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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...
--Here's one that's cute...way back in Week 1 of the 2017 when I still thought the Giants were a decent football team. I was so adorable back then. I think it took me another week to realize the Giants were in full scale collapse for 2017.--
One of the reasons why I've been so brazen in proclaiming Dallas as the next Super Bowl winner all year was because I felt that everyone is overlooking all the incredible personnel moves they've made to upgrade their defense.
While most teams are listening to football analysts who do nothing but tout 'Alabama' and 'LSU' and 'Clemson' and 'Ohio State' players as the only things worthy to come away from in the NFL Draft, the Cowboys are building a war machine right under everyone's noses – a war machine built on players most analysts overlooked, undervalued, or didn't know existed. I can put myself in that camp on some of them – I didn't get what they were doing with a few of their middle and later round picks at first, but because Dallas is the New England Patriots of drafting, I go back and take a deeper look at their picks that my analytics aren't catching. More times than not, when I've gone through the tape, I see some of what Dallas must be seeing. Dallas is building with talent/depth at the non-sexy positions – offensive line, defensive line, and defensive secondary.
Everyone in the football world said the same thing this past week leading up to this game – we should all be nervous about Dallas's young secondary. Oh, and Dallas doesn't have a pass rush. What the pundits didn't know, because they do not take this as seriously as the job requires, because no one holds them accountable, is that Dallas has acquired incredible talent and depth for their pass rush and their secondary – it's just filled with guys most football analysts didn't have on their talking points; among their 1-3 defensive players they actually know from each team. They know Sean Lee is a good linebacker and they know they're supposed to love Jaylen Smith…and Greg Hardy used to be on the team and that's bad. That's about the extent of their Dallas defensive knowledge.
I can already guess what the football people are going to say this week – they'll apologize profusely and tell you that they missed it on the Dallas defense and that they're going back to the drawing board to study some more. Ummm…no, they won’t do that. Let me guess… They're going to blame this on Odell Beckham not being active. They're going to blame it on Brandon Marshall being old. They're going to blame it on the Giants offensive line. They're going to blame it on the Giants' coach. They're going to question whether Eli has it anymore. The northeast football media contingency sees this Monday Night game as a Giants loss not a Dallas win.
That's OK, you know differently if you've been following me this summer…when we first predicted that the Cowboys would win the Super Bowl (over the Chiefs).
I'm not ready to fully jump off a cliff with the Dallas defense because we do have to take in the consideration that OBJ did not play. We have to know that the Giants have the worst to run a game plan outside of Washington in the NFL. It wasn't like Dallas was playing Aaron Rodgers. However, for the task set in front of them – they did what they had to do…if they're a top notch defensive unit -- squash the Giants offense in a home opener. They did.
I can already feel it – one of the best bets for Week 2, and I haven't even looked at the lines yet typing this -- it's going to be to take the Giants over the Lions. Everyone's going to be down on the Giants because they're looking at this Week 1 game with the Giants colored glasses on. The Giants are really a quality football team…they just happened to play a great football team at their home stadium, and they were missing their most explosive player…and the Lions got a Week 1 bump from beating a pathetic Arizona team…a Cardinals team the media loves – so Detroit's going to get the love and the Giants will get hate. The perfect reversal bet for Week 2 against the media.
*After I typed all the above sections earlier in the day, I came across several media reports on this game from Colin Cowherd down…and I love Colin, but good Lord is he starting to miss things in football. He spent the bulk of his show nailing Eli Manning's coffin shut. He got Peter King and Jimmy Johnson to agree there are all kinds of issues with the Giants…and the basis for all the issues was "They got manhandled by Dallas (of all defenses)!"
The media does not see the Dallas defense coming on so they will sway the public with their bias – which is going to move the betting line against NYG this week. I'm going to go look at it now (pause)…Giants -5.0 is the early line over Detroit. Hmmm…that's bigger than I thought. I’d wait for that line to drop to -4.0 or even -3.5. Let New York and northeast sports media help drive the public's confidence in the Giants down.
**2018 Comment: The line did fall to 3.0...and the Giants got their asses kicked anyway, 24-10.**
**2018 Comment: Dallas's DST was #13 in FF scoring in 2017...top 12/DST1 in the game where Sean Lee played...and a disaster when not.**
Fantasy player notes…
-- I'm going to start with discussing one of the players who was captivated my heart this preseason – Evan Engram (4-44-0/5). A guy I was very skeptical could transition into a real NFL tight end. I thought his fantasy value would come from him being more of a wide receiver labeled a tight end, but I didn't think he had the toughness or build to be a legit NFL tight end. I also questioned whether the Giants would really push him as a weapon in the offense, wondering if he'd only get scraps for targets.
I was wrong every account of Engram. I assumed the worst, especially on the Giants usage/plans, but I could see quickly in the preseason I needed to change that position fast. Engram was being used like a legit weapon. But more impressively he added several pounds of muscle – he looks more like a legit tight end. I never saw him throw a block in any game in college last year. He just ran receiver like routes. Even when he tried to throw a block he seemingly whiffed them most every time. In this game, Engram blocked well enough to be plausible on the line, which adds to the deception of him firing off and going out for passes. If Eli had wanted, Engram could've doubled his catch count because he's open on most every play…because he's uncoverable by linebackers (except Ryan Shazier).
I've been preaching it for several weeks now…over-correcting my mixed bag thoughts on Engram heading to the pros – you are looking at one of the future elite Fantasy tight ends…and the future is at your doorstep right now.
My message is to you dynasty owners out there, especially. There will probably be a few ups and downs, like there is with any fantasy TE, and what you would expect of a rookie. But sometime this year and especially 2018+…you're going to regret not having locked him up when the prices were more reasonable. There will probably be other windows than this, but I don't know for sure. I'm falling in love so much I don't want to risk missing out. In the immortal words of Billy Crystal in "When Harry Met Sally" – https://youtu.be/1PkhMgPC2ZM
Evan Engram was not overheated in value all summer or in the preseason. He wasn't hated, but he wasn't Christian McCaffrey. People had hope for Engram, but mostly they did the rookie tight end thing (they're NEVER good in fantasy). Just when it looked like his value would stay suppressed, just in the past week -- the collective media got it in their minds that Engram was now a great sleeper. If OBJ was out maybe Engram would have a big debut. His FF value began to rise... maybe not coincidentally as I started going bonkers for him in public writing a few weeks prior. There was a little fervor going on for Engram leading into this game, but then he didn't have a moment here…his debut was fairly benign. As Beckham returns, it takes away the Engram narrative as well. His value will drop a little this week. It won't be easy to make a move for him, as there's been a lot of sleeper chatter, but he's not an untouchable for people in your league unlike Christian McCaffrey or Kareem Hunt.
My advice to you is to go get Engram. Don't mention his name up front or your trade partner will get rookie jitters that you know something they don't. Somehow find your way to back into a fair deal for Engram. As Gronk may have a left arm injury he's hiding, and Jordan Reed plays with a fractured toe, and as Jimmy Graham goes through the motions until free agency…there's like nothing of value at tight end for the future – except Evan Engram, and we'll see if O.J. Howard can overcome 'Tampa/Winston'. Your 2018-2019-2020 FFM title teams are going to have Evan Engram as the starting tight end. When you realize the tight end you want to spend the rest of your fantasy life with, the rest of your life needs to start right now…if feasible and economical.
-- I don't know how many more times I'm going to have to say this – but Dez Bryant (2-43-0/9) is one of the biggest frauds in the NFL right now. Every week, all he does is re-prove my thesis on him for the past two years… He got the big money and now he doesn't care. Oh, he likes the NFL lifestyle and attention – just not enough to put a ton of energy into being the best he can be. He's not going to reach out for passes over the middle. He's not going to run crisp routes. He's going to go deep down the sidelines where he can be assured to NOT get his head taken off…where Dak can throw him the ball so he can try to safely outleap or outmuscle a defender. The worst outcome of 'bombs only, please' is he doesn't make the catch and we move onto the next play. Rarely/never will he get his head taken off on 50-yard bombs down the sidelines. No more bubble screens and no more slants…and no more 'shine boxes' for Dez. He's 'better than that now'…you've been away a long time, maybe you hadn't heard (that's the first of many Good fellas references among the game recaps this year!)? It's just a waste of time because he's not going to give max effort anymore…just sporadically, maybe.
Dez Bryant is no longer a WR1, and he hasn't been for a while. He should be with Dak but the effort is not there and I think Dak knows that better than anyone else. Dak uses him as he needs to or as he has no alternative. Why Dak is great it's because most young quarterbacks would force it to the loudmouth star for fear of the locker room or whatever. Dak doesn't play that game. So Dez is just an ineffective WR2 who makes WR1 catches every now and again.
Dez still has the physical talent of a star, he just doesn't have the heart or effort of one anymore. It's the one thing that could cost the Cowboys Super Bowl – Dallas doesn't have any WRs opposing defenses have to fear…so, they can creep up to the line of scrimmage and jam the box more and more.
I really watched Dez versus Janoris Jenkins the two times last year in preparation for our 2017 draft guide, just watching how pathetic Dez was in those games. I wanted to see if maybe it was more miss fired passes…it wasn't, it's Dez. What did we see in this game - the same exact thing as last year…Janoris Jenkins owns Dez Bryant. Their last 3 games facing each other: Dez has 4 catches on 23 targets…playing with one of the most accurate passers in all of football.
The Josh Norman commercial showing Dez Bryant with sticks of butter for hands has a lot more reality than just a cheap joke. Norman could have used OBJ or Julio or anyone else he's shut down before as a butt for that joke…he used Dez. Telling.
-- Does Dez's downfall reduce Dak Prescott's (24-39 for 268 yards, 1 TD/0 INT) fantasy outlook for 2017? Well, it doesn't help.
Honestly, I don't think Dak is all that affected by Dez…or you would've seen it last year. Dak uses Dez as a decoy because Dak is a brilliant quarterback. Dak isn't the best quarterback in the NFL, but he's really good and really smart. I also consider that Dallas will probably wake up to this reality as well and make a move via trade when the time comes midseason. Dak can be a QB1 as-is, but not a top three stud QB for fantasy – not until he gets a new 1-2 punch at WR to work with.
-- Last week, I predicted that the Giants Week 4 preseason game was a harbinger of things to come because they were working Orleans Darkwa (3-14-0) and Shane Vereen (9-51-0/10) as a 1-2 punch in a game usually reserved for future-to-be-cut guys. I believe they were getting the duo ready to take over for Paul Perkins, and I quipped that it may come as soon as halftime of Week 1.
Ta Da…halftime of Week 1, Orleans Darkwa started…and Perkins played sparingly.
Darkwa is the more likely runner of the ball and the goal line guy if you're looking for that kind of thing. If you want to squat on a flyer or be cool to get 10+ carries a game and maybe score 5+ TDs this year… pickup Darkwa ahead of the crowd this week.
Shane Vereen will likely be 3-7 carries a game and most of the RB targets out of the backfield. Sometimes that means Vereen will get two catches in a game…or sometimes it means nine like in this game -- with the Giants down and Eli is just dumping passes to move the team down the field against the prevent defense.
Paul Perkins is essentially done as the Giants starter, and he should've never been in the first place as I said from day one last year... and all this preseason. We make a lot of great FF calls but always lost among them are the player's people paid up for that we had you avoid.
-- IDP analyst JWolfe was early on LB B.J. Goodson (18 tackles, 1 TFL) and that paid off right away. He's a good linebacker who played a team running up the middle/at him a lot.
-- Demarcus Lawrence (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFLs) is back and obviously has no rust. An overlooked the Cowboys have no pass rushers' guy who will push 10+ sacks this season.
-- What's wrong with Brandon Marshall (1-10-0/4)…is it over? It may be, I was never a fan for 2017…but once again we overlook Dallas has a great secondary and Anthony Brown (1 tackles, 1 PD) worked him some…and Brown is a potential Pro Bowl talent operating in anonymity to the highly-paid football analysts.