I thought it would be fun to take a look back at how 2017 started...what we were feeling, what seemed important, how did the initial reads of the situation turn out when you look back at them the following year. I'm re-reading all my Week 1 recaps from 2017 just to study what happened out of the gates and where it all went from there to start projecting 2018 Week 1/early seasons scenarios for our annual 'Faux' Computer Simulation of the upcoming season that we do every May/June.
With little football to chew on in May, here's a snack...reheated goodness from Week 1 last season, and we'll re-post all the Week 1 games from 2017 every day throughout May -- posted as-is/as-was...
--This was THE first game of 2017 season...and it was a doozy, and looking back at it today -- I think I was on the right track with most everything to interpret from this game.--
Well, this one has 5,000+ words written all over it…a definite 5K event coming. Buckle up.
It's the first regular-season game analysis/recap of the year, so there's always extra enthusiasm as we all watch the very first game isolated for our viewing pleasure – the sole focus and enthusiasm generated by this game leads many of us to hyperanalyze the action and assume all of these performances are going to happen 15 more times for the rest of the season. I'm pretty sure Kareem Hunt is not going to score 48 TDs this year, nor will the Patriots go 0–16 – probably just 8–8.
You'll either remember, or you're gonna be reminded a million times between now and next week, that the last time the Chiefs humiliated the Patriots a few years ago, there was a meltdown fervor in the media trying to call for the end of/replacement of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. I'm not joking. And it wasn't just one paper or person – there was a full week of analysis of how it may be the end of the Patriots empire. We do have to remember that prior history – it is not proper to run off a cliff just yet on the Patriots…or elope with the Chiefs.
However, there are some huge fantasy takeaways from this game, in my opinion. Some major ones. With respect to some, not a time for patience – but a time for a quick action. Some of that selling high, and some of it facing facts and cutting ties. We will get into all of it.
First, a little discussion of the game itself…
During the first half, as the Patriots enjoyed mostly control of this game, I turned to the person I was watching this game with and commented, "I have no idea what the Patriots are doing in this game. I don't get these play calls for the players they're working them with." I didn't say it with a bunch of vitriol because the moment you question the Patriots, they make you look like a fool soon after. As I watched Chris Hogan take his third end-around of the first half, while the absolutely built-for-the-end-around/jet sweep Brandin Cooks saw nothing in the run game – that was the tipping point moment for me in the first half. However, I was also taking into consideration watching Mike Gillislee get stuffed on multiple short yardage events failing to get first downs. The Buffalo Bills were probably smirking as the Patriots tried to defend their crown led by former players the Bills didn't deem worthy enough to pursue in free agency. Who knew the Bills were so talented the past few years? Apparently, they're not.
The Patriots could've put a stake in the heart of the Chiefs early, but they trotted out C+ grade weapons to do an 'A' grade job – and it didn't work. When you take a step back, the Patriots decided to attack, throw their lead punch in this game by going heavy Danny Amendola, Mike Gillislee, starting Rex Burkhead, running end-arounds with Chris Hogan, and throwing some passes to Dwayne Allen who looked like his feet had been freshly cemented. We all got so excited at 'new/more weapons' that we didn't stop to consider whether these collective weapons were ready to crush top NFL teams. In this game, the answer was "No."
The Patriots did not look sharp at all on offense. I have no doubt they will improve as the weeks go on, but you have to be human – you have to start asking what happens if Brady is losing a little on his fastball. That doesn't mean he won't be an excellent pitcher, but he's going to have to throw more junk to fool the hitters. He's going to have to really rely on a shorter passing game – and the Patriots' short game did not look good in this game. It looked very pedestrian. They did not look like an offensive juggernaut, nor a repeat Super Bowl team. You do have to give them a pass and assume they'll regroup – this could've been just a bad game with a bunch of new players on offense, and three weeks from now we will forget this even happened. The Patriots deserve that assumption. However, I think it's also fair to wonder if we really are seeing the decline of the Roman/Brady empire. The Jimmy Garoppolo era just had the fast-forward button hit on it, potentially.
Where I really thought the Patriots would shine in 2017, would be on defense. Obviously, they got their asses handed to them in this game. I think the Patriots' defensive collapse is likely to be more overblown than the reality. Early on in this game, the Patriots were covering the pass well. They couldn't tackle/stop/control anybody at the line of scrimmage, which led to the Kareem Hunt mega event, but they were keeping everything in check early – including Tyreek Hill. But one of the reasons why I was so huge on Hill for fantasy is because he's virtually unstoppable – late in the game, we saw why. All the defensive focus on Hill helped open up opportunity for Hunt. The fact that the Patriots have holes in their front seven just added jet fuel to the situation. Once Dont'a Hightower went down hurt – the degradation accelerated even faster.
The Patriots have defensive injuries and holes to deal with, and I can already see what changes lie ahead – and the changes will patch some of the holes from this evening's game. The Pats' changes on defense coming up is going to affect a few players for IDP – and we will get into that. We'll also get into the Patriots DST – our highest-ranked DST for 2017.
OK, 40 paragraphs about the Patriots first…in what was an excellent win for the Kansas City Chiefs. Sometimes, that's how things go. That's the cachet the Patriots bring. When the Patriots win, it's all about the Patriots. When the Patriots lose – it's all about "How did the Patriots lose?" They've earned that place in the talking points of NFL analysis. It's not a bias against Kansas City – it's a bias against all 31 NFL teams who are not the best franchise in the NFL for the past decade. The Chiefs don't get to cry foul until they get past the Patriots at the end – something they've yet to do…only getting minor battle victories in the regular season but ultimately losing the war.
When you think back on it, what was there to get excited about with the Chiefs from this game? It was a pretty mellow game by them to start, nearly on the verge of getting blown out from the jump, but then they kept counterpunching and finding the holes/flaws in the Patriots defense, and they drove a Mack truck through them. As long as the Chiefs have a healthy Tyreek Hill, they can beat anybody – that's why I thought Hill should've been a top three MVP candidate last year. He should be this year. Even when he doesn't touch the ball, he's affecting the game – that's how good he is.
The Chiefs are one of five teams that could win the Super Bowl – the Chiefs, the Patriots, the Cowboys, the Packers, and probably the new leader in the clubhouse after witnessing this game – the Pittsburgh Steelers. At a minimum, these five contenders are probably all tied for the same odds of getting the prize – versus 24 hours ago the Patriots being a mortal lock and everyone else a long shot. Seattle should be on my list, but their awful coaching will halt them from making it to the end, once again.
Lots of fantasy player notes to unpack, some of which have pretty bold calls to arms/action. One of which 0.0% of this player's current owners will take me up on, but you'll come back later and realize I was right. You expect me to start by celebrating the Tyreek Hill production. Honestly, it went just as I expected, just as I wrote about/predicted since last year, just like I've written about this entire summer. All that's left for me to do is crow about it, but since most of you already own him and bought into what I was preaching – I'm only preaching to the converted. It's nice to see the confirmation right off the bat in this game. We all feel good about it today. I didn't have any doubts, so it's not a major event for me. The rest of the football fantasy analysis community has things to apologize for completely missing the Tyreek Hill change of the football landscape, but I need only sit back and have a peaceful night's sleep over it. But I'll talk about him before the end. It's not the biggest fantasy story/actionable event to discuss from this game.
Fantasy player notes…
**Just a quick 2018 comment here...this Kareem Hunt take (below) was pretty radical last season at the time. Many were bellyaching about missing out on Hunt...and it got louder for several weeks as I kept saying the same thing I did in Week 1. You thought I was a fool and then you were crying around Week 7-8-9-10 as Hunt fell apart and you were wondering whether to even start him in a given week in the 2nd half of last season.**
-- Single biggest thing to discuss from this game is Kareem Hunt (17-48-1, 5-98-2/5).
Hunt is a player that I advised caution on since the Spencer Ware injury. A player we had passing grades on over at College Football Metrics, so we weren't against him – I just didn't believe the price in the redraft or dynasty rookie drafts warranted acquiring him post-Ware injury…that there would be risks at this stage – the stage could be too big initially – and that Hunt comes with some limitations that may get exposed early on.
After he fumbled his opening carry, I felt pretty smug about myself. A few hours later, we were witnessing the greatest opening night rookie output any of us can recall. Many people lamented to me that they should've taken Hunt instead of 'X' in whatever draft they had participated in. Some readers might be miffed by me mostly dismissing Hunt over the past two weeks in various drafts. I get it.
Let me just open this section up with the following statement: If I owned Kareem Hunt in fantasy football today, which I do in just a very few instances, I would make it a personal mission to trade him in attempt to go after something I might never could obtain under most circumstances. I would advise owners to sell the Hunt stock right now because it is at its absolute peak. Kareem Hunt's fantasy value will never be higher than it is right now.
Anytime you have a rookie in a debut game, where the game is the only one being played, so everyone sees it/microanalyzes it, and he has a big fantasy night – it's like the solar eclipse. Events that never line up in such a manner, but every 30+ years line up for you. If Hunt has this kind of output among the 1 o'clock ET Sunday hour games, people are delighted…but some of the edge would be taken off of it because it would bleed into whatever other shocking events happened the same day, and Sunday night into Monday night events. This is a perfect storm event for Kareem Hunt fantasy value hyperinflation.
Also, consider – I'm not trying to get cute here and predicting a stock market top…getting you to try to sell him because it makes sense economically. Most Hunt owners wouldn't buy that because a lot of football is emotional, not economical, so it's why I know no one's going to listen to me on this Rookie Derangement Syndrome event…it's is too powerful a force – especially opening night in the solo game of the week. It's not a 'sell high' moment for economic reasons alone. There is a bigger reason…
Kareem Hunt is not this good…and I didn’t think he looked that good at all in this game. I don’t mean that in the "Of course Hunt won't score 3 TDs and have 200+ yards every game" way. I mean, I think Hunt is going to fade into 'B-' range quickly and you have an 'A+' ace in the hole today to try to use as part of a package to get David Johnson or get Joe Mixon+ or make a sweet multiplayer deal. Friday (today) and Saturday are your best windows. Sunday the steam will start to dissipate.
Hunt is a between-the-tackles runner, a good one, but not special in any way, and has really good hands in the passing game. There are tools to work with. He's not going to bust. You don’t have to sell Hunt before he goes from A to F (he's not an F) like…like…let me think of other hysterical players of recent years…like when Branden Oliver had back-to-back 100+ yard rushing games years ago and the media lost their minds, or when Christine Michael hit with a flourish last year and I was screaming at you to sell before the floor fell out from underneath you. That's not this situation, but I'm as excited to sell because the media has pushed Hunt and then he had this night – the force is with Hunt.
I thought Hunt ran stiff anytime they had him go away from the interior, and he wasn’t plowing anyone over between the tackles – he was just running through such wide-open holes that he had full speed upon contact and went down with an extra 1–2 yards of momentum. Hunt wasn’t creating anything special this night…he was the beneficiary of his nice talent and great O-Line work/terrible Patriots run defense. Teams are going to figure out Hunt is slow going east-west so they'll clog the middle on suspected run plays and force him outside – and Hunt will be reduced to normal/OK/good as a rusher. He has good hands, but is a slow footspeed starter, so he doesn’t catch and burst…he catches, and takes a bit to get going…and is thus easy to reach in the open field. His long TD catch was a miracle that will never happen again – backup linebacker lost in coverage, Hunt barely open, Alex Smith deep ball right on the absolute money and in stride so Hunt never paused. It was a one-off event on so many levels.
Kareem Hunt is not a more talented RB than Spencer Ware. He's just not. Whatever you thought Ware would do in this offense…that's what Hunt will do, but one step less/lower. Over time, Hunt will settle in as a nice RB2 in 2017. Tyreek Hill helps Hunt have running lanes. Hunt is a good thing – but he's likely trading as an RB1+ the next 2–8 days, but is more of a RB2–2.5 talent in this offense. He goes 67 yards and no TDs next week – and bubble pops to reality. You have one huge window, especially today or tomorrow – so try to use it if you dare. You may be shocked by what he will yield.
*Don’t be a fool and put Hunt on the 'trade block'. Just inquire about the player(s) you really want from a team, and let them laugh – but say to them 'make me an offer, no matter how crazy for your player(s) I want'…see if they name Hunt in their deal. Then clutch your pearls with your best acting skills…and engage from there. You go looking to trade Hunt as a lead punch to the conversation and everyone will pucker up sensing a hot potato dump…make people come to you naming Hunt in a deal and bait them.
I also can't help but think/lament how much of this performance would have been Spencer Ware's…for those of us that bet on Ware this summer. We'll never know.
You know what Ware had for receiving numbers last opening day (2016)? 7 catches for 129 yards and a TD. You know when he caught 4 or more passes in a game again after that…never…he didn't. He averaged 2.0 catches per game the rest of the season. He had a high of 54 yards receiving after his 129 yards receiving effort Week 1 of 2016. I'm just saying…
-- I thought Mike Gillislee (15-45-3) didn’t look spectacular either. I mean, I get that three TDs in a game is a fantasy orgasm. Ryan Mathews and Jeremy Hill delivered 3-TD games last year in spots too. But it seems to me that Gillislee is not ready for the workhorse role, nor is there such a thing on the Patriots. Gillislee is going to have a lot of 10–15 carry games for 50 +/- yards and you hope a TD…with no targets/catches. Whatever that's worth to you…
Let's just clear the decks on the Patriots' RB situation:
I suspected the Pats were accumulating a bunch of B–C grade RBs to use as a committee but had hope that Rex Burkhead (3-15-0, 1-8-0/3) was grabbed for a unique twist in the committee. It looks like a pure RBBC is the plan. I don’t think you can trust any of these RBs for fantasy week to week. Let's just call it for what it is and move on. It's the Patriots/Belichick history, and it’s smart for the NFL…but painful for fantasy. Sunday is going to reveal several waiver things you'll want…Rex Burkhead is definitely on the chopping block for discussion. But there may be a good reason to pause cutting him in anger.
I wanted to get Rex coming into opening day as a cheap, late-round RB who might have a unique role in this offense – the biggest/strongest back and the best receiver. Oh, the possibilities. But then I just watched Gillislee take all the goal line stuff and James White is not disappearing as a pass game option. I wanted a cheap Burkhead lottery ticket to see if Belichick had another wrinkle he was about to work in the NFL. He didn’t, not here. Burkhead is going to be a 3–5 carries and 3–5 targets per game guy…and you hope he gets a TD in a given week. He's the non-PPR Gillislee – only good if they score a TD.
The TDs are coming…you don’t have to ditch Rex. There's still hope. You almost got two TDs from Rex in this game in the first quarter. He has a unique role in the red zone it appears…which is smart. He lines up at flanker or jets out of the backfield running pass patterns. On one scoring drive, Brady stared down/went left when Rex had beat a linebacker streaking to the end zone to the right – a potential Rex score but Brady wasn’t looking. Later, near the end zone, the Pats ran a specific play for Rex one on one with the linebacker (likely seeing what happened the time before) and tossed him a timing route/sideline-of-the-end zone throw, but it was well covered.
There is also hope for Rex to be moved more into the Edelman-Amendola role with both potentially out. If there's a case for waiting a week to jump off Rex – it's that he may be the slot WR in Week 2 or Week 4…
This night would have felt a whole lot different if Gillislee had 1–2 TDs and Rex had a receiving one. We'd be OK with Rex, but nervous…and Gillislee would not seem so great.
Oh, and I would definitely sell Gillislee hot too. Not a must-dump, but the clock will run out quickly on the hot value on this miracle effort as well. He blew a few short yardage conversions and generally looked mediocre at best in this game. He's not a game changer…he's 'just a guy'. Good but not 'wow'!
The one RB who might be a bargain in all this was James White (10-38-0, 3-30-0/5). He's going to get 3–7 targets a game and may split carries with Gillislee, because White was the only Pats back with any pop in his legs.
Dion Lewis (2-9-0) also played in this game…and will probably be traded soon as the Pats acquire defensive help or another WR. Lewis may be the craftiest deep-roster waiver guy of all Pats' RBs because he may be the PPR back for ___ team in a few weeks.
-- How did Alex Smith (28-35 for 368 yards, 4 TD/0 INT) have Tom Brady's (16-36 for 267 yards, 0 TD/0 INT) night and vice-versa? I have some pretty good stock in Brady for 2017…and this fantasy effort was not in my plans.
I'm not worried about Brady, per se, but we all fear the carriage turns into a pumpkin at some point on the 40-year-ole QB. I'm not going to panic yet…just mad today. Each of Mike Gillislee's TDs were nearly TD passes before the plunge. I will argue to the death that Gronk caught that TD pass…that should have never been reversed. Cooks drew a P.I. on a potential score. Brady missed Burkhead on a TD pass that's usually open but was covered tight. Normally, Brady would have had two TD passes here, at least. Just an odd event.
Brady missed a few throws, but he was doing that last year. He was missing Julian Edelman way more than he ever had. I'll buy Brady stock ahead, because this is a piss poor running game, and if the Pats D is going to have issues…Brady is going to have a lot of attempts this year. He's not in-his-prime Brady, but he's still good/great.
I'm not rushing out to pick up Alex Smith either. Smith didn’t finally find religion. Tyreek Hill as an ace WR weapon likely pulls him from QB3 to QB2 but not QB1. He'll never have that Hunt long TD pass ever again in his life. He had 137 yards passing to all non-Hill/Hunt options in the game.
-- This KC passing game pecking order is Tyreek, then Kelce, then RBs…which means Chris Conley (2-43-0/4) will be a sporadic WR3–4. I was wondering if they might do something cool with him without Jeremy Maclin…not in this game. To be fair, the Patriots DBs shut down the WRs all game and Kelce too…just Hill got loose for a bomb and Hunt had the miracle.
-- Might as well talk Pats DST now that I mentioned it. My top defense (NE) along with the Steelers for 2017 and the Pats got smoked here. Did they really?
I would argue their secondary shut down the Chiefs most of this game. Tyreek was contained much of the game until the lightning strike…which is just what he does. The Hunt miracle pass was not the DBs' fault. Take away the two lightning strikes and Alex Smith has 205 yards passing otherwise…i.e. his normal game.
The problem the Patriots had was their run defense. They got blown off the line and Hunt was free to run untouched for yards before meeting first contact. They had Hunt semi under control for the most part until it seemed like the whole team rolled over after the Chiefs took the lead back in the 4th quarter. It was probably the worst energy/effort I've seen THIS Patriots team play with in all my years following the game.
Three things are coming to help the Pats D…
1: The Patriots are going add a D-Lineman cast-off from some other team, like they always do, and help plug up the D-Line.
2: Elandon Roberts will start playing more as a run-stopper at linebacker and David Harris will disappear, and Roberts will be a nice IDP stash for when he is 'the man' later this season and into the future.
3: Safety Jordan Richards (4 tackles, 1 FF) is going to become a player. I noticed him in the preseason and wrote about him – he looks terrific. A great run-stopper.
If the Patriots plug the run better, don’t face Tyreek, and don’t give up miracle bombs to RBs…they'll be fine. They have a great secondary that was terrific in this game, which is odd to say in a 42-point/350+ passing yards allowed event…but it's true.
-- Picking up Danny Amendola (6-100-0/7) off waivers the day Cam Meredith and Julian Edelman got dueling ACL tears looked pretty bright until he took a blow to the head and I was reminded that Danny Amendola is made of glass…and can’t go more than three quarters of football without an injury.
Edelman out. Amendola…if he's out. Who would fill this role? Rex Burkhead is the obvious choice. Actually, the obvious choice will be standing across the sidelines next week – the Patriots never should have cut Austin Carr. The more Amendola's hurt…the more re-ignited I get about Burkhead fulfilling my prediction of potential Edelman handcuffs.
-- Brandin Cooks (3-88-0/7) had kind of a quiet game, given what we all expected. Consider he lost maybe 50–100+ yards and a TD in P.I.'s on him, so it could have been different. He was tracking an end zone ball and got hit working for the ball, but there was a play where he torched the DB and all the DB could do was grab him mid-route or it would have been a 50+ yard TD.
What I don’t get is why Chris Hogan had three handoffs in the first half and Cooks had none. It makes absolutely no sense. I don’t get why and how the Patriots were attacking the Chiefs. The Pats deserved to lose, and the 3–0 Hogan advantage carrying the ball over Cooks is a shining example. It doesn’t matter how clever the thought was behind it…Chris Hogan is not built to run end-arounds.
-- Rob Gronkowski (2-33-0/6) had a weak game, but again – that was a TD catch that should have never been overruled. Regardless, that play was the reason why Gronk had issues in this game.
I think Gronk may have injured his Barry Bonds arm brace arm on that play. He dove for the catch on the TD-not-TD and landed on it hard. That didn’t matter to me until I saw him get up gingerly. Celebrate with his right hand while keeping his left one oddly low. Watching him the rest of the game I saw him protecting his arm…missing blocks trying to use one arm up (and one down).
It would be smart for Gronk to play through it and just tell Brady and be a decoy. Eventually, the news will come out. I don’t think this was an Eric Berry thing…it was Daniel Sorensen some and Berry but more Gronk's arm may not be good.
Speaking of which…if Eric Berry (7 tackles, 1 TFL) is done for the year/many games, then stock up for my IDP love Daniel Sorensen (3 tackles).
-- OK, Tyreek Hill (7-133-1/8, 2-5-0)…
You know why this was an encouraging game, beyond the obvious? This was below my expectations of how Hill would be used. I expected Andy Reid to do just this in Week 1 – use Hill as a decoy…because the NFL absolutely loves trying to be deceptive with running Chris Hogan while Brandin Cooks gets nothing…it was so clever, but it didn’t work…AT ALL. So, Hill was a decoy on fake handoffs so that Travis Kelce (the most overrated tight end in the NFL now) could run shuffle passes?
If the defense expects Hill to get the ball and he does…so what! He's so good he might run past them. Travis Kelce isn't. It’s why I might throw all my love to Mike Tomlin and the Steelers. Who doesn’t know Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are getting the ball...yet, no one ever stops them. Take your chances with the ball in the hands of known producers, not Chris Hogan end-arounds and Travis Kelce wishbone plays.
This game was the worst-case scenario for Hill and he still had 7 catches…4 catches and 50 yards at the half. He also left mid-4th with a cramp or he might have added more to his tally. This was poor usage of Hill by the team…which meant 8 targets and 2 carries…7 catches…9 touches. It's going to get better from here I think…when KC doesn’t have 6 months to overplan decoy plays for their opponents. Facing Bill Belichick makes teams do things they wouldn’t normally try…psyched out by Belichick.
Hill caught 7 passes in a game where they didn’t try to force it to him – that's a great sign.
Sorry, football experts who lamented how bad Hill looked in the preseason, and assigning him 'drops' that weren’t real, and whining about how he was not a #1 WR so, therefore, he was no good…Hill didn’t drop any passes, made a few tough catches, and is sadly not a classic #1 WR…he's just the most dangerous player in the NFL aside from David Johnson.
Within this theory of mine on the bigger NFL picture with Hill…the countdown to teams copycatting it more and more is on. Chicago…Tarik Cohen…John Fox…I'm looking at you. You too Curtis Samuel.
Snap Counts of Interest:
43 = James White
24 = Gillislee
10 = Burkhead
6 = Dion Lewis
69 = Kyle Van Noy (100% of the defensive snaps)
45 = Patrick Chung
42 = Jordan Richards
40 = Kareem Hunt
24 = Charcandrick West
48 = Daniel Sorensen