F10Y – NFC and AFC Championships 19-20 Look ahead

by Lawrence Vos (@NFLFANINENGLAND and @F10YRetro)

This will be the 22nd time that the conference championship will be a regular season rematch. The advantage has gone to the home team winning 13 of 21 rematches. The last team to gain revenge for a regular season loss by winning a conference championship was the the 2013 Seahawks who beat the 49ers – a game that featured a touchdown from Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch. 

Now I’m not going to be popular if you like to do the tomahawk or if you support a team with a red helmet, but I am going for a Titans v 49ers Super Bowl. Below I have provided some narrative on the two teams I think are going to make it to the 54th annual festival of football.

AFC Championship – Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs

Photo caption: Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com

H2H – Chiefs lead all time series 29-24. Both are 1-1 in Super Bowl playoffs, and one win for the Titans in 1962 in double overtime when they were known as the Dallas Texans. Titans have won last four matchups by a combined 22. 

Titans 2019 record to date – 11-7 

  • Could become the first team in NFL history to beat their same conference division winners in a single season having dispensed the Texans Week 17, then the Patriots and the Ravens. 
  • If we include the Houston Oilers records, along with the Titans then this is the franchises 6th conference championship game – three for the Oilers – one from being in the AFL in 1967, two consecutive between 1978 and 1979, both as Wild Card entries, and both ending in defeats to the eventual Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers. 
  • As the Titans they reached two AFC title games in 1999 and 2002, beating the Jags in 99 and losing to the Raiders in 02. This will be the Titans 3rd AFC Championship in their 21 year existence as the Tennessee Titans.
  • They have of course played in one Super Bowl – 34 suffering one of three of the most heartbreaking losses in the finals history as Mike Jones the St Louis Rams LB tackled WR Keyin Dyson at the one yard line as the Titans looked to tie up the game in the dying seconds. 

Last decade – In the past 10 seasons the Titans haven’t won their division, and including this season are 3-1 in the playoffs. 

Outside of this season the Titans only playoff win in the past 17 seasons was in 2017 against none other than the Kansas City Chiefs. 

So what are the top 5 strengths of the Titans

Photo caption: Cbsnews.com
  • The running game and namely the hottest running back in the NFL Derek Henry. Henry became the first back in NFL history to record three consecutive 180+ rushing games. something that Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and even Jim Brown never managed.
  • Ryan Tannehill’s efficiency. From the point he replaced the ineffective Marcus Mariota this season Tannehill ended the 17 game slate with the highest rating in the league. Tannehill is an accurate passer 62.5% lifetime and 70.3% this season.
  • Jurrell Casey – You gotta love this defensive tackle who has started 137 of 139 games for the Titans. the four time pro bowler has recored 5 or more sacks for the last 7 seasons, and registered his first two playoff QB takedowns against Lamar Jackson last week. Casey has been twice voted the Titans Walter Payton Man of the year and he coaches a women’s flag football team made up of Titans WAGs. 
  • Head coach Mike Vrabel (pictured above) – This might be Vrabel’s first post season as a head coach but he won three rings as a player for the new england patriots in just a four year stretch. He has to be the only NFL player to have caught 12 touchdown passes on 12 career catches. 

Titans weaknesses 

  • Their field goal kicking.The team is 8-18 on field goal attempts
  • Pass rush – No player has more than 9 sacks and 1st round rookie dl Jeffrey Simmons had only two regular season sacks. 
  • Playoff experience – This is Tannehill’s third career playoff game and his only post season in his career. 

Keys for a Titans win 

  • Goes without saying feeding Derek henry the ball often – 25-30 carries and the Titans can dominate time of possesion and keep Mahomes off the field
  • Special teams tackling – The spark the Chiefs had last week was caused by a big Mecole Hardman kick return. If Haardman or Tyreek hill can find creases it means longer drives needed. 
  • Get the ball to the biggest playmaker. AJ Brown electrified as a rookie WR in the regular season, but he has been used as a decoy for two consecutive games to get a safety or corner to stay away from the line of scrimmage. Now is the time to unleash AJ in all his glory. 

NFC Championship – Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

H2H – Packers lead the series 36-31-1. They have met 7 times in the playoffs the 49ers winning 3. The last time the 49ers recorded a shutout against the Packers was in 1954. The teams did meet in the 1997 NFC Championship – the Brett Favre and Reggie White led Packers beating the Steve Young led 49ers 23-10 in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

49ers record to date – 14-3 

  • Back in the NFC Championship for the 16th time – with 6 wins and 10 losses. Made three consecutive NFC Championships 2011-2013 with Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick. They lost Super Bowl 47 in 2013 to the Ravens. Weird fact on this game the last scoring play was a safety by the 49ers – Ravens  punter Sam Koch running out the back of the endzone. The 49ers team then featured Frank Gore who ran for 110 yards on the day. 
  • The Niners are 5-1 in Super bowls, having won 4 with Joe Montana who didn’t throw an interception in any of the three games, Super Bowl 24 in fact remains the biggest blowout game when they beat the Broncos 55-10. 
  • In the past 10 seasons the 49ers have won their division three times and are 6-3 in the playoffs. The last time they won their division before this season they mad it to the Superbowl. 
  • 49ers are the surviving 1 seed and only home team to host two playoff games this season. 

Top 5 strengths of the 49ers

Photo credit: Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports
  • Adaptability to their surroundings – they had a better road record than home record – going 7-1 on their travels. Wins ranged from a 9-0 grinder in a quagmire in Washington to outlasting the Saints 48-46 in the game of the season in New Orleans. 
  • The surprise of the running game. the team finished 2nd in rushing yards per game behind a combo of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and even jeff bison, just don’t ask jimmy Garoppolo to run – his 1.3 yards a carry is Dan Marino Esque. Don’t forget about Kyle Juzchck who is arguably the best FB in football
  • Grab a teabag and put the Kittle on. All Pro TE George Kittle led the team in targets, receptions, and was the only Niners to go over 1000 yards in the air. His 5 tds paced the team. Kittle’s catch against the Saints was easily a top10 highlight of the season. 
  • Pass rush – the 49ers registered 48 regular season sacks and followed up with six lashes of Kirk Cousins last week. The biggest name is rookie Nick Bosa, but the leading regular season sacker was Arik Armstead with 10 and two forced fumbles. in their regular season matchup the 49ers had 5 sacks of Aaron rodgers on his 33 attempts. 
  • The offensive line – Veteran LT Joe staley and mauling 2nd year right tackle Mike McGlinchey (pictured above) are not getting the headlines, neither made the first or second all pro rosters but they are solid bookends and RG Mike Person is one to look out for as a late bloomer. The team averaged 4.6 yards a carry in the regular season and paved the way for 47 rushes last week. 

Weaknesses 

  • Kicking game has become a bit of a risk. Robbie Gould who was injured for three weeks has missed 8 of his 31 attempts after foil 33 of 34 last season. Fortunately for the 49ers Gould has never missed a field goal in 8 post season games. 
  • Penalties by the defense – The team committed the 7th most penalties in the regular season and need to cut down on giving up cheap yardage. 
  • Wide receivers – Its a grab bag of talent with the 49ers ball catchers – no one is a dominant number one. Trade aqusition Emmanuel Sanders has registered 36 catches and 3 tds in red and gold – good but not great. This can be a 49ers advantage as Jimmy G will likely look for Deebo Samuel early and often but there is no guarantee he has a gig receiving game. 

Keys for a 49ers win 

  • Keep bringing the heat all game long. Joey Bosa looked as fresh in the final two minutes against the Vikes as he did in the opening 2. Aaron Rodgers is 36 and uses more of his smarts than he does his feet to move the ball. 
  • Run the ball and wear down the packers defensive line. It might be Mostert or even Breida that gets the lions share of carries whoever carries the ball they need to keep hold of the rock
  • Game planning – Kyle Shanahan lives every day with the numbers 28-3 etched in his mind after taking a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl as the Falcons offensive coordinator before being Bill and Tommed. Lesson learnt Shanahan will take no lead for granted and will want to showcase his play calling in front of a fired up home crowd. 

Enjoy the games tonight, for some this week is better than Super Bowl Sunday. We have a top seed, a bottom seed and two teams that are #2 in their conferences.

Photo credit: Albert Dickson/Sporting News

Sit back, grab your popcorn, and have a blast.

Deep Deep Deeep Fantasy Sleepers: Part 2

by Rob Grimwood – @FFBritBaller

I love deep diving in fantasy football. It’s one of the many areas within the industry that I just love researching. From favourable roster positions to raw, unearthed talent – trying to scrap around in the bargain bins of fantasy football to find the next Alvin Kamara,  Adam Thielen or even Odell Beckham who was overlooked by fantasy owners in 2014; deep diving is certainly one of my favourite offseason past times.

It’s been a fruitful offseason of scouting for me too, so much so I had to split this article into two parts! The first part featured the likes of Dylan Cantrell, WR (L.A Chargers), Deon Yelder, TE (Kansas City Chiefs), Chris Conley, WR (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Darren Waller, TE (Oakland Raiders) and part two will offer up 4 more super deep sleepers that are not to be ignored late on in your drafts!

Let’s dig in!

Dexter Williams – Running Back, Green Bay Packers

Sure, Aaron Jones is the bell cow in Green Bay, I hear you. But, Jones doesn’t come without injury concerns. Of his two seasons to date, Jones has never completed more than 12 games in a regular season. This is mostly down to a reoccurring grade 2 knee sprain which has flared up on 3 different occasions.

ajones

If Jones does go down injured in 2019, or isn’t able to sustain his 49 rushing yards per game career average, the natural reaction will be to assume Jamaal Williams is the next guy up for the Pack, but that may not be the case. With a career average of just 3.7 yards per carry over his two years in the league baked in with mediocre-at-best receiving statistics (52 receptions for 472 yards, 9.1 per rec and 2 TD’s); I for one wouldn’t be surprised if new Head Coach Matt LaFleur decided to put trust into one of his drafted guys instead, Dexter Williams.

Dexter Williams was apart of the highly successful 2018 Notre Dame Fighting Irish team that managed to be one of the 4 teams that qualify for the College Football Playoffs. Despite missing 4 games because of undisclosed personal matters, Williams returned on week 5 for the Irish and ended the season with 995 rushing yards (6.3 per carry) with 133 receiving yards off 16 receptions with 13 total touchdowns. 

Although he didn’t blow anyone away at the combine, his 40 time was fine (4.53s) and he managed 17 bench reps which was better than what higher picks Damien Harris (16), David Montgomery (15) and Benny Snell (16) managed.

Williams is a between the tackles kind of back, funnily enough, MockDraftable have him compared the best to none other than teammate Aaron Jones, thus confirming that if Jones was to miss time, it may well be Dexter that becomes the most productive ‘Williams’ in the Green Bay running back room.

His strengths coming out of college is that he possesses great vision and is a clever runner, especially when gaps are forged for him. To be successful in the NFL, he’ll need a good o-line in front of him to provide those needed gaps. The Packers offensive line is considered to be a top 10 line in the league, so the opportunity is there for Williams to be successful should the chance occur.

 

Alex Barnes – Running Back, Tennessee Titans

Who an earth is Alex Barnes, I hear you say. Well folks, Alex Barnes may well be the next Phillip Lindsay. An undrafted free agent rookie hailing from a small-ish school in the Big 12 conference who had 1,355 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns for Kansas State in 2018. Yes, that’s more than Devin Singletary (1,348), Miles Sanders (1,274) and David Montgomery (1,216) who are all highly regarded prospects and were all drafted.

His stats were not too dissimilar to Lindsay’s final college season in 2017, but Barnes is quite the opposite when it comes to physical attributes. At 6’1 and 225lbs, he is built from the same mold as Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Melvin Gordon. If you were drafting all four today solely on combine performances, Barnes wouldn’t be out of place alongside these big hitters.

Melvin Gordon Lev Bell David Johnson Alex Barnes
40 Yard Dash 4.52s 4.60s 4.50s 4.59s
Bench Press 19 24 25 34
Broad Jump 126 118 127 126
Shuttle 4.07s 4.24s 4.27s 4.10s
Vertical Jump 35.00 31.50 41.50 38.50

The situation for Barnes in Tennessee isn’t a bad one either. Despite Derrick Henry breaking out somewhat towards the end of the season, I still can’t help but get the impression the Titans are still undecided if Henry is their man.

Henry’s breakout game came in week 13 where he went on to finish the remainder of the season to break through the 1,000-yard rushing marker (1,059), however, 585 of those yards came after week 12 which means the Tennessee rushing game in the first two-thirds of the season was pretty non-existent.

They were quick to act on Barnes after the draft too, picking him up just over a week after the NFL draft was completed and was seemingly a high profile UDFA with multiple teams reportedly interested.

With Dion Lewis likely to remain in a pass-catching role and no other backs of significance on the depth chart in Nashville (David Fluellen, Jeremy McNichols, and Dalyn Dawkins) Alex Barnes may well be a household name for fantasy owners in the near future if he makes it onto the 53-man roster in late August.

John Brown – Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills

John Brown may legitimately be the WR1 for the Buffalo Bills. Sure, as can Robert Foster and Zay Jones, I hear you, but have either of those receivers had over 1,000 yards receiving over the course of a season? No. In fact, Zay Jones’ best season in 2018 saw him rack up 652 receiving yards and just for the record, Foster had 541 yards and 3 scores in his one and only season to date.

I’ve always liked ‘Smokey’ Brown. Ever since his tantalising 1,003 rec yard and 7 touchdown season for Arizona in 2015, but it’s the injuries that have kept him from repeating those numbers. In his last two seasons of his rookie contract for the Cards, Brown only started 11 games, but when he did play, he still was able to perform to a high standard as he managed 13.3 and 14.2 yards per reception average in those seasons respectively.

smokey
Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, however, Brown was able to play the majority of the campaign and started 15 games in his one-year prove-it deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Despite performing admirably in 2018 and somewhat ‘proving it’ with 715 yards off 42 receptions (17.0 yards per reception) and 5 touchdowns, the Ravens clearly had plans to centre the future passing offense through the young guns which rang true when they drafted college standouts Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin instead of re-signing Brown.

But the saying goes “another man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and I believe that to be true for the Bills when they grabbed Brown in the free agency. Let’s forget the past for a second and focus on the strengths of Brown and his new quarterback, Josh Allen. 

Am I over-enamoured with Allen’s ability to be a quality NFL QB? Not particularly. But one thing that does impress me, along with the masses, is his arm strength. We saw it at the combine, you remember, the nigh on 70-yard cannonballs he was effortlessly floating into receivers arms. Well, what does that weapon require? A fast receiver who can get down the field. John Brown is one of the fastest players in the league when he’s at full fitness and could still likely hit his 4.34 40 time from his 2014 combine.

I’m buying in. Maybe not so much in PPR league formats as I don’t think Brown will be peppered with targets, after all, the Bills brought in possession receiver Cole Beasley for that role, but definitely as a “last pick dart throw” and definitely in standard-scoring leagues. I for one, will not be surprised if John Brown is a regular starting receiver on your rosters come fantasy playoff time in December.

Geoff Swaim – Tight End, Jacksonville Jaguars

This is the third tight end I am talking about during these 2 articles which just goes to prove you don’t have to spend a high draft pick on one of the top tight ends. It’s a volatile position where anyone of about 25 players can finish as a top 10 tight end in 2019 for fantasy football.

You can add Geoff Swaim into that mix too, mainly because he has been gifted a fantastic opportunity over in Duval county. Fellow newcomer and starting quarterback Nick Foles has had good success in the past when throwing to tight ends too; In his second stint in Philadelphia, Foles built a good rapport with superstar Zach Ertz, whilst also working with Travis Kelce at the Chiefs in 2016 and Jared Cook with his time as a St Louis Ram in 2015.

Swaim spent the majority of his rookie contract in Dallas firmly in the shadow of Jason Witten and didn’t get an opportunity to show any kind of attacking prowess until last season whilst Witten entertained us from the commentary booth instead of on the field.

Even then, Swaim found himself having to split targets with fellow tight ends Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz, and even though he wasn’t the biggest producer out of the three, he was the most consistent with an 81.3% catch rate – which was also the highest on the team and 14th best in the league.

swaim
Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This year, Swaim is taking those safe hands to pastures new where there is only an unproven rookie in Josh Oliver to contend with on the depth chart for pass-catching duties out of the tight end position.

In fact, the whole receiving core in Jacksonville is up for debate. With no clear WR1, no proven hot hand in the receiving game and a new quarterback with a proven track record of success throwing to tight ends, Geoff Swaim could be a sneaky pickup for fantasy players despite not having the best career-to-date statistics. Opportunity is king for fantasy tight ends and Swaim may well be the endzone target the Jags are crying out for.