I'm going back through some team notes from games last season, and in the following/current year I like to pick a few teams and post all their game recaps in order and make a few, quick new year/season observations -- and it gives us some spring/summer reading material when football news is slow.
The first team I selected to post from 2018 season -- the Kansas City Chiefs (see all on FFM). The second team we're going to walk through -- the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns are wildly interesting...now. It's interesting to go back and walk through the season, because it was so sad to start...because they almost beat PIT-NO right out of the gates, but Hue Hue'd it all up and his rightful punishment was soon to come. Then, just when it looked like they would fall with lovable sociopath Gregg Williams at the interim helm...the Browns became a real team, and almost got themselves into the playoffs -- they would have won 10 games and made the playoffs had the Browns canned Hue after the 2017 season and started Baker from day-one, as I probably pointed out over/under a hundred times in the game recaps all last season. So, let's re-look at the Cleveland Browns' wild 2018 campaign.
Now, enjoy the game where the Browns and my-handicapping-self nearly pulled off a 2018 season ending miracle, but both our dreams were dashed in the end...but I have to say I loved the thrill ride of this Week 17...
2018 Week 17 Dynasty-Fantasy Analysis: Browns v. Ravens
My first Week 17 recap, and I’m choosing this one first for a variety of reasons. (1) Perhaps, the second most enjoyable game to watch of this season (nothing will EVER beat Week 11 MNF Chiefs v. Rams). (2) Part of the emotions of watching this game was heartbreak – this game was the last domino to fall in a total collapse of lost opportunity in Week 17 for me as a bettor. Let me explain…
I entered Week 17 Sunday having an OK betting season in general. Good over/under win totals paying off, individual player prop bets hit, and an up and down game-by-game betting season. Overall, a net positive, just not off-the-charts. However, HAD things fallen my way in Week 17…it could have been one of the most successful seasons ever.
I needed Houston to lose and Indy to win…to nail that 20-to-1 bet in Week 5 on the (at the time) one-win Colts to win the AFC South.
I needed the Bengals to beat the Steelers to get my final big ‘over’ win total bet in the barn…Cincy ‘over’ 6.5 wins.
I play in a no-spread/straight up pick ‘em contest back at my old company (a big company) – pick every game, every week, all season and the one with the most wins for the season gets a prize pool of entry fees. It’s a pool that’s been running for maybe 10+ years now. I had been studying football in my off time when I started playing in that pool, so I should have had the advantage over football ‘commoners’. And then once I left the company to do football full-time, I stayed in the pool. It should be a layup to win every year for a football genius such myself. Like 10+ years of playing, and I’ve never won the season long contest. I have finished like 2nd or 3rd overall for about 5+ years running...but could never get to #1. I have led going into Week 17 only to lose because of crazy Week 17 activity. I have had chances to pass the leader in Week 17…and I can never pull it off. It’s my white whale.
Jacksonville was hanging with Houston for a bit, but then that started sliding away Sunday…and ruined my possible big win on the Indy bet. I figured that the Texans would win, but I kept up hope…until it was beat out of me by Blake Bortles.
Then, in the afternoon ET games, the Bengals were outplaying the Steelers and looked like they had the big upset…only to blow it late – good-bye 6.5 wins beat on Cincy.
Just as the Bengals blew it…the Browns started coming back against the Ravens. In that office pool, it was down to me and the top person – their Baltimore, my Cleveland. A gutsy pick by me of the Browns without the spread, but I needed to close the gap on the leader (down 2 wins entering Week 17)…and I had closed it with Detroit and Chicago wins against the grain…and it was down to CLE-BAL. We know how that turned out.
I lost all my key games Sunday – Houston not losing, the Bengals blowing it, and then the Browns. However, honestly, I felt blessed after the Browns lost. The Indy call was maybe my best call of the year given the time of the year…just fell one game short. Cincy almost pulled the upset…but I had already locked in the Bears and Saints win total ‘overs’ for 2018, so a net positive on the over/under betting anyway. I put myself in position to win that office pool yet again…and I just missed. At least, I had a chance. At least, I was in position. At least, I got to watch the games Week 17 with some real energy and hope.
I want to win every bet, but when you realize that’s impossible/silly thinking…I can look over the entire season and consider that there’s beauty in ALWAYS getting close and winning a fair share but losing some – I’d rather love hard and lose than never love at all. I’d rather always be in the fantasy playoffs, legit expecting to be in fantasy title games then be the guy I used to be 10+ years ago…randomly making the FF playoffs or not…and then forget about it with the FF title game appearances – they were like Haley’s comet for me. Now, after a decade of study and analysis, if I don’t make the fantasy finals year-after-year, or 2-of-last-3 or 3-of-last 5 then I’m mystified/pissed. I’ve gone from random/fleeting hope in fantasy and betting to legit/not arrogant expecting to win (because that’s what I’ve been doing a lot of)…that’s all I could ask for (besides winning everything all the time…haven’t gotten there…yet).
As much as I hate losing an inch from the goal line, I need to step back and assess what I’ve done (and many of you long term subscribers have done) the past few years. Constant fantasy playoff runs, high scoring in fantasy explosion this year, many title appearances, back-to-back titles, a huge Blazing Five/betting season in 2017, and always ‘in it’ in that stupid office pool. 10 years ago, it was random luck if I had a good anything season in football. Now, I’m a bit of a spoiled brat – expecting success…because it’s been a success over the years recently. We’ve arrived at this new world of high expectations, like the Patriots…so even when I take a loss near the finish line, I have to respect how great a ride it has become. Take some consolation in that for those of us with surreal fantasy teams all season that fell short in the playoffs…those that have been with me for years – how great is it to now be a snob going into any given football season? High expectations driven by reality of results over the years. There’s a beauty in that even if we get bumped right at the very end.
It’s like once you fly first class or stay in nice hotels…you can’t go back to lower class hotels and flying coach sucks. I still have to…but I hate it because I’ve been on the other side occasionally. Once I started getting invites to watch games (football or basketball or baseball) in box seats, etc., then when I went to a game in general seating after that – I complained. Many years ago, I would have killed for any ticket to a sporting event. Now, my first question is – what kind of seats are we talking? Some would say, “Snob.” I say, when you taste greatness…you don’t want to go back. You yearn for more greatness – and that’s how I look at Fantasy Football Metrics. I don’t want to go back to being random fantasy playoff appearance guy. I don’t want to be random guesser on weekly waivers. Success (domination) is fun when it happens over and over. Greed is good. High expectations from a reality of results over time is a blessing. Occasionally, we’ll take a tough loss near the goal line.
With all that said, I was watching this Browns-Ravens game super close for the interest in the game…but also with that office pool on the line. I have to say, it was one of the best game experiences for me all year…I say 2nd-best watch of the year.
The Ravens needed to win for the playoffs/division title. The Browns just out there proving everyone wrong week after week. Baltimore jumped ahead 3-0, but then Baker Mayfield struck right back to take a 7-3 lead. Then the Ravens just pounded the ground game and couldn’t be stopped…taking a 20-7 lead at the half. It was almost 27-7 Baltimore, but Lamar Jackson leapt up on a goal line TD attempt, extended the ball to the goal line and had the ball batted away. It was ruled a TD. Cleveland picked up the batted ball and was taking it back for a TD when the whistles blew for the TD. Upon further review…Jackson was a centimeter short – no TD for Baltimore, but no return TD for Cleveland either. It was that kinda game of inches.
Mayfield came out after that and hit Jarvis Landry with what would have been an easy 93-yard TD…but Landry mistimed the wide open throw on the money, the ball hitting his face mask and falling incomplete…like I said, it was that kind of game.
Eventually, Mayfield did start throwing more TD strikes and got the team to down 26-24 with 1:49 left. Baker got the team to the Baltimore 40 with 1:18 left…three plays to get into FG range and win this game. I was starting to count that office pool money. Alas, four-and-out for the Browns at that point -- and the Ravens survived. An exhilarating finish, especially considering the Steelers teams and fans were watching it on the jumbotron at their stadium…watching their hearts break. My heart broke for my office pool.
What a game…what a finish for Cleveland – the Browns would have won the AFC North going away this season had Baker started Week 1 and anyone but Hue coaching. Don’t worry Browns’ fans – you have many years of AFC North dominance coming.
May 2019 Notes: I kinda forgot about all this, but enjoyed reliving it. That was a helluva Week 17, and it went all wrong for me, as a bettor...but I've never enjoyed a Week 17 so much.
Fantasy Player Notes…
-- So, Baker Mayfield (23-42 for 376 yards, 3 TDs/3 INTs) sets the rookie passing TD record in a season…despite not starting the first three games…despite having mostly low-grade WRs to work with…and going through a coaching change. That’s how special he is. Had he started day one with decent WRs and anything but Hue – he would’ve broken every rookie QB record they had.
23 TD passes his final 10 games started in 2018…2.3 per game.
He is your alternative to not having Patrick Mahomes in dynasty…in 2019 redrafts. I would argue he’s better than Mahomes, but I’m not sure what coach he’ll be stuck with and what WRs they will add next year to debate between them for 2019.
Mahomes and Mayfield are potentially the two greatest QBs any of us will see in our lifetimes. Looking at the 2019 NFL Draft QB prospects…there are no Mahomes or Mayfield-like guys that I’ve seen so far. Jared Goff is very good, he’s not in either of these guy’s class. Mitchell Trubisky has more physical tools than either, and I’ve seen him have better passer skills…eventually Trubisky could get up in their class but he has more baking in the oven to do – he wasn’t groomed and developed in college like Mahomes-Mayfield. He’s not ready for greatness yet.
Mayfield and Mahomes…the ’Bird and Magic’ (NBA) era of the NFL coming.
If Kliff Kingsbury is not an NFL head coach in 2019, then I don’t know what we’re doing – he recruited/had Mayfield, Mahomes, and Davis Webb on his Texas Tech roster at one time. Jim Caldwell sure is getting a lot of interviews, however.
How valuable Mayfield is for fantasy 2019+ is tied to what coach they give him. We’ll see if he gets a sad retread like Mike McCarthy or if the Browns do something radical.
May 2019 Notes: Well, I called the Kingsbury thing...but I was just joking then. Mayfield got HIS guy as well. What a 2019 we're in for with the young elite QBs...
-- Mayfield’s gritty performance and near upset overshadows the fact that rookie QB Lamar Jackson (14-24 for 179 yards, 0 TD/0 INT, 20-90-2) just walked into the league and was thrown into starting midseason for a team on a losing streak that was about to go down for the count and fire it’s entire coaching staff at year’s end – instead LJax walks in and wins six of 7 and every Ravens coach is considered a genius.
2018 was the biggest proof positive the NFL is about player talent and the QB, and that coaching does not matter…except for when it interferes with the talent being the talent.
The offseason will see much more media and fan love and respect for Lamar Jackson over Baker Mayfield…I’d bet everything I have on it. The NFL loves its runners and run games and is afraid of an unseemly Mayfield being so good and not taking any establishment crap. It’s why Deshaun Watson was the #1 ranked QB for fantasy for much of the summer of 2018, while Goff-Trubisky were not even ranked as redraft-able.
Lamar Jackson is figure-out-able. There will come a day when Jackson’s value starts to plummet, where his passer deficiencies cost him and the team. He should be the fantasy QB everyone is frightened of for the future…frightened that he will get hurt (as the runners tend to do) and/or that his passing skills will catch up to him (as the running QBs tend to have happen). The experts won’t fear it, they’ll embrace it – and they will talk about how risky Mayfield is…that he can’t repeat such a season.
May 2019 Notes: I would have lost everything I had on LJax getting more heat than Mayfield in the media this offseason. However, t\is offseason started with Mayfield as a QB2 for fantasy and a lot of Lamar excitement, but once the Browns acquired OBJ...everyone magically discovered Mayfield was good. I'm not sure how it happens like that...or how it makes any sense, but it is what it is.
-- The Ravens ran all over the Browns…296 yards rushing total. At certain points it appeared that the Browns could not stop the run attack no matter what they did…it was 5-10-20+ yards at a clip given up mid-game. In the second half they over-committed to the run and held Baltimore to two FGs.
The Ravens run game with Jackson has been so impressive…it leaves the fantasy question: Gus Edwards (12-76-0) or Kenneth Dixon (12-117-0, 1-2-0/1) as the RB to own? The answer is neither.
As is the case with most NFL teams, the lack of planning is breathtaking. Baltimore drafted Jackson…the head coach had never run/had experience with a spread offense. They drafted Jackson and then drafted and acquired things to support Joe Flacco. This year, this draft – the Ravens will go get a higher-end RB to roll with this offense…and when they do, watch out.
They cannot rely on Kenneth Dixon – he’s hurt or suspended every year. Gus Edwards is nice but is a limited UDFA talent that was in the right place at the right time. If Baltimore adds a dynamic, spread-experienced RB…that RB could be an RB1 in 2019, he could be the 1.01 for dynasty rookie drafts.
May 2019 Notes: Cue the signing of Mark Ingram and drafting of Justice Hill...
-- I knew Mayfield was going get Breshad Perriman (3-45-1/4) a TD against his old team, that cut him, in this game. The first score for the Browns…a 28-yard strike to Perriman.
Perriman looked promising his entire Browns run, which makes you wonder what the Ravens were doing to him. He looked totally different in Cleveland. If Perriman gets close to him promise coming out of college, then what a find for the Browns.
I’m assuming the Browns will draft a top-flight WR if they can…weapons to add to Mayfield. The only sure skill position starters for the Browns next year are Chubb-Landry-Njoku. When paired with Mayfield…Chubb has RB1 written all over him and Njoku is a middle-of-the-pack TE1 by proxy of Mayfield.
Landry? He’s not that good, but he’s fine. We’ll have to see what they add. Mayfield doesn’t lean on any WR – he throws to who is open at that moment. Landry has the inside track, but I don’t know if any WR will be a WR1 with Baker, more than he’ll create a bunch of WR2s.
May 2019 Notes: I guess the Browns smartly traded for that top-flight #1 WR...
-- Myles Garrett (1 tackles, 1.0 sack) finished 2018 7th in sacks in the NFL with 13.5, a solid season…but I expected more from him. He was very good, but I thought guys like Frank Clark/SEA and Chris Jones/KC were dominating as pass rushers in the NFL, among others. A new coach in 2019 may unlock Garrett further…or he’ll just always be ‘really good’, not great.
I really expected Emmanuel Ogbah (3 tackles, 1 PD) to flourish opposite of Garrett but he was a ghost – 3.0 sacks and 3.0 TFLs on the season. There was no sign of a bookend pass rush gods. Ogbah played the run well and batted down a bunch of passes, but he did not create a ton of QB pressure…just 8 QB hits in 2018. As a rookie, in 2016, Ogbah had 16 QB hits. It may just be scheme and his role.
May 2019 Notes: Perhaps, Ogbah will find success in KC...
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