players. In free agency, Baltimore added Kevin Zeitler, Alejandro Villanueva, Sammy Watkins, Ja’Wuan James (expected to miss the entire 2021-22 season), and Justin Houston. In the draft, Baltimore added both wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Odafe “Jayson” Oweh in the first round after they acquired a second first-round pick in the Orlando Brown Jr. trade.

It is hard to argue against Baltimore having one of the deepest rosters in the league, even after the roster turnover. The biggest factors for how Baltimore will perform this year will be the Ravens passing game and pass rush. The Ravens have gotten below-average play from their wide receivers in recent years, Baltimore hopes the additions of Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins could boost the team’s production from that position. The pass rush may have been a concern, but after adding Odafe Owey and Justin Houston to this loaded defense the Ravens should be able to generate enough pressure from the outside to play at a high level. Since Lamar Jackson’s contract is looming over the Ravens’ future this may be Baltimore’s best opportunity to win a Super Bowl with Jackson under center on a rookie contract. 

Verdict: Buying

T4. Los Angeles Rams (+1400)

The Los Angeles Rams started the offseason making a huge trade to upgrade their quarterback position. Before the Super Bowl, the Rams agreed to trade Jared Goff, their 2022 first-round pick, and 2023 first-round pick to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford. This trade signals that the Rams believe they are a quarterback upgrade away from being a Super Bowl contender. A lot of notable players left the team in free agency including Josh Reynolds, Samson Ebukam, Gerald Everett, Malcolm Brown, Austin Blythe, John Johnson III, and Troy Hill. Not to mention they traded away Michael Brockers to free up salary space. The biggest addition the Rams made to this roster is DeSean Jackson who joins a deep receiving core including Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Van Jefferson. The Rams didn’t have a first-round pick due to the Jalen Ramsey trade. They did not add any players who are expected to have an immediate impact, instead, they could likely develop into contributors in year two or three with the team. 

The Rams have a few players on the roster that are considered elite at their position including Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Then they have a couple of players who are great including Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Leonard Floyd, Matthew Stafford, and Andrew Whitworth. But after those guys, the Rams are relying on a bunch of unproven players who at best couple be solid. This roster is extremely delicate. One injury to a Rams star and they could miss the playoffs. Already the Rams have lost 2020 second-round pick running back Cam Akers to a torn Achilles before training camp. Everything for the Rams would have to go perfectly for them to have a shot at the Super Bowl with their current roster construction.

Verdict: Selling

T4. San Fransisco 49ers (+1400)

It is easily forgotten that the San Fransisco 49ers were in the Super Bowl two years ago. After a season derailed by multiple injuries, the 49ers made the most discussed transaction of the offseason. The 49ers traded two future first-round picks to acquire the third overall pick in this past draft. They used that selection of quarterback Trey Lance. The 49ers lost Richard Sherman and few depth pieces but overall had a positive offseason adding solid pieces in Alex Mack, Samson Ebukam, Maurice Hurst, Arden Key, and Wayne Gallman. Their best signing may be the extending left tackle Trent Williams to a six-year $138 million deal. 

Looking at their roster it is clear that the 49ers can be one of the league’s best if they stay healthy. On offense, they have an elite running game and three outstanding pass catchers in George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and second-year receiver Brandon Aiyuk. Behind their offensive line, it may not matter if Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance is under center. Then the 49ers’ defense still can be as elite as it was two years ago with all their premier talent. If the 49ers could stay healthy and make it out of the NFC West they are as dangerous as any team in the NFL. 

Verdict: Buying

7. Green Bay Packers(+1600)

Since the NFL Draft, the most talked about team in the league has been the Green Bay Packers. The reasoning is that it became public knowledge that league MVP Aaron Rodgers wants to be traded from the team. He felt he has been mistreated by management and would rather go to a situation where he feels he will be treated as he should. Besides that, the Packers have had an okay offseason. Green Bay lost All-Pro center Corey Linsley and running back Jamaal Williams in free agency. They brought in free agents De’Vondre Campbell and Dennis Kelly to fill voids on their roster. Green Bay also retained cornerback Kevin King on a one-year deal and Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones to a four-year $48 million deal. During the first round of the draft, they added Eric Stokes to upgrade their CB2 spot that was exposed during the NFC Championship.

In all honesty, the Packers have an extremely loaded roster. But their biggest problem this season may be what happens in the locker room. After negotiating with Packers brass Aaron Rodgers agreed to come to training camp under the condition that the Packers trade him following this season. Since he has returned he has been extremely passive-aggressive about all that has happened and seems to have the Packers organization doing his bidding. That bidding included traded for veteran receiver and former Packer Randall Cobb who will now likely start over third-round pick rookie Amari Rodgers in the slot. On top of that All-Pro receiver Davante Adams has now expressed that he may leave the Packers this offseason, especially if Aaron Rodgers isn’t there. Both Rodgers and Adams are under the impression that this is the “last dance” and this is their last shot to win it all before they both split from Green Bay this offseason. It is hard to recall a time where a team with this much dysfunction in the locker room won a Super Bowl. 

Verdict: Selling

8. Cleveland Browns (+1800)

After their outstanding performance, last season the Cleveland Browns are being recognized as a potential Super Bowl contender last season. Cleveland had a fantastic offseason as well. The Browns signed John Johnson III, Troy Hill, Jadeveon Clowney, Takk McKinley, Malik Jackson, Anthony Walker Jr., and resigned Rashad Higgins. They also had a great draft taking two first-round talents in cornerback Greg Newsome II and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the first two rounds. 

It is hard to find a major hole across this roster. The biggest factor for the Browns this season is the play of Baker Mayfield. So far throughout his career, he has played well but is considered an average NFL quarterback. In year two playing for Kevin Stefanski, Mayfield hopes to make that leap. A healthy Odell Beckham Jr. should help Mayfield realize his potential as long as he doesn’t feel pressure to force plays to Beckham as he has in the past. What may hold this team back at the end of the day is the team’s inexperience in huge games. Last year the Browns managed to pick up a playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and came close to beating the Kansas City Chiefs. But it is hard to call the Browns a contender without evidence that they can defeat the teams at the top of the AFC let alone the entire league. 

Verdict: Selling

9. Denver Broncos (+2000)

The most shocking team to appear on this list is the Denver Broncos. According to Sportsline, the team that went 5-11 a season ago has the ninth-best odds of winning the Super Bowl. That sounds crazy but after acknowledging all of the Broncos offseason moves it doesn’t seem entirely impossible. They let go of a few veterans including Phillip Lindsay, Jurrell Casey, A.J. Bouye, and Ja’Wuan James. But Denver added to Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks in Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby to go with their star-studded secondary that features Bryce Callahan, Justin Simmons, and Kareem Jackson. Simmons and Jackson received extensions from the Broncos this offseason as well as Garrett Bolles and Shelby Harris. During the draft, Denver elected not to draft a quarterback and took cornerback Patrick Surtain II in the first round. 

The most impactful move the Broncos made this offseason can be the acquisition of former Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He is engaged in a quarterback competition with Drew Lock. That uncertainty at quarterback is what holds Denver out of conversations as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Denver has a very exciting young offense and premier defensive talent. But their below-average quarterback play likely caps their ceiling at around .500. If Drew Lock wins the quarterback job and breaks out then the Broncos may have a chance of making the playoffs. The only way Denver becomes Super Bowl contenders is if Lock plays at least at a Pro Bowl level or possibly an MVP level.

Verdict: Selling

T10. Indianapolis Colts (+3000)

So far the Indianapolis Colts have not had an outstanding training camp. Freak foot injuries to their new franchise quarterback Carson Wentz and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson have tempered the expectations for the team. However, both may be able to return from their injuries around Week 1. Earlier the Colts made the trade to acquire Wentz from the Eagles to replace the recently retired Philip Rivers. They gave up a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-round pick for Wentz. That conditional second-round pick would become a first-round pick if Wentz plays 75% of the snaps or if he plays 70% of the snaps and the Colts made the playoffs. This offseason Colts lost both of their starting edge rushers Denico Autry and Justin Houston, veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett, linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., and former first-round pick Malik Hooker. But they managed to retain Xavier Rhodes, T.Y. Hilton, and Marlon Mack. The Colts also signed former Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher. During the draft, the Colts took pass rusher Kwity Paye towards the end of the first round. 

The Indianapolis Colts have a nice blend of younger players and veterans throughout their roster. But they feel like they’re missing another x-factor player to make them legitimate contenders. That player could be Carson Wentz if he returns to his form during the 2017-18 season. Besides Jonathan Taylor behind the Colts’ elite offensive line, there are a lot of questions about their offense. What Carson Wentz will the Colts get, Is T.Y. Hilton still a threat on offense, and can Michael Pittman Jr. emerge as the Colts’ number one receiver. Defensively the Colts have enough to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. It all comes down to the offense that would need to take a big leap forward for this team to become a Super Bowl contender. 

Verdict: Selling

T10. New Orleans Saints (+3000)

As it stands right now it appears the New Orleans Saints missed their Super Bowl window over the last four seasons. But they still have an extremely talented roster. The Saints lost some of their major contributors from a season ago including Emmanuel Sanders, Trey Hendrickson, Sheldon Rankins, Janoris Jenkins, and Jared Cook. They also brought in a couple of solid veterans in Nick Vannett, Tanoh Kpassagnon, J.R. Sweezy, Jeff Heath, and Brian Poole. Their first-round pick this past year was a puzzling one. They reached on edge rusher Payton Turner who many had a Day 2 grade on. 

The biggest storyline in New Orleans has been what the Saints do at quarterback in the post-Drew Brees era. New Orleans retained both Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill who are both expected to compete for the starting quarterback job. It doesn’t help that their number one receiver Michael Thomas is expected to miss a huge amount of time due to a lingering ankle injury. The Saints are not very deep at receiver after Thomas. New Orleans still has a lot of talent across this roster but will need trustworthy play at quarterback to make the playoffs next season let alone win the Super Bowl. 

Verdict: Selling

Five middle round players that will win your dynasty league

Mike Williams can be a steal for your dynasty team

By: Keith James

The word sleeper is thrown around often in fantasy football. The truth is there aren’t many sleepers to be had these days. With the proliferation of websites, magazines, and data most fantasy football players can read about any player at any time. Instead of thinking of “sleepers”, think of guys that are drafted in a similar round that are better than the guys drafted before him. In this article, I will identify five middle-round players that will win your dynasty league.

Dynasty is great because once you draft a player he is yours as long until you decide he’s not. You can manage your players for 3 years or 3 months. You can keep players, trade them, drop them. Once you draft a guy, in that league, he is yours to manage however you would like. The thing about dynasty is patience. Should you wait on a guy to flourish in a year or two or should you trade him? 

It’s easy to fall in love with your first 3-4 picks. This will be your core and should love your core. They will be the reason for your greatness or for your failure. The core is what matters in sports. The same applies to fantasy football. Your core will likely produce 80% of all your fantasy production barring injury. I always say the core is how you score, the rest cleans up the mess. If you are able to draft guys in the middle rounds that enter that core, you will be able to better manage a top 60 fantasy asset. 

For the benefit of this article, I am considering the middle rounds, rounds 8-13 and I am basing my ADP off of sleepers’ latest ADP (August 1st). The start of round eight is player number 85 in 12 team leagues. So the top 85 dynasty assets are off the board, the queue is getting slim. There are guys you love but who should you draft while you are sifting through the tiers. 

The following are 5 guys that are going in round 8 or later that will help you win your dynasty leagues. These are players that may not hit WR2 in 2021 but the future is bright, a little luck and they could pay off this year. Mostly, you are waiting on these guys to develop in 2022, 23′, 24′, and beyond. They are green bananas that you have to give a little time and in a year or two they will be ripe for eating. Grab them in your startup drafts, HODL them, show them care, and wait for them to develop. You will be winning many fantasy games if you choose wisely. 

Laviska Shenault (ADP 86-Dynasty)

2020 may go down as the best fantasy football draft year of all time. With top players at all positions, 2020 may rival 2017. The same draft that had Mahomes, Watson, Dalvin Cook, Kamara, CMC, and George Kittle may be rivaled by the draft that produced Jonathon Taylor, Antonio Gibson, Cam Akers, D’Andre Swift, JK Dobbins, Justin Jefferson, Jerry Jeudy, Joe Burrow, Tua, and Justin Herbert. 

There are many more 2020 names but one name that has slid this offseason is Laviska Shenault. Laviska Shenault was drafted by the Jaguars in the 2nd round at pick number 42. Shenault was seen as an athletic freak coming out of Colorado but he had injuries that derailed a good portion of his career. He is not a blazer but he is seen as an AJ Brown type of physical receiver that can do damage with the ball in his hands. 

Shenault battled poor QB play and while missing two games he was WR46, putting up 157 PPR points at a little over 11 points per game (PPG). Known as a big play waiting to happen, Laviska has strong hands that snatch the ball and look to do damage with his large 6’1 220-pound frame. 

His current ADP is going at 97 (round 8 in 12 man leagues) and he is going as WR35. 

I’m looking for Laviska to be the focus of Trevor Lawrence’s targets this year both on intermediate routes and short routes where Shenault can work in space. With the crowded Jaguars receiver room consisting of DJ Chark, Shenault, and Marvin Jones it is hard to imagine Shenault owning the Jaguars target share in 2021 but in 2022 and beyond this will be Shenault’s team on the receiving end. 

DJ Chark is a free agent and Marvin Jones is 31 years old. Shenault is on a team-friendly deal for 4 more years and there is already talk out of Jaguars camp of “building the offense around” Laviska Shenault. I built a model that highlighted the top 12 receivers from the last 7 years. I looked at height, weight, draft capital, year in the league, and many other variables. Shenault fits the model of a WR1 to a tee. He has the build, the athleticism, the wow factor to chew up yards on easy catches and he should be between 20-25% target share once Chark moves on after this season. 

Grab Shenault in the 9th round of your start-up drafts and look for him to be a sound WR3 this year and build toward one of the most dynamic receivers in the league over the next 3-5 years. I also believe Shenault is worth a 2022 first-round pick if you are looking at assets to buy heading into this season. Make offers now, because his price may be much higher after an electric 2021 season.

Rashod Bateman (ADP 83-Dynasty)

Bateman was a case of COVID-19 derailing his momentum. If he was able to play in a full 12-13 game season last year he would have been a top 15 pick. Covid-19 hit and the Big Ten was only able to play in 6 games and Bateman caught the virus and was not able to finish the season with the Gophers. 

Make no mistake, however, Bateman can ball. He is another prototypical receiver that fits the making of a WR1. Taken with pick 27 by the Baltimore Ravens, Bateman has been a victim of where he landed. The Ravens are a run-heavy team. They lead the league in rushing attempts last year and were last in passing attempts. With Lamar Jackson’s skill set, they have created an offense around Jackson’s strengths. 

Jackson however has never had a receiver with the talent of Bateman and these two are about to tear up the AFC North for the next five years. Bateman is another prototypical WR1 in the making. As a rookie, his volume will likely keep him in the WR4 or WR3 category. Moving forward, he will be a problem for opposing defenses. At 6’0, 190 he is smaller than average WR1’s but he explains how he battled COVID last year and his weight is a little light. 

I believe he plays more around 200 pounds this year and in future years. Bateman runs a 4.43 forty (pro day) and has great hands. Watching his tape he reminds me of Reggie Wayne, I’m not saying he is the Great Wayne Manor but that’s what he looks like. Bateman runs clean, crisp routes, and tracks the ball great. He has great hands and he is open often. 

Bateman is currently being drafted at ADP 130 (WR43) behind Will Fuller, Henry Ruggs, and his teammate Hollywood Brown. I like Bateman much more than his current tier of WR’s in dynasty. Bateman figures to take a year or two before becoming an annual top 24 WR.

I love Bateman in round 10 earlier than he is being drafted and stashing him for upcoming stardom over the next 2-3 years. Bateman was my WR2 coming into the 2021 draft and I believe he would have been drafted in the top 15 if COVID didn’t ruin his season. Draft Bateman with glee and attach him to an established MVP QB who needs a big body, clean route runner, to improve his passing efficiency. Bateman is that guy for Lamar Jackson and he will be that guy for your fantasy team. 

Terrace Marshall (ADP116-Dynasty)

Terrace is a player that had some late injury concerns and was caught up in the wash of other great receivers playing at LSU at the same time as him. Terrace was a five-star recruit who took some time to establish himself after Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson were no longer around. Playing in an LSU passing attack that was a far drop from Joe Burrow’s historic 2019 season, Terrace established himself as his own big play waiting to happen. 

Marshall stands at 6’2, 200 pounds, and runs a 4.4 forty. The other thing I love about Marshall other than his size/speed combo is he did damage primarily from the slot in 2020. That is where I believe he thrives for the Panthers in 2021 and beyond. Marshall will be the 4th option on his new Panther team. With CMC coming back healthy he will eat up a lot of the targets both Robbie Anderson and DJ Moore (DJM) had last year. CMC is still the focus of that offense and will be leaned on in Sam Darnold’s first year. 

Anderson and DJM present a problem for Marshall in year one, but his understanding of the slot will help his cause seeing the field. Marshall has star potential written all over him and with Robbie Anderson likely leaving via free agency after the 2021 season, Marshall should be set to take control in 2022 and beyond.

I am of the belief having great players on the other side of you helps your cause, and does not hinder it. DJ Moore is set to become a household name and if the Panther’s offensive brain trust can unlock Sam Darnold’s talent then Darnold, CMC, DMJ, and Marshall will begin to push for annual top ten offensive productions. There is a lot of talent on that offense. 

Marshall is currently being drafted at ADP 116 (round 9) and at that price you are looking at another potential top 24 receiver that can help your squad this year in spot starts or at the flex position and if there is an injury to either Moore or Anderson, watch out, Marshall may become the next Chase Claypool. Marshall’s size and athletic ability make him a matchup nightmare especially with such skilled receivers as Moore and Anderson on the outside, lining up Marshall against smaller nickel backs in the red zone is money in the bank and will cash checks for your fantasy squad. 

Mike Williams (ADP134-Dynasty)

Mike Williams has become a hair puller. He’s a guy with immense talent, a size/speed combo with high draft capital that has not been able to consistently put it all together. Williams had a 1,000-yard season and a season with 10 touchdowns and he is fully capable of being a dude that has both this year. Working with Justin Herbert, Mike Williams will undoubtedly be the 3rd option behind Austin Ekelar and Keenan Allen but with a superstar QB that 3rd option will be deadly. 

Another reason I love Mike Williams this year is he is entering a contract year. With the Chargers knowing they will have to drop a bag for Justin Herbert in a couple of years, it is more than likely that Williams walks and can take over as an alpha receiver for a new team. At only 26 years old, Williams is entering his 5th year and he is in a prime position to help dynasty teams this year and the next 3 years. 

Williams stands 6’4, 220, and is prone to the deep ball. He can go up and get it. Williams is not a YAC guy, he is a jump ball, the contested-catch nightmare that is a perfect complement to Keenan Allens and his superior route running. Williams needs to see more targets to be a consistent performer but with the Chargers investing in the offensive line for the first time in what feels like forever, Justin Herbert should be a top 8 fantasy quarterback for the foreseeable future. Williams had 85 targets last year and 90 the year before, with the extra game I can foresee a 100 target season with 68 grabs, over 1,000 yards, and 9 touchdowns. I am predicting a breakout for the Clemson alum in his walk year so that another team can pay him next year and you can cash in 2021 and the next few years. 

Williams ADP has been moving up, the word is out. Camp reports say that Williams looks great and he is establishing himself with Herbert to be a true number two in LA, this should correlate to a top 24 finish, or better in 2021. Moving forward, when Williams balls out this year, teams will get a sense of how best to use Williams. He is at his best in jump ball, contested-catch areas of the field. Even with below-average speed (4.58 forty), Williams is still able to get deep. Williams has a 16.7 yard per catch average in his career, so he is looking to beat you to the outside and win a contested ball. 

Williams will man the X position in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s offense. This was the same position Michael Thomas played under Lombardi in NO. Williams will see an uptick in targets, use his skills on the deep ball, and be a jump ball receiver looking for a layup down by the goal line. The is the year Williams breaks out and he will ride that wave for your dynasty team now and into the future. 

Darnell Mooney (ADP 124-Dynasty)

With all the reports of Darnell Mooney lighting up Bears camp, his ADP has remained stagnant all summer. It’s shocking that a receiver who is the Bears leader for rookies in receptions with 61 last year has not budged in ADP all off-season. Here’s the deal, I’m a big Bears fan and I thought the after-season hype was more than I expected out of Darnell Mooney but with a much-improved QB situation in Chicago, Mooney will be able to get deep with his 4.38 speed. 

Mooney is also an intelligent player that uses smooth transitions in his routes to get open. There is a Twitter GIF showing Mooney’s skills when he duped Jalen Ramsay and got by him deep only to have Nick Foles overthrow the ball. Foles was under heavy pressure by his own goal line, but I digress. Mooney has the skills to become a star in the league. Reports are that Mooney was attached to Allen Robinson’s hip in the offseason and with a full year to grow in the offense, having a true NFL training camp, and refining his skills Mooney is set to go to the moon. See what I did there?

Mooney’s ADP is currently 122 (WR41) so you are getting a younger version of Tyreek Hill about to be linked to the most talented, productive, experienced quarterback prospect the Bears have ever had in Justin Fields. Fields is a dynamic deep-ball thrower, which will play perfectly for Darnell Mooney’s speed. What Mooney needed was a QB that could unlock his ability to get deep and make a game-changing play. Fields will be that guy. I believe Mooney has star potential and could become a top 20 WR and he can be had for a 10th round pick. Get him now and grow with him, watching your dynasty squad become elite.

Middle of the Road

No matter the drafting format, finding guys that hit in the middle to late rounds will always be a winning formula. In Dynasty, these guys are your future. They are your playmakers or traceable assets that can set you up to succeed for a half-decade. 

Laviska Shenault, Rashod Bateman, Terrace Marshall, Mike Williams, and Darnell Mooney are all guys that have an open window of success in the present and the future. They are all a little different but the best thing about this group is they will not cost you high draft capital. These are middle-round gems and if you can walk away with 2-3 of these guys you will have a top-flight receiving core that your league will have to contend with. These are playmakers that will be consistent names in rounds 1-6 for the next four years. 

In fantasy football, I am always looking for volume and value. What the five guys on this list present is high value with anticipated volume to increase their profile. What I like about all five of these guys in their ability to make plays and get in the zone. Touchdowns are the great decider between a top 30 WR and a top 15 wide receiver. Managing players that can be target hogs on their team and find the endzone will bring fantasy happiness. 

Find your way to the middle, look for these names and start to put together your wide receiver core while building the rest of your squad in earlier rounds. You better hurry though, talent wins in the NFL and each one of these players is getting buzz at their camps. These may be middle-round picks in 2021 but these are not middle-round players. They will go much higher next year and beyond. Go and get them on your dynasty teams and win bragging rights for years to come.  

Why the Tennessee Titans can upend the Kansas City Chiefs

Tennessee Titans are real Super Bowl contenders

By: Chris Thomas

Not too long ago the Tennessee Titans came within eleven points from completing their Cinderella story, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship, and making the Super Bowl. Instead, the Chiefs went on to defeat the San Fransisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV and representing the AFC in the Super Bowl this past season. At this point, Kansas City appears to be the odds on favorite to win the AFC and appear in the Super Bowl for the third year in a row. However, the Tennessee Titans may have the best chance of making sure that doesn’t happen. Here is why the Chiefs should be considered with the Titans more than any other team in the AFC. 

Outstanding weapons 

It wouldn’t be shocking if Tennessee finished the season as the league’s number one offense. It would be extremely shocking if they finished outside the top-10. The Titans not only have the back-to-back rushing champion in Derrick Henry but they also have two Pro Bowl-caliber receivers in A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. The Titans acquired Jones from the Atlanta Falcons after the draft for a 2022 second-round pick. He is not only a replacement for Corey Davis, who signed with the Jets in free agency, he is a major upgrade. If the Titans’ three offensive playmakers stay healthy they should be able to rack up 1,000+ yards rushing/receiving. 

It is fair to say that the Titans have passed the Chiefs as the team with the best offensive skill players. The Chiefs along with the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two offensive skill players on their roster that are capable of being named All-Pro at the end of the year. The Titans are not only the only other team in the AFC in that category but are the only team with three players capable of being named All-Pro at the end of the year. Kansas City hasn’t played a team with as much if not more firepower as them in the Patrick Mahomes era. That will change this season when the two meet in Week 7. The Chiefs’ defense features a few great players like Chris Jones, Tyrann Mathieu, and Frank Clark. However at best they are middle of the pack and do not have enough talent on that side of the ball to minimize the production of all three. 

Ability to control the clock

The Super Bowl this past year exposed the weaknesses that the Kansas City Chiefs had not exposed to the rest of the league the last few years. The way to beat the Chiefs is with a stout pass rush, not allowing Patrick Mahomes to make dynamic plays, and keeping the ball out of the offense’s hands. The Buccaneers’ pass rush did not allow Mahomes to make plays downfield and he had to resort to checking the ball behind the line of scrimmage or tossing it up hoping his receivers were in a position to make a play. While Tom Brady and the offense were able to hold the ball to control the clock more than the Chiefs during that game. Holding onto the ball and taking advantage of their offensive opportunities allowed them to dominate the Chiefs the way they did during that game. 

The Titans are well equipped to control the clock better than any other team in the league. They have the league’s most dominant running back over the last two seasons in Derrick Henry and a quarterback who is extremely smart with the ball in Ryan Tannehill. They have the firepower to get a lead early then hand the ball off to Henry over and over until the clock runs out. That has been the Titans’ bread and butter over the last two seasons. That firepower was just Henry last year and now it is their elite offensive trio that could get the Titans a lead early in games. Henry averaged a career-high 5.4 yards per carry last season. So if need be the Titans can rely on Henry to get them a first down in two or three downs, keep the clock rolling, and keep the ball out of the opponent’s hands. 

A lesser-discussed part of the Titans offense is how efficient Tannehill has been as a passer. Since taking over he is well aware that the passing game comes second behind their rushing attack. So he does not feel the pressure to make big plays that other quarterbacks do. Tannehill has only thrown 13 interceptions over the last two seasons because he doesn’t have to make the risky plays other quarterbacks do. Rather than making big plays downfield, Tannehill could throw short passes to move the chains and keep the clock moving. 

Similar Quarterback Production

The Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is more than a game manager. He has shown the ability to make big plays and big moments, especially in the playoffs. In late December, CBS compared the statistics of Tannehill’s first 24 games as the Titans starter and Patrick Mahomes’ statistics last 24 games. The results of this comparison are shocking enough and help the argument that Tannehill should be considered one of the better quarterbacks in the league. 

Tannehill’s 114 passer rating beats Mahomes 105.9 passer rating during that span. However, Mahomes’ 6,983 passing yards is higher than Tannehill’s 6,080 passing yards. Shockingly Tannehill beat out Mahomes in total touchdowns with 61 to Mahomes’ 56. They both only threw 10 interceptions during that span. Finally, Tannehill had a higher completion percentage completing 67.7% of his passes while Mahomes completed 66.4% of his passes. If this was a competition Tannehill beat out Mahomes with a final score of 3-1-1 out producing him in three categories.

Now it is unlikely that Tannehill will join Mahomes in the best in the league conversation unless he takes home the league MVP this season. But the stats do show that the two are closer than many think. If it came to a battle of the better quarterback it may end up being a toss-up between the two.

Revamped Defense

This offseason the Titans have focused on retooling their defense. Last year the Titans’ defense was not good enough to get the team back to the AFC Championship. So they got rid of multiple starters including Jadeveon Clowney, Kenny Vaccaro, Adoree Jackson, Desmond King II, and Malcolm Butler. They went out and added big-name free agents like Bud Dupree, Denico Autry, and Janoris Jenkins. Then Tennesee drafted three defensive players with their first four selections including first-round pick Caleb Farley, second-round pick Monty Rice, and third-round pick Elijah Molden. 

It appears that Tennessee swapped out their strength in the secondary to increase the talent level of their pass rush. Four members of the Titans starting secondary were cut during free agency but they signed two high caliber pass rushers to go along with the pass rushers they already had on their roster. Harold Landry has had 14.5 sacks for Tennesee over the last two years and former first-round pick Jeffrey Simmons is closing in on becoming one of the best defensive tackles in the league after his play the last two seasons. Now the Titans added Dupree who could very well have double-digit sacks and be named to the Pro Bowl this season and one of the most underrated pass rushers in the league the last couple of seasons Denico Autry. Dupree has had 19.5 sacks over his last 27 games. While Autry discretely had 20 sacks over the last three seasons in Indianapolis. The Titans should have no problem getting after opposing quarterbacks next season and beyond. 

The reason why Tennessee may have changed the emphasis of their defense from an outstanding coverage team to a dominant pass rush likely has to do with the Super Bowl. Todd Bowles’s defense in Tampa Bay relies more on the play of their front seven than back seven. Their defensive line, pass rushers, and linebackers are all Pro Bowl-caliber players while their secondary is made up of young early draft picks who are capable of playing good enough coverage but are not considered lockdown. A defense with that makeup was able to defeat Tennessee’s biggest rival in Kansas City in the Super Bowl. So Titans’ general manager Jon Robinson decided to remake their defense in Tampa Bay’s image to get past the team standing between them and the Super Bowl. 

Do the Minnesota Vikings have a playoff contending roster

Is the Vikings roster elite?

By Christopher Thomas

The NFC playoffs are almost impossible to predict because there are so many teams in the middle of the pack that can easily sneak into the playoffs if they get hot towards the end of the year. Last year’s team who snuck into the NFC playoffs was the Chicago Bears who were led to the playoffs by their starting running back David Montgomery. This year that team could very also be from the NFC North.

The Minnesota Vikings are at an interesting crossroads with the way their current roster is projected. They have some elite talent spread throughout their roster. But they also have a combination of veterans past their prime and inexperienced young players filling out the rest of their roster. Head coach Mike Zimmer is one of the best and most respected at his position around the league. However, this current Vikings roster could have the Vikings finishing anywhere between picking in the top-10 and potentially winning the NFC North. Here is a deep dive of the Minnesota Vikings roster. 

Quarterbacks

Much like a majority of teams in the NFL the Minnesota Vikings playoff hopes are reliant on the play of their quarterback. During the 2017-18 offseason, the Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a 3 year $84 million deal. Since signing Cousins the Vikings have made the playoffs once over the last three seasons and have a 25-21 -1 record when he is the starter. This offseason Minnesota gave him a two-year $66 million extension that will keep him in Minnesota until 2022. He has played at a borderline Pro Bowl level every season but has not played up to the expectations that the Vikings had when they signed him. Minnesota believed Cousins was going to be the piece to get Minnesota over the hump and into Super Bowl contending territory. Instead, the team has been stuck in between playoff contention and a restart. In the two seasons Cousins has thrown double-digit interceptions. The only season in Minnesota where Cousins did not throw double-digit interceptions he did not reach 30 passing touchdowns or 4,000 yards passing. This wouldn’t be a major issue except Cousins is being paid like one of the premier quarterbacks in the league. 

If Cousins can limit his turnovers while maintaining the production he put up during his first and third seasons with the team Minnesota could have a shot at the playoffs. However if Cousins begins to falter, the Vikings took Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond early in the third round to potentially take his place and become the team’s starting quarterback of the future. If Mond becomes the Vikings starting quarterback early in the season it is unlikely that he has a Dak Prescott-like impact on Minnesota despite being the fourth highest-ranked quarterback on Chris Simms 2021 draft rankings. Minnesota needs Cousins to play at a Pro Bowl level to make the playoffs. 

Running Backs

There is an extremely valid case for running back Dalvin Cook to be considered the best player on the Minnesota Vikings. It also isn’t too farfetched to say Cook is the best pure running back in the league overall. Over the last two seasons, Cooks has put up career-high numbers in every major running back category. He has finished top-10 in rushing over the last two seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl every year as well. 

The Vikings’ offense could very well feature Cook as the focal point, but the major question about him is his health. Cook has dealt with multiple injuries that have not allowed him to play a full sixteen-game schedule over his first four seasons in the league. Cook has played in 43 of a potential 64 games since being drafted in 2017. Things did not look great for Cook early on after he missed 17 of his first 32 games he could have played during his first two seasons. However, Cook has been able to play in 28 of the last 32 games the Vikings have played.

If Cook is unable to play the Vikings have turned to 2019 third-round pick Alexander Mattison to lead their backfield. Despite being valuable in fantasy football as a replacement for Cook, Mattison is not as great of a runner as him and likely cannot be the focal point of the team’s offense. For Minnesota to make the playoffs next season Cook needs to play a majority of the team’s regular-season games. 

Pass Catchers (Wide Receivers and Tight Ends)

Even though Minnesota’s offense is based on the run, the Vikings have an extremely talented group of pass-catchers at their disposal. The Vikings have two Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen along with a young talented tight end in Irv Smith Jr. 

A season ago Jefferson broke the rookie record for most receiving yards in a single season with 1,400. He did that off of 88 receptions and had seven touchdowns. Thielen fell 75 yards short of becoming the Vikings’ second 1,000+ yard receiver finishing the year with 925 yards in 15 games. However, Thielen was a scoring machine scoring 14 receiving touchdowns last season which was tied for fourth in the league. Smith Jr. finished the season with less than 400 receiving yards, but the former second-round pick looked more than capable of replacing Kyle Rudolph as the team’s primary receiving tight end at the end of last season. Over his last six games, Smith Jr. caught 19 of his 26 targets for 216 yards and all of his five touchdowns. Now that Rudolph is now a member of the New York Giants Smith Jr. can build on what he did a season ago, be the team’s starting tight end for an entire season, and become the team’s third receiving option on offense.

To make the playoffs Minnesota is going to need Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to play the same level or better than they did last season. While it would be a major help if Irv Smith Jr. had a breakout season posting career highs in his first year as the team’s primary tight end. 

Offensive Line

For the last half-decade, it seems like the Minnesota Vikings have invested heavily into their offensive line. So far their investments have paid dividends. Some may say that the players they’ve drafted have not met the expectations Minnesota had when they drafted them. Minnesota has taken six offensive linemen in the first three rounds in the last five seasons. None of which have made a Pro Bowl in that time and outside of Brian O’Neill have been regarded as better than average. The Vikings took two offensive linemen inside the first three rounds this past draft that they expect to contribute right away. 

One of the biggest question marks on the Vikings offensive line is at left tackle. After trading down from 14th overall and passing on arguably the best interior offensive lineman in the draft Alijah Vera-Tucker, Minnesota took Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw 23rd overall. Darrisaw should be the Vikings starting left tackle from Day one. If he could anchor the offensive line and do a great job protecting the blindside of Kirk Cousins (or Kellen Mond, the Vikings’ offensive line could get the boost they need to remove themselves from the average or below-average territory it has been in for the last couple of seasons. Opposite Darrisaw on the right side is the most solid and best player along the Vikings offensive line Brian O’Neill. Since being drafted in 2018, O’Neill has entered the territory as one of the best young right tackles in the league. 

The interior of the Vikings offensive line starts with a player Minnesota took in the second round last year to potentially become their left tackle. After taking Darrisaw in the first round this past year it seems that Ezra Cleveland will likely stay on the interior for Minnesota. Cleveland was solid in his rookie season, if he progresses and develops into a better player this year that would go a long way to increasing the production of the Vikings line. Their center Garrett Bradbury has been a disappointment since being drafted in the first round in 2019. Bradbury was taken in the first round and has not played anything like the player many thought he would be coming out of NC State. Minnesota traded a sixth-round pick for former Arizona Cardinals center Mason Cole to push Bradbury for the team’s starting job. Cole was drafted in the third round by Arizona in 2018 and has started 32 of the 46 career games he has played in Minnesota. The biggest question mark along the Vikings offensive is at right guard. Minnesota is expected to have a competition for the right guard position between veteran Dakota Dozier and third-round pick Wyatt Davis. 

If Minnesota puts their best five offensive linemen out there to protect their quarterback and open holes for the running game efficiently that could very well be what the Vikings need to get back into the playoffs next season. 

Defensive Line

Last season the Vikings’ defensive line was atrocious. The lack of production from this unit impacted the rest of the roster. However, this unit has been almost completely revamped and could easily be the strength of their defense. Their sack leader from a season ago was Yannick Ngakoue who had five sacks in six games in Minnesota before getting shipped to Baltimore near the trade deadline. From there on out it is fair to say Minnesota had one of the worst defensive lines in the league last season.

A healthy Danielle Hunter is about as good as it gets at defensive end. If all goes well Hunter should have double-digit sacks for Minnesota, a Pro Bowl nob, and possibly recognition as an All-Pro. Opposite Hunter is expected to a rotation of a few players off the edge. Veteran defensive end Stephen Weatherly started all nine games he played in Carolina last season. He returns to the Vikings as the favorite to land a starting defensive end job. A rookie third-round pick out of Pittsburgh Patrick Jones could compete with Weatherly for the starting job and will likely rotate with him throughout the season. Janarius Robinson out of Florida State could get on the field this year as well. The fourth-round pick has all the traits to be an NFL defensive end but needs to be coached up. Robinson landed in an ideal situation getting coached by one of the better defensive coaches in the league Mike Zimmer. 

A dark horse candidate to take some snaps and potentially start at defensive end is former Pro Bowler and 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year interior defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. The Vikings reunited with Richardson a few weeks after being released from the Cleveland Browns. Since Minnesota has an elite duo on the interior of their defensive line they may experiment with lining up Richardson as a base defensive end. Richardson has always been a better pass rusher than run defender during his career. The opportunity to rush off the edge on an elite defensive line may be what Richardson needs to rejuvenate his career. 

Minnesota will get to see both their major free agent signings from the past two seasons playing for them for the first time this upcoming season. Last year Minnesota replaced Linval Joseph with former Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce. Minnesota signed Pierce for three years $27 million. The former Raven was an elite-run defender due to his size and ability to plug up holes created by opposing offensive lines. The Vikings did not get to see Pierce play last season due to him opting out of the 2020 NFL season due to Covid-19 concerns. This offseason the Vikings spent big again on the interior of their defensive line bringing in former New York Giants Dalvin Tomlinson on a two-year $22 million deal. Tomlinson was a part of a dominant defensive line in New York that almost singlehandedly carried the Giants defense and team overall to the playoffs last season. He has been an elite-run defender as well during his time in New York and also has been able to rack up 3.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons. 

There is a lot of talent on the Minnesota Vikings offensive line. If Mike Zimmer can coach each of these players to their potential it would put overwhelming pressure on opposing offenses. A defensive line this talented could be what carries the Vikings into the playoffs next season. 

Linebackers

Since 2015 the Minnesota Vikings have had one of the better linebacker duos in the league between Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. Over the last couple of seasons, both have been to multiple Pro Bowls and have been major parts of the Vikings’ defense. Both missed time due to injury last season. Both need to remain healthy for the Vikings to contend next season. 

Kendricks has been a tackling machine over the last couple of seasons averaging 106.5 combined tackles a season since being drafted. He is also no stranger to creating turnovers when factoring in his four career forced fumbles and seven career interceptions. Three of Kendricks’ career interceptions came last season. Over a couple of year stretch Barr was considered one of if not the best 4-3 outside linebacker in football. However, there has been a slight decline for the former 2014 first-round pick. Prime Anthony Barr does a little bit of everything. He not only can rush the passer like a defensive end, but he could also tackle and play in coverage as well as a linebacker on the inside. If Barr can play similar to how he did during his stretch of four straight Pro Bowls Minnesota’s defense could look similar to how it did in the late 2010s when it was considered one of the best in the league. 

The play of Minnesota’s linebacker duo is so important to their success. Not only do they need to stay healthy, but Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr need to play at a high level for this defense to have done their part to get this team in a position to contend for the playoffs. 

Secondary

The biggest question mark about the Vikings’ defense coming into this season is their secondary. Mike Zimmer is known for spending high draft picks on cornerbacks and developing defensive backs extremely well. In the last couple of seasons, it has become clear that Zimmer prefers to build his defense from the back forward. 

The Vikings gutted their cornerback room and drafted two cornerbacks with their first four picks in 2020. They took Jeff Gladney Jr. in the first round and Cameron Dantzler in the second round. Gladney was the team’s starting slot cornerback last season and Dantzler covered the team’s number one cornerback on the outside last season. It is fair to say that they struggled to defend pass catchers last season. This is not necessarily a knock on Gladney and Dantzler as players, a lot of cornerbacks struggle early in their careers in the NFL regardless of how high they were drafted. But in year two in the same defense, both are expected to take a leap forwards and play at a solid level if not better. The Vikings also made two major moves to their cornerback room. First, they signed former Pro Bowler and Arizona Cardinal Patrick Peterson to a one-year $10 million deal. Then Minnesota traded 2018 first-round pick, Mike Hughes, to the Kansas City Chiefs for a sixth-round pick in 2022. 

The dynamic duo of safeties that Minnesota has had over the last two seasons will not return this season. Free safety Anthony Harris left Minnesota in free agency and shockingly signed a cheap one-year $5 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings replaced Harris with former Dallas Cowboy Xavier Woods and fourth-round pick Camryn Bynum. However, Harrison Smith will be returning to Minnesota for his tenth season. Smith has been one of the best and most important players to this franchise over the last decade. His production has been extremely reliable for the Vikings including last season when the team’s defense played awful as a whole. Smith finished last season with five interceptions and 89 combined tackles. 

Minnesota’s secondary can very well tie this defense together and return it to the juggernaut it was only a few seasons ago. If the young defensive backs that are expected to have feature roles in this secondary can play up to their potential and the veterans continue to play at a high level, Minnesota could have one of the best secondaries in the league. However, if Gladney and Dantzler do not improve from last season and Peterson plays like how he did last year, that could be enough for the Vikings defense to underperform and hold the team out of the playoffs. 

Final Verdict 

After evaluating this roster it is fair to say that a major component of this roster is health. A lot of vital pieces across this roster got hurt last season and Minnesota paid the price for it falling out of playoff contention early in the year before trying to play catchup towards the end. There is so much talent spread across this roster the veterans need to continue to play at a high level and possibly develop into better players, while the young guys need to make a major impact for Minnesota early in their careers.

It is fair to say the biggest component that will decide the fate of the Minnesota Vikings this season is the status for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. If Rodgers decides to hold out or is traded the Vikings have the roster to surpass Green Bay as the favorite to win the NFC North. At that point, all four teams in the NFC North would be rebuilding or retooling their roster likely making the winner a team with a close to .500 record and the race to determine the winner very ugly much like the 2020-21 NFC East. If last season’s MVP does not play in Green Bay and his replacement Jordan Love doesn’t have a breakout season Minnesota has what it takes to make the playoffs next season as long as their team can stay healthy and none of the vital or young players on this roster majorly disappoint. 

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