2016 CFP National Championship Roundtable

Greetings, sports fans! The moment has finally arrived. We have the two best teams going at it, Alabama and Clemson, in what should hopefully be an exciting matchup. Below, writers Christopher Paschal, Brian Peel, Peter Rosston, Geoffrey Hammersley and I discuss various topics surrounding this game and give our predictions. Enjoy!

1. Is this the championship game that you predicted before the season began?

Christopher: I never made any official predictions, but I was pretty confident Clemson would be here. My other pick was Ohio State. I thought that the Buckeyes had an easy enough schedule and enough talent to make it. Their loss to Michigan State was a surprise to me. And honestly, I believe Ohio State would have played a much better game against Alabama than the Spartans did. It certainly would have been tough to play a worse one. That being said, I’m not at all surprised that Alabama made it. The loss against Ole Miss made things interesting, but an early loss is always better than a late one.

Brian: I don’t think anyone really predicted an Alabama-Clemson National Championship in the preseason mostly because Clemson came into the year ranked 12th in both the AP and coaches polls. Clemson has defied almost everyone’s expectations all year such as last week when they were an underdog to Oklahoma according to Las Vegas, and we know how that turned out. Alabama of course is always a popular pick to go all the way and even after their early season hiccup against Ole Miss, there was very little doubt they would be playing for their third championship in five seasons. So no, I certainly didn’t predict this would be the National Championship matchup, but I think few can argue against this being the best game we could have gotten.   

Peter: My short answer is no, this is not the game I predicted, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who saw this game coming. On the other hand, if you had told me at the beginning of the season that these two teams would be playing for the National Championship, I would not have called you crazy. Coming into the season, Alabama and Ohio State were the popular picks to make it, and honestly, I’m a little shocked that Ohio State didn’t even end up in the Playoff given the immense amount of talent they had. Coaching goes a long way in college football, and Saban and Swinney are two of the best out there, so with the teams they have, it’s not a surprise that they are coaching on Monday for a National Championship

Geoffrey: I thought Alabama was going to make it back to the championship game, but I didn’t expect Clemson to be joining the Crimson Tide in Phoenix. If anything, Ohio State was my viable candidate to be in the championship game against Alabama. However, after watching the Buckeyes go through the motions for 10 weeks, and then get upended by Michigan State in late November, I’m not surprised they didn’t get to the playoff. I thought Oklahoma and Michigan State were playoff teams – but didn’t expect both of them to get rolled in their respective games.

2. Has Clemson earned enough respect to be taken seriously as a national contender for now and in the future?

Christopher: I still can’t figure out why no one believes in Clemson. Being undefeated is no small feat. They have possibly the best athlete in the country under center in Deshaun Watson, along with great playmakers around him on offense and a solid defense. What is it going to take for people to take Clemson seriously? They have wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina, and a thrashing of Oklahoma (who was the favorite in that game). There’s not much more you can do to prove your case. To me, they should be among the most feared programs in the country by now.

Brian: All year long Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has been making it clear that the idea of “Clemsoning” or the Tigers choking in a big game is a thing of the past. Well Clemson will be playing for the National Championship on Monday, they are undefeated, and have beaten some of the most storied programs in college football in 2015…yeah I think they have earned enough respect. The most important thing Swinney has done to take Clemson to the next level is recruit. The Tigers are now built like an SEC team on both lines and with a seemingly endless supply of skill players combined with maybe the best player in the country in Deshaun Watson, Clemson is here to stay for the long haul.

Peter: Clemson is absolutely set up to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Although this is really their first time on the national stage, they have won at least 10 games in every season since 2011. During that time, they were playing second-fiddle to Florida State, so no one ever really paid attention to them. Early this season, people were complaining that the only reason they were undefeated was their level of competition was low and many thought they would end up like last year’s Florida State. However, wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina and most recently Oklahoma, the Football Power Index favorite to win it all, have appeared to change people’s opinions of Clemson. As for the future, Clemson has a Top 10 recruiting class coming in next year. Don’t sleep on the Tigers, they are for real.

Geoffrey: That’s a good question. They beat Notre Dame in a hurricane-esque rain, and cruised their way past the ACC. On a seriousness scale, I would put them at a solid 7/10 – with 10 being most serious. I feel as if the Clemson debate this year is a lot like the Florida State debate held last year. Beat ‘Bama and I’ll take them seriously from here on out. If anything, they have to hang with Alabama if they want to stay in the national title conversation for next year.

David: I believe that they have. One of the biggest criticisms that the Clemson Tigers had faced in the past was that they lost games they absolutely had no business losing. For example, in 2013, they were the third-ranked team and were playing the fifth-ranked Florida State Seminoles. The game was played in Clemson’s home stadium, Memorial Stadium. Not only did Clemson lose, they got destroyed in their own house by a score of 51-14. Now with that said, that is in the past and Clemson is a completely different team now. They beat four Top 10 teams this year and have not lost to an unranked team since 2011. Clemson has earned my respect and I hope that they have earned everybody else’s as well.

3. Do you believe that there’s a chance Nick Saban moves on from Alabama if his team wins?

Christopher: In short, no. Nick Saban is Alabama and Alabama is Nick Saban. He already tried moving to the NFL and it didn’t go very well. He’s better suited for college football, and I don’t see him wanting to move to another school. He is firmly rooted at Alabama, always in national title contention. There’s not another school out there with an open position where he could immediately have the same success. He’s living the good life right now, why change things?

Brian: This conversation comes up every year and every year it is the same result. No, I don’t think there is any chance Nick Saban will move on to the NFL despite how immensely successful he has been at the college level. Saban recently said how making a move to another team, be that NFL or college, is not just about him but about his family as well. Now I know coaches say stuff like this all the time, but Saban isn’t exactly a young, up-and-coming coach an
ymore. He will be 65 in October and has laid his roots down in Tuscaloosa probably for the rest of his career. Not to mention, Saban’s dictatorship style of coaching doesn’t really fly in the NFL when you are dealing with adults that have been playing the game for almost their entire lives. Just look at what has happened with Chip Kelly.  

Peter: I would be shocked if Nick Saban left for the NFL. In two seasons with the Dolphins, Saban finished with a 15-17 record before returning to college football to coach in Tuscaloosa. If Saban chose to go, many NFL teams would clamor for his help, but there would still be uncertainty. He would take over a subpar team and be forced to rebuild, a process that he has never really been forced to go through. By staying in Alabama, Saban knows he will have strong job security and top recruits will still come filing in to load his roster with talent. Remember, Saban did not get fired from the Dolphins, he chose college football over the NFL, and I don’t see him changing his mind given his three (potentially four) titles in seven years.

Geoffrey: The Nick Saban leaving window was shut after the annihilation of Michigan State. If he would’ve lost that game, then I could see the delusion of the fan base wanting him out. Now, Saban controls when he leaves. What he has done for Alabama is nothing short of remarkable, and I can’t see him leaving a place where he has helped lead to four championship games in a decade.

David: I do not think there is. I know that’s widely speculated, but let’s face it; Nick Saban is Alabama football. He is everything that epitomizes the culture of that football team. Let’s not forget the fact that his first stint in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins did not turn out so well. Obviously, there are coaches who get another chance in the NFL and make the most of it, like Pete Carroll. However, Nick Saban is a much better fit for college because he is a control freak. Everything has to be done his way. That is the thing about college sports. You do not have to worry about star players calling the shots. Because of that, you have a lot of free reign over your team when it comes to decision making, who makes the roster, and who has to sit out a game.

4. What are the keys to victory for each team?

Christopher: For Clemson, the obvious answer is to stop Derrick Henry. Bama’s gameplan revolves around feeding Henry the ball. By stopping him, they can force Jake Coker to win the game with his arm, something I’m not sure he’s fully comfortable doing. Clemson also has the 5th ranked passing defense in the country, so they should be able to keep Coker in check.

For Alabama, its holding Wayne Gallman. Gallman isn’t a premier back, but he creates the change of pace from Deshaun Watson. If Gallman has a good game, it allows Watson to play more freely and be more aggressive in the passing game. If Alabama were to stop him, it forces Watson to do more. Watson is at his best when he is playing freely and not under a lot of pressure. By stopping Gallman, Alabama can put the pressure on him. 

Brian: In order for Clemson to win the game, there are a few things they need to take care of. On offense they need to establish enough of a run game to keep the Alabama front-seven from pinning their ears back and getting after Watson on every second-and-long or third down. Against Oklahoma, Watson was used on a ton of designed runs, and I don’t think that will be successful against Alabama, so they need to be able to use running back Wayne Gallman effectively or establish their short passing game. Defensively, it will probably come down to slowing down Derrick Henry. That being said, Michigan State held Henry to only 75 yards rushing and still lost 38-0 because of how well Jake Coker played. 

How has Alabama lost football games in the past 3-4 seasons? It has been against athletic quarterbacks that have spread them out and made plays in open space. Watson might be the best quarterback the Crimson Tide have faced since Johnny Manziel, so in order to win their first title since 2012, they need to contain Watson in the pocket and make plays in the secondary. On the other side of the ball, it will all fall on Coker’s shoulders again, but really that might not be such a bad thing anymore. After an up-and-down start to the year, Coker has been very good down the stretch, throwing seven touchdowns with no interceptions and hitting on 74% of his passes in the Tide’s last four games.     

Peter: For Clemson to win, they need to come in with the mindset that if Alabama wins, it will be because of Jacob Coker and not Derrick Henry. I know this sounds a little ridiculous considering Coker is coming off a game against Michigan State where he went 25-of-30 for 286 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. However, Coker has only thrown more than 35 passes in a game once this season–during Alabama’s only loss of the season to Ole Miss. He threw fewer than 20 passes in 10 of Alabama’s 13 regular season games. It is clear that Alabama prefers to win using the ground and pound of Derrick Henry, so if Clemson wants to win this game, they need to force Alabama to resort to Plan B and then hope Coker does not have a repeat performance of the Cotton Bowl.

Alabama will win if they can control the pace of the game. The one thing Alabama does not want to do is get involved in a shootout. The fewer possessions that they have to stop Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman and the fewer possessions Watson and Gallman have to try and crack the exotic schemes Kirby Smart will throw their way, the better off Alabama will be. Alabama needs to establish the passing game early so Clemson cannot stack the box against Henry, and then feed Henry to keep the clock rolling. Alabama has the better all-around athletes, so as long as they play a mistake free game at the rate they want, they should be fine.  

Geoffrey: For Alabama, the game plan is to feed Derrick Henry. If he gets over 150 on the ground, you might as well start inscribing “Crimson Tide” on the trophy. He wears defenses down, and helps open up the passing game. 

For Clemson, they have two keys to the game. First, they need to stop Henry. Doing that, they have a better chance of walking out of University of Phoenix Stadium with their first title since 1981. Second, they can’t play conservative; the way you beat Alabama is by taking risks. Four down territory starts at midfield, and they need to convert on fourth down when the time comes. Much like what Ohio State did last year in the Sugar Bowl against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers have to throw everything they got, or risk getting trampled in the national spotlight.

David: For Clemson to win this game, they have to be able to figure out how they’re going to use their running game against Alabama’s uber-talented front seven. I know the obvious answer should be to stop Derrick Henry. But, you know, that Jake Coker guy is a pretty good quarterback. Derrick Henry did not play poorly in the game against Michigan State. He just didn’t have the typical game that we’re used to seeing from him. Coker proved that he could win a game with his arm if needed. Alabama’s front seven is by far the best in the nation and it really isn’t close. They have shut down numerous 1,000-yard rushers. If Clemson wants to have a chance in this game, co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott are going to have to find a way to expose the front seven’s weakness and exploit it through an in-your-face rushing attack. 

For Alabama, they are going to have to figure out how to contain Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. With how dominant Alabama’s defense has been in
recent years, they are not without weaknesses. Alabama has a tendency to struggle against mobile quarterbacks. Last year, against Ohio State in the playoffs, they had no answer for quarterback Cardale Jones who was able to utilize both his arms and legs to lead the Buckeyes to an upset victory. Deshaun Watson was a lethal weapon for Clemson this year. He was the only player to have 3,500+ yards passing and 800+ yards rushing. In Alabama’s recent three championship wins, they have not faced a quarterback with nearly the same caliber as Watson. This is going to be by far their toughest test.

5. Who do you think is going to win?

Christopher: This game centers around the Alabama defense against the Clemson offense, and I think Clemson just has too much firepower. Sure the ‘Bama defense is fantastic, but they haven’t faced a player like Watson yet. The Crimson Tide is only the 17th best passing defense, which means that Watson should get his looks in the passing game. I think it stays close for three quarters, but Clemson pulls away a little when ‘Bama starts having to throw the ball more. 

Final Score: Clemson 34, Alabama 24

Brian: Ten years ago, maybe the best National Championship in college football history was played when Vince Young led Texas to an improbable 41-38 victory over a USC team that had won 34 straight games. To me, this Alabama-Clemson matchup has a chance to be just as good. Both teams are playing such great football right now and in many ways their styles seem to contrast, but if you look closer, they really aren’t that different. Both teams have explosive playmakers and bring a nasty, physical, and aggressive defense to the table.

My guess is this game will all come down to the play of Watson, a player that has combined to score 43 touchdowns and accumulated 4,731 total yards this season. If Watson goes off for 400 plus yards and scores three touchdowns, I don’t see any way Clemson loses the game because Alabama is not a team that can really win in a shootout. Well, all that being said, I think Alabama wins because they are going to make it very hard on Watson to find any space to make plays. Alabama’s front-seven will be too much for the Tigers to handle and the Tide’s offense will make just enough plays to come away with the close win. 

Final Score: Alabama 27, Clemson 24

Peter: Alabama is the favorite in this game, and they come in expecting to win. On the other hand, Clemson will relish the underdog role. They have gotten used to tuning out all of the naysayers. The elite matchup in this game is the offense of Clemson against the defense of Alabama. Both of those units are incredibly good, and they will both play well.

Therefore, I think this game will come down to the Alabama offense against the Clemson defense, specifically the Alabama passing game versus the Clemson secondary. The Crimson Tide have a freshman phenom in Calvin Ridley as well as reliable receivers in ArDarius Stewart and Richard Mullaney. Clemson has been fantastic against the pass, ranking fifth in passing yards against per game. But arguably the best quarterback they have faced all season is DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame. Coker will be a big step up from that.

Finally, special teams tend to get overlooked in game previews, but you cannot ignore the effect of Cyrus Jones, who has four punt return touchdowns on the season and had a potential fifth called back for a penalty. Both teams have had amazing seasons and both deserve to be playing for the National Championship, but I just have a feeling Nick Saban’s experience coaching in the big game will lead Alabama to a close come-from-behind victory.

Final Score: Alabama 31, Clemson 30

Geoffrey: Dabo Swinney knows what it takes to stop Alabama. However, do they have the means of doing it. Stopping Henry is easier said than done, and converting big plays will come down to progressions made in the moment, not something you can study for. I think Alabama is too much to handle at this juncture, and they showcased what they are made of against Michigan State. Clemson will hang for a quarter, or maybe a half, but they will ultimately get the doors blown off the proverbial hinges by Saban, Henry and the rest of the Crimson Tide.

Final Score: Alabama 41, Clemson 16

David: These are both fantastic teams. They are the best teams in the nation and one of them will earn bragging rights afterwards. Deshaun Watson and Derrick Henry are both fantastic athletes and will likely be the best players for their respective teams. Now it’s time for my prediction. I do think this is going to be a good game for the most part. But, I think Alabama will pull ahead in the end. I believe Alabama’s front seven will pressure Watson all game by forcing him to make unnecessary throws. Derrick Henry rushes for 155 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Crimson Tide to their fourth national championship in seven years.

Final Score: Alabama 35, Clemson 22

Do you agree with our predictions? Give us your predictions in the comment section below!

SQ College Football Playoff Panel: The Calm Before the Storm

Up until now, the rankings that have been put out by the AP and USA TODAY Coaches Poll have been meaningless. Sure, they give us a picture of where teams stand, but Tuesday will reveal what rankings really matter: the top 25 as decided upon by the College Football Playoff selection committee. These rankings will ultimately decide who gets to play for college football’s biggest prize.

With that being said, here at SQ, we’ve put together a panel of some of our best college football writers to discuss the teams, issues, and players leading up to the final selection of the top four teams for the College Football Playoff. Here are the panel’s thoughts before the rankings are released.

Last year’s initial College Football Playoff outcome was surprising to say the least. With that being said, do you expect this year to have as much hype surrounding it as the first rankings are revealed?

Geoffrey Hammersley: Not as much as last year, but there will be hype. We will find out how much the committee likes Ohio State, a team that has struggled to find their identity for a better part of the season, and how they view the Baylor/TCU dynamic. Last year, Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, and Ole Miss were the top four teams. The SEC-dominance narrative isn’t here this year, but there is still intrigue as you could make a case for any of the top eight teams to be included in the playoff.

Alex Koslow: I have to disagree with Geoff–I think this year may be more hyped than last year. Last year, there were five or six teams who could legitimately say they had a shot, while this year any team in the Top 10 right now could make it. The only reason I say that is that so many teams that are in the Top 10 still play each other, which could create chaos for the selection committee.

Ohio State plays Michigan State, Baylor plays TCU, Stanford or Notre Dame could make an appearance after they play, and Alabama against LSU could determine the SEC West winner. So much could happen right now. A one-loss team could easily make it into the Top 4.

Brian Peel: I think it will be a different type of hype, as I agree with Alex that the selection process will be more intriguing because there might be as many as eight teams deserving a shot by early December. The hype surrounding the actual games should be similar to last year because, simply put, it is exciting to watch good football teams play each other with a championship on the line.  

Sean Berger: Brian, you bring up a good point. This season has a different feel to it. Not one team has proven themselves to be that true No. 1 that’s head and shoulders above the competition. As Geoff notes, the SEC-dominance narrative is not present, last year’s national champion, Ohio State, has looked questionable at times, and smaller schools like Memphis and Houston are on the doorstep of breaking through. There will be hype, as most people want to know where everyone stands; however, I think people know that these rankings are likely not to be the same as the final one in December.

As it currently stands, the College Football Playoff is limited to four teams. Is that enough? Or should the Playoff be expanded to more teams?

Geoffrey: The playoff system will expand when conflict arises. Like any good system, why fix it if it isn’t broken? The CFP isn’t broken, yet. We’ll get an eight-team playoff a few years after 1) Notre Dame gets in and causes either the Big Ten/SEC/Pac-12 to miss a spot or 2) a mid-major gets in and gets thumped in the first semifinal game or 3) a 2007 scenario occurs where anybody in the top 10 has a legitimate case to be included.

Alex: I said it last year, and I’m sticking with it–the CFP needs to be Top 8 teams. There’s always going to be controversy; that’s unavoidable. With the BCS, arguing between No. 2 and No. 3 was the big debate. Now with the CFP, No. 4 vs. No. 5 is the big debate. With four teams, a team or two is going to get spurned, like we saw last year with TCU and Baylor. Of course, the new debate will be between the eighth and ninth spot, but that be between a one-loss team and a two-loss team which makes it a little easier to decide.

Brian: As a fan of college football, of course I want to see the field expanded to eight teams, but that’s probably a lot easier said than done. There are so many logistics and details that go into the making of these things, and you have to remember how long it took just to get a four-team playoff.

Will it take as long to expand the playoff as it did to create it in the first place? Probably not, but you have to think that potentially adding another game to a college student’s schedule won’t make some schools happy. Going back to the original question, yes, I want to see more teams because there is such great parity in college football every year.

Sean: For now, four is enough. Eventually, the Playoff will expand to either six or eight teams, but as it stands, four is a good starting point. It creates more drama and also a barrier to entry that isn’t easy to overcome. Whenever you have a product that’s in high demand and in short supply, you create a buzz that makes people want more. Keeping the number of teams at four is a smart move for the NCAA for the next couple seasons.

Is there any chance that a non-Power Five team could sneak into the College Football Playoff when all is said and done?

Geoffrey: Low key, Houston has the best shot. Tom Herman has a national championship pedigree as an offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes–that could play a role if Houston continues to steamroll past everyone. Especially if the Power 5 conferences cannibalize themselves in November, Houston has the best chance–but they would still be a long shot.

Alex: Like Geoff said, Houston, and I’d even say Memphis as well, have the best shot at getting in from a non-Power Five conference, but they won’t. They just don’t play a schedule that makes me think they can compete with the likes of Ohio State, Baylor, or Clemson. I’d rather take a one-loss Alabama or Stanford than an undefeated Houston or Memphis.

Brian: If Temple can run the table, I believe they would deserve a look if a team like Alabama and a few other one-loss teams slip up again. An undefeated Temple team would have beaten Penn State, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Memphis, and potentially Houston. That is highly unlikely to happen, but if it does, they would have the best shot of any Group of Five team. Don’t forget the Toledo Rockets either. (Was written before Temple’s loss to Notre Dame on 10/31).

Sean: Both Memphis and Houston should be considered dark horses to reach the College Football Playoff. Justin Fuente has done wonders since taking over the Memphis program and has them ranked in the top 15 in the AP Poll for the first time ever, and Tom Herman is using the magic he had at Ohio State to turn Houston into a surprise contender. However, if I had to choose one of these teams, I would go with Houston, simply because their path to the Playoff is a lot easier than the one Memphis has to go through.

Do you think that this could be the year the College Football Playoff sees two teams from the same conference finish in the top four?

Geoffrey: Absolutely. In the BCS Era, we saw LSU-Alabama play in a rematch in 2012, shutting out Okie State. In 2006, Ohio State and Michigan came close to a rematch in the title game. With the pl
ayoff field, there is a good chance we’ll see two teams from the same conference get in. I don’t see both Baylor and TCU getting in because the Big 12 doesn’t has a championship game.

The best shot, this year at least, is for Ohio State and Michigan State to both represent the Big Ten. Picture this: Michigan State sits at No. 4 or No. 5, while the Buckeyes sit at No. 1; a Sparty loss by less than a touchdown allows them to still be in the picture, if that’s their only loss of the season.

Alex: It could happen, but it won’t. If it does happen, Baylor and TCU have the best shot at going together. I’d love to see a TCU-Baylor rematch in the CFP. Unfortunately, they play each other late in the season, and the loser will probably drop too low to comeback in a week. Ohio State and Michigan State won’t make it together because, again, they play each other late, and it will also determine the BIG 10 East division, allowing the winner to play an extra game. 

Brian: I don’t see it happening unless a few current one-loss teams lose again. The losers of the TCU-Baylor and Ohio State-Michigan State games will likely fall behind the likes of Stanford/Notre Dame or Alabama if those teams win out, not to mention a few lower-ranked undefeated teams like Oklahoma State and Iowa. 

Sean: Of course it could happen. Will it happen? I don’t think so, but there are a couple possibilities in which it could. If TCU’s only loss is to Baylor, or vice versa, and both teams are playing extremely well, there’s a chance the committee could take both. Likewise, the same could happen with Ohio State and Michigan State or LSU and Florida. As Geoff notes, we did see two teams from the same conference play in the national title game not too long ago, so I won’t rule two teams from the same conference being placed in the Playoff.

Which four teams do you think will be atop the rankings when the initial College Football Playoff ranking is released?

Geoffrey: For me, it will be 1) Ohio State 2) LSU 3) Clemson 4) TCU. The bye week doesn’t hurt the Buckeyes stock as No. 1. LSU and Clemson is a toss up, but they are definitely in the initial batch. With Baylor losing quarterback Seth Russell, they will have a tough time staying in the hunt for a playoff spot. I think TCU overtakes them for that reason when next week rolls around. 

Alex: Right now, based on current performance, which is what the committee said its basing it on right now, I have to go with 1) Ohio State 2) Baylor 3) Clemson 4) LSU. TCU right now is my next one, and it’s very close with LSU. It’s possible that Baylor and Clemson could be flipped, especially with the way they destroyed Miami. Either one of these teams could lose in the coming weeks, and we could be looking at four completely new teams.

Brian: Depending on this week’s performances I think it will be 1) Ohio State 2) Baylor 3) Clemson and 4) TCU. The only team I see being hurt by the bye week is LSU only because TCU played so well again on Thursday. Baylor might also be at risk because of voter’s hesitancy regarding Seth Russell’s injury. 

Sean: Well at least we can all agree that Ohio State will be the No. 1 team when the rankings are released. But, from No. 2-4, we’re all different. As things currently stand, the rest of my top four are as follows: 2) Baylor 3) Clemson 4) LSU. Baylor has been lights out, while Clemson has been really impressive lately, and LSU is the only SEC team without a blemish on its record. There’s a chance TCU sneaks in ahead of LSU, but I think the committee will put the Tigers ahead of them, based on the tests that the team has survived thus far.

SQ NFL Power Rankings: Week 6

1 (1)


New England Patriots

The “Tom Brady Vengeance Tour” is a real thing, and Brady hasn’t been shy in bringing headliners Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis with him along the way. In a 30-6 romping of the Cowboys in Dallas, Brady threw for 285 yards and two TDs, and is the only starting quarterback in the NFL that has yet to throw an interception. The Patriots head to Indianapolis for Sunday Night Football, and after “DeflateGate,” don’t expect Bill Bellichick and Co. to take the foot off the gas if New England is ahead late. (Tyrell W)

2 (2)


Green Bay Packers

Well, now we know one thing…Aaron Rodgers is human. Rodgers ended his incredible streak of not throwing an interception at home with 587 pass attempts. The Packers continue to look like the best team in the NFC, but this week it was because of the defense. Green Bay was able to force four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and three sacks en route to a 24-10 victory of the Rams. (Dan R)

3 (4)


Cincinnati Bengals

As it turns out, Dalton isn’t red-haired. It has been determined that his actual hair is stained red from the blood he spilled in the Bengals’ improbable comeback last week against the Seahawks. Down 24-7 in what could have been classified as yet another devastating Cincy defeat, Dalton showed the traits expected of a quarterback in his position. With the aiding of the Bengals defense, Dalton led his team to 20 unanswered points. At the start of the fourth quarter, Cincinnati’s win probability sat at a lowly 1.4%. Instead, the Bengals are 5-0 and proving to the rest of the NFL how well-balanced this roster is. (Nick C)

4 (3)


Denver Broncos

With Oakland threatening to pull ahead in the fourth quarter, the Bronco D stepped up & Chris Harris Jr. delivered a crucial pick-six. Peyton Manning has seven INTs and only six TDs thus far. But Denver’s D looks good enough to carry this team deep into the playoffs. (Dominic K)

5 (5)


Atlanta Falcons

Scrapping by a pesky Redskins team, the Falcons keep feeding it to Devonta Freeman, who has gone from the “1B” to Tevin Coleman‘s 1A in the first two games to being second in the league this season in carries with 93, behind only Matt Forte (102). Rather than slowing down, Freeman’s YPC has increased every single game this season, from 1.8 in Week 1 to 5.7 last week. (Cory R)

6 (6)


Arizona Cardinals

After suffering a setback in Week 4 against the Rams, the Cardinals returned to their “score 40+ points and blow out the opposing team mode,” and man-handled the Lions. The funny thing is, the Lions barely had the football and only ran a total of 45 offensive plays. The big difference was the Arizona defense forcing six turnovers. A trip to Pittsburgh will serve as a big test for the Cardinals, especially if Ben Roethlisberger is able to suit up. (Bobby E)

7 (8)


Carolina Panthers

Coming out of their bye, the 4-0 Panthers travel to Seattle to face easily the deadliest of the 10 current 2-3 teams. There was just one touchdown between these two teams when Carolina hosted the Seahawks last year in a defensive-controlled game that yielded a 9-13 loss. The week off did come at the right time for captain of the defense Luke Kuechly though, who will return after missing the past three games. (Cory R)

8 (7)


Seattle Seahawks

Seattle put up an extremely good fight, and really gave the game away to the Cincinnati Bengals. Now it was a well-matched game, but given that the Seahawks were up 24-7 at the half, they should have come out of Cincy with a win. Cincinnati held the football 10 minutes longer and converted on more first downs than Seattle’s up and down offense. A home game against the undefeated Panthers will be a good one to keep an eye out for in Week 6. (Bobby E)

9 (9)


Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have won three straight after a disappointing 0-2 start, but all three came against the pitiful AFC South. Andrew Luck has missed back-to-back games, but 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck has put on somewhat of a show, especially against the Texans when he posted a 107.4 QB rating. Luck is practicing again and will potentially start against the undefeated Patriots. He is 0-4 against them in his career, including playoffs. (Josh C)

10 (12)


New York Giants

After two devastating losses to start the season, the Giants are in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Eli Manning is on track to set career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, and passing touchdowns and to earn his first division title since 2011. (Austin T)

11 (13)


Pittsburgh Steelers

Le’Veon Bell is back to being the most dynamic running back in the NFL, and in his three games this season, he’s already Pro Football Focus’ second-ranked RB with a rating of 9.6. Michael Vick gutted out a win on the road against a tough San Diego team with Bell providing the walk-off spark to keep Pittsburgh squarely in the AFC North race. Ben Roethlisberger is slowly set to return, and as long as Vick can continue to do just enough to win, the Steelers will be a better team for it. (Nick C)

12 (10)


New York Jets

Head coach Todd Bowles finds himself at 3-1, and with the confusing Redskins coming to MetLife Stadium, don’t be surprised to see the Jets’ defensive line feast on Kirk Cousins. Washington’s offensive line is graded as PFF’s eighth-worst unit in passing situations, and for New York, the return of DT Sheldon Richardson will provide a much-needed injection of normality. Richardson will be eager to make his presence known, which is not ideal for Cousins. (Tyrell W)

13 (11)


Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings had a week off to prepare for the Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs. With Adrian Peterson having a week to rest his body, I look for the Vikes to run the ball often. If Minnesota can protect Bridgewater and consistently get a push from the offensive line, we may be seeing them move up in the rankings. (Dan R)

14 (14)


San Diego Chargers

The Chargers found a way to lose this heartbreaker, and it may cost the Bolts a playoff berth. Although San Diego generally outplayed Pittsburgh, a pick-six and an 80-yard pass kept the Steelers alive until the end. The Bolts still must improve their D-line and O-line play. On the bright side, the Rivers to Gates connection is as strong as ever. (Dominic K)

15 (16)


Buffalo Bills

The Bills continue to be very up and down, but luckily for Rex Ryan, it’s mostly been up. Lighting rod Tyrod Taylor has been a very steady
presence as a first-time starter, but an MCL injury has his Week 6 status up in the air. If he is unable to play, EJ Manuel will be thrown into the fire. Manuel, who threw for 348 yards, 4 TDs and a QB rating of 146.9 in the preseason, should be able to ride the ship until Taylor is off the mend. (Tyrell W)

16 (23)


Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are starting to look scary on offense, especially after their 39-point effort against the Saints. The key is keeping pressure off of Sam Bradford. The Eagle’s offensive line is on pace to allow only 22 sacks, a career low for Bradford. That number should stay low if the Eagles hope to keep this momentum going and keep Bradford on the field. (Austin T)

17 (15)


St. Louis Rams

Granted, the Rams lost by 14, but it was another extremely solid effort. Defensively, St. Louis did what no defense had done against Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau Field since December 2012: force an interception. Not only that, but the Rams did it twice. This one was on Nick Foles, as he really struggled against the Packers defense. A home game against the Browns may be exactly what Foles needs to get back on track. (Bobby E)

18 (17)


Dallas Cowboys

Dallas is in panic mode. Since Tony Romo broke his collarbone, the Cowboys’ offense has generated a measly 18 points per game and the defense is allowing 32 points a game. A big reason for this negative differential is the lack of success on fourth down. Under Weedent, the Cowboys are converting just 25% of their third downs. The Cowboys are hoping now that Matt Cassell can do better and they need it fast. (Austin T)

19 (18)


Kansas City Chiefs

The good: Kansas City’s 29th-ranked defense (by DVOA) finally looked good. The bad: The Chiefs blew a 17-3 lead to Chicago at home. The ugly: Jamaal Charles’ brutal ACL injury. Kansas City’s season is over, and that’s a shame. (Dominic K)

20 (22)


Washington Redskins

Washington may not be good enough to compete for a Super Bowl, but this is a talented team with multiple ways to win. In the loss to Atlanta, Washington relied a tough defense to keep the team in the game. While this team benefited from two field goal misses, Washington held Atlanta’s high powered passing attack to its lowest total on the season. If Kirk Cousins can play more consistently, this team will play spoiler all season long. (Austin T)

21 (21)


Oakland Raiders

The Raiders lost again, but there were positives nonetheless. First, the defense allowed a season-low 16 points versus Denver, with no offensive TDs for the Broncos. Charles Woodson turned back the clock with two picks on Manning. And the Raiders were seriously only a couple plays from beating Denver. Perhaps the Raiders can finish second in the AFC West? (Dominic K)

22 (19)


Baltimore Ravens

Week-to-week, the Ravens have steadily been free-falling in our rankings, and for good reason. QB Joe Flacco has been failing to close out games, but most surprising, the defense hasn’t looked anything like the unit the NFL is accustomed to. Having surrendered the eighth-most yards and eighth-fewest takeaways, Baltimore is hoping to see an improvement in the franchise’s identity. But at 1-4, it may be too little too late. (Nick C)

23 (28)


Cleveland Browns

How about Josh McCown? Though the Ravens have been perhaps the biggest disappointment in the NFL this year, McCown and the Browns went into a scathing atmosphere and showed which team was tougher. TE Gary Barnidge has gone from under-utilized blocker into a 20 catch, 319 yard, and three TD outburst in his last three games. Cleveland’s secondary has been good enough to bail out a disappointing defensive line, but nonetheless, the Browns are 2-3, as head coach Mike Pettine’s toughness continues to rub
off on his team. (Nick C)

24 (30)


Chicago Bears

Without his two best wideouts and a depleted line, Jay Cutler led the Bears to a comeback win in Kansas City. If Cutler can play mistake free football, Chicago’s coaching can drastically improve this team in becoming a contender. Chicago’s defense has risen to the challenge so far this year giving up 304.6 yards per game, ranking 4th in the NFL. (Dan R)

25 (27)


Houston Texans

Houston is 1-4, but has a soft spot in its schedule coming up with games at Jacksonville and Miami, and at home against Tennessee. If the Texans want any chance to contend for the AFC South title, they need to capitalize on this opportunity. Houston still has not scored more than 21 points in a game this season, and its defense has not been strong enough to make its puttering offense viable. That must change going forward, or the Texans will be looking at a top-five draft pick in 2016. (Josh C)

26 (25)


Tennessee Titans

The Titans had that game against Buffalo. They should be 2-2 and half a game out of first in the AFC South. But Tennessee couldn’t hold on at the end, and that’s got to sting. The Titans have a mixed-bag schedule going forward, playing many teams with sub-.500 records in addition to a couple teams that are currently undefeated. Marcus Mariota is averaging 255 yards, two touchdowns and less than one interception per game as a rookie, which is great. He’ll need to keep it up to keep the Titans competitive. (Josh C)

27 (20)


New Orleans Saints

The Saints defense is tied for 29th in points allowed per game at 28.6. They’ve had winning records in four of the last six years, but all those winning season’s defenses allowed less than 22 PPG, whereas each of the losing season allowed more than 26. The lack of offensive weapons is getting the headlines, but the defense has similarly been troubled so far this season. (Cory R)

28 (26)


Miami Dolphins

Heading into their matchup with the Titans fresh off a bye, the Dolphins will quickly show if former head coach Joe Philbin was the organization’s kryptonite, or if this team is simply a model of ineptitude. Rated as PFF’s 4th-worst offense and 9th-worst defense, Miami has been given the chance to start over with Dan Campbell, a coach whose demeanor is a complete reversal from Philbin. (Tyrell W)

29 (32)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have got the same number of wins as last year’s NFC Champion Seahawks, but they’ve played only one team with more than one win (Carolina) and they lost. After asking Jameis Winston to throw it 43 times against Carolina, they shielded their rookie signal caller by giving Doug Martin 24 carries to Winston’s 19 pass attempts in a long overdue home win against Jacksonville. (Cory R)

30 (31)


San Francisco 49ers

Well, at least the 49ers can say they put a bigger effort into Sunday night’s game. San Francisco came just short in a heartbreaking loss against the Giants, but to give credit where it’s due, Colin Kaepernieck looked a lot better. Kap threw no interceptions and looked more crisp and sharp with the football. Even though making the playoffs this season now seems like a long-shot, the Niners can look to get on track against a struggling Ravens team. (Bobby E)

31 (24)


Detroit Lions

The Lions stay winless as Stafford’s play earns him a benching. Stafford has thrown eight interceptions in the first five games this year as the defense let up 42 points to Arizona. Detroit seems to be having the most disappointing year out of all 32 teams after a playoff appearance a year ago. (Dan R)

32 (29)


Jacksonville Jaguars

A disappointing Jags loss has sent them to the bottom of our power rankings this week. Despite Blake Bortles‘ four-touchdown game, Jacksonville’s defense was not able to hold Tampa Bay in check, and it cost them. The run defense was carved up by Doug Martin, allowing 5.1 yards per carry. The Jags cannot allow this kind of gashing again, or else wins could be hard to come by. (Josh C)

SQ NFL Power Rankings: Week 7



  RK (LW)

1 (1)


New England Patriots

The Patriots suffered a bit of a scare as the up-and-down Colts made things interesting in Indianapolis, but a big day from LeGarrette Blount saved the day for the Pats. Blount’s 93 rushing yards was his highest total since Week 3 of the 2014 season. A home game against the streaking New York Jets will be an interesting matchup for the Pats, but expect them to come out firing. (Bobby E)

2 (4)


Cincinnati Bengals

Week to week, it seems a new hero on offense emerges for QB Andy Dalton and the Bengals. In Cincy’s most recent outing against the Bills, WR Marvin Jones took advantage of Buffalo cornerbacks for 95 yards on nine catches, including a miraculous TD run and catch. The Bengals continue to look like one of the NFL’s most well-rounded teams, and at 6-0, Cincy has the pedal to the floor over the rest of the AFC North. (Nick C)

3 (2)


Green Bay Packers

Similar to the undefeated Patriots, the Packers were caught in a close matchup. Thanks to the inability of Philip Rivers and the Chargers from scoring a touchdown from three yards out on four attempts, Green Bay was able to escape. Time-of-possession and total yards were dominated by the Chargers, but ultimately the turnover difference and small penalty discrepancy were enough to separate the two teams. Heading into the bye week 6-0, the Packers are feeling good. (Bobby E)

4 (8)


Carolina Panthers

Doubters be gone? The Seahawks haven’t been their dominant selves this season, but it’s time to start believing that this 5-0 Panthers team is a legitimate NFC threat. Their defense is tied at the top with a +6 turnover differential, and Cam Newton was PFF highest graded quarterback last week (tied with Philip Rivers). (Cory R)

5 (3)


Denver Broncos

Another week, another win, and another awful game from Peyton. The Broncos might be the ugliest 6-0 team I’ve ever seen. But their defense is having a 2005 Bears-esque season, with four defensive touchdowns already. If this keeps up and Manning cuts out the interceptions, the Broncos may be the team best suited to take down New England. (Dominic K)

6 (5)


Atlanta Falcons

A five fumble nightmare, three of which were lost, struck the Falcons on the short week. Looking all out of sorts, the Falcons managed to lose by 10 despite outperforming the Saints offense in every other regard (7.1 YPC to the Saints’ 2.5!). It’ll be a tuneup week against the bottom-dwelling, Mariota-less Titans this week. (Cory R)

7 (13)


Pittsburgh Steelers

Michael Vick‘s ineptitude and Landry Jones‘ stellar play against the Cardinals makes you wonder why the Steelers catapulted Vick ahead of Jones upon his arrival. Jones, in relief duty, threw for 168 yards and two TDs, both to Martavis Bryant. Jones’ understanding of the offense didn’t outshine his execution. He is getting the start against the Chiefs, the NFL’s 7th-worst passing defense, though a trip to Arrowhead in his first NFL start should make Pittsburgh just a bit uneasy. (Nick C)

8 (6)


Arizona Cardinals

The streaky Cardinals are starting to look like the Arizona team we’ve seen the last couple years: a good team, but not good enough. In the games they’ve won, they’ve racked up 30+ points (40+ in 3/4 games). The remedy is easy to tell: the offense has to be consistently great. The defense put forth its worst effort of the season against an injury-decimated Steelers (no Big Ben or Vick), yet still failed to play well enough. Carson Palmer needs to step it up, as he’ll get just that chance against a surprisingly struggling Ravens team. (Bobby E)

9 (10)


New York Jets

J-E-T-S, JETS JETS JETS! A 4-1 start has
Jets fans feeling hopeful about this team. Ryan Fitzpatrick is making strong strides and finding a strong connection with Brandon Marshall, while Chris Ivory is quickly developing into a top NFL back with another big rushing effort. Back to back 140+ yards in the last two games, and Marshall’s four consecutive games of 100+ receiving yards has Jets fans excited about their offense. Can they compete with the Patriots high-powered offense? We’ll see in Week 7. (Bobby E)

10 (9)


Indianapolis Colts

The Colts failed to upset the Patriots at home, but for the first time in the Andrew Luck era, Indy remained competitive and avoided the blowout. It didn’t help them in our rankings this week, but it will hopefully help establish a standard by which the remaining games of the season will be played. The Colts still have a great chance to make the playoffs based on the division in which they play, and once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. (Josh C)

11 (7)


Seattle Seahawks

Back-to-back tough losses to elite teams make you wonder whether the Seahawks are on the wrong end of the stick, or simply not a good NFL team. Sitting at 2-4, Seattle needs to evaluate what the team needs to do better. Whether it’s third down efficiency (4-14 last week), or having more of a balanced attack, something needs to change. A trip to San Francisco may be exactly what the Seahawks need. That is unless the 49ers decide to play spoiler and blacken Seattle’s postseason chances. (Bobby E)

12 (11)


Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings continue to show themselves as one of the most mysterious teams in the NFL. They lost to the low-caliber 49ers in Week 1, but since then have only suffered one other loss which was by three points to the Broncos. Their wins haven’t been very impressive either, but being the 2nd ranked defense at 16.6 points/game isn’t too shabby. Another game against the Lions may send Minnesota to a 4-2 record. (Bobby E)

13 (23)


Philadelphia Eagles

DeMarco Murray has struggled through injury and a lack of touches in Chip Kelly’s offense. But when given the opportunity, Murray took a season high 22 caries for 109 yards and scored on a powerful 12-yard run to seal the game in the third quarter. If the defense can keep up this kind of pressure and Murray plays like he did, Philadelphia might be back on track for the division lead. (Austin T)

14 (14)


San Diego Chargers

Could any other team get 503 passing yards in a game and lose? Could any other QB besides Philip Rivers rip into the Packer secondary for 59 minutes, only to miss a wide open Danny Woodhead for the tying score? That’s two consecutive backbreaking losses for San Diego, a team that needs to win those games to snag a wild card playoff berth. But when your defense allows a league-worst 5.4 yards/rushing attempt, the entire team suffers. (Dominic K)

15 (12)


New York Giants

The offensive line for the New York Giants took a beating on Monday night. Eli was sacked three times and the offense generated only 81 rushing yards. The defense did it’s job generating four turnovers, but after the opening drive, the Giants never made it back to the redzone. After looking so good for four weeks, this is a huge step back. (Austin T)

16 (16)


Buffalo Bills

Buffalo has been one of the most intriguing teams in the league. They have statement wins in Weeks 1 and 3 and barely beat the Titans in Week 5, but have lost to the Patriots, Giants, and Bengals in relatively close games. The Bills are an extremely average team if you look at every category both offensively and defensively. Taking the next step can be easily achieved on both sides of the football against the Jaguars this upcoming week. (Bobby E)

17 (15)


St. Louis Rams

Fresh off a bye week, the Rams get a tasty matchup with the streaky Cleveland Browns. St. Louis has dropped four games this season, but all have been relatively close. It’s up to Nick Foles and the offense to step up and lead the Rams, as the defense has really done it’s job all season long limiting teams to 24 points or less (aside from Week 1’s high scoring win). St. Louis ranks dead last in total offensive yards, yards per game, total points, and points per game. This week’s matchup is exactly what they need. (Bobby E)

18 (17)


Dallas Cowboys

A much-needed bye week stops the bleeding for now, but Dallas has a tough test again traveling to New York. The Cowboys need Matt Cassell to hand the ball off and convert on third down. The last time Cassell faced the New York Giants was in 2009 and he threw for 127 yards with a 47% completion rate and two touchdowns in a loss with the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s going to have to do better than that if the Cowboys are going to stay in contention. (Austin T)

19 (26)


Miami Dolphins

After losing three straight games, we finally got a glimpse of the Miami Dolphins we were expecting this season. A route of the Titans isn’t something to flaunt, but there were many positives to take from this game. The emergence of Lamar Miller and dedication to handing him the football was one takeaway, as he finished with 113 yards on 19 carries. Can Miami continue its success? A matchup with Houston could go either way for them. (Bobby E)

20 (20)


New Orleans Saints

When you rush the ball 32 times, it usually means you’re doing something right. Getting 81 yards to show for that many attempts? Not so much. Despite facing the Falcons top run defense, the Saints are going to need production from their backfield to sustain the offense, especially this week when it’ll mean keeping the ball out of Andrew Luck’s hands. (Cory R)

21 (21)


Oakland Raiders

Don’t look now, but the 2-3 Raiders are 2nd place in the AFC West! Up next is an intriguing divisional tilt in San Diego. Look for Latavius Murray to have a nice afternoon, and for the Raiders to be frisky once again. This team is on the rise, and a win propels them into the playoff conversation. (Dominic K)

22 (22)


Washington Redskins

As Kirk Cousins goes, Washington goes, and Sunday’s performance was the worst all season. Cousins completed less than 60% of his passes, and threw his 7th and 8th picks. For comparison, Cousins has 27 interceptions in the 20 games he has played. RGIII only threw 20 interceptions in his 37 games. I know you can’t risk guaranteeing Griffin’s contract but, yeesh, Washington will continue to struggle if Cousins is at the helm. (Austin T)

23 (31)


San Francisco 49ers

A win, finally. Beating the Ravens at home isn’t the biggest achievement, but it’s something worth smiling about. The biggest takeaway in this one that resembles the 49ers offense in one stat is Colin Kaepernick‘s average completion yardage. Throughout the season Kap had failed to exceed eight yards per game, but on Sunday he averaged almost 13 yards! If he can keep this aggressive passing mentality against the Seahawks, the 49ers could shock some people and knock off Seattle. (Bobby E)

24 (27)


Houston Texans

For the first time this season, the Texans scored more than 21 points, and they won the game because of it. The Jaguars may not be a strong opponent, but Houston needs any win it can get at this point. A trip to Miami will serve as an interesting test for both teams. The two teams have been inconsistent all season long, so this one will be a toss-up. (Bobby E)

25 (30)


Chicago Bears

The Bears tried. And they failed. Despite sending the game into OT, Chicago just didn’t have enough left in the tank. A big failure in Chicago’s offense was the efficiency of Matt Forte‘s rushing. Averaging 2.88 yards per carry will not get the job done in this league, especially for a team like the Bears who rely on Forte so much. A bye week may be rightfully placed for this team. (Bobby E)

26 (28)


Cleveland Browns

Josh McCown did his best to withstand the high-pressured Denver pass rush, but in the end, the Cleveland offense was unable to make the critical play. Though the Browns didn’t come away with a possible season-changing win, the results were encouraging. Cleveland’s NFL-worst run defense (based on PFF grades) heads to St. Louis, and will be tasked with trying to stop rookie sensation Todd
. Expect rookie NT Danny Shelton and the rest of the Browns’ defense to either rise above or be exposed. (Nick C)

27 (18)


Kansas City Chiefs

These are dark days for the Chiefs offense. So dark, in fact, that the Steelers head to Arrowhead as three point favorites with Landry Jones at QB. But hey, at least the Royals are looking good! (Dominic K)

28 (32)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Coming out of the bye, hopefully Jameis Winston worked on his chemistry with Mike Evans, whom he’s hit on just 13-of-33 targets so far. They can boast a .500 record (!) with a win in Washington this week. Their defense has quietly allowed the 5th fewest yards per game. (Cory R)

29 (19)


Baltimore Ravens

Another test failed for the Ravens. QB Joe Flacco has come out publicly saying he has yet to transition into OC Marc Trestman’s offense, and with no reliable receiver besides Steve Smith Sr. to lean on, his job becomes that much tougher. The Baltimore defense made Colin Kaepernick look better than he is, as short-lived star Jimmy Smith has garnered the worst PFF grade among Ravens’ cornerbacks. A Monday night matchup with the Cardinals awaits, and it could get very ugly very quickly in the desert. (Nick C)

30 (24)


Detroit Lions

The first win of the season finally came for the Detroit Lions. After suffering heart breaks week after week, the ball was on the Lions side at the end of this one. Matthew Stafford was a monster, as his four touchdown and one interception effort was clearly his best game of the year. Stafford posted a quarterback rating 117.7, 34.2 higher than his previous best this season. Can he continue his success against the Vikings? It may be difficult, but he’ll have his home-crowd to support him. (Bobby E)

31 (25)


Tennessee Titans

Marcus Mariota may miss multiple games with a knee injury, which means the Titans may simply be playing out the schedule going forward. With Mariota, they have a chance, however small, to win the weakest division in football. Without him, they may not win another game. (Josh C)

32 (29)


Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville’s loss to the Texans drops them back down to the bottom of our rankings. The Jags have shown great promise at times this year, but there has been no consistency, and that’s what’s killing their chances. Blake Bortles must continue to improve and lead this young offense. He has the talent to do so. (Josh C)

College Football Week 5 Roundup

Greetings, SQ fans. We hope you enjoyed this weekend of college football as much as we did. Also, please welcome our newest contributor, Tyler Endebrock! That being said, let’s dig into our Week 5 roundup:

1. Which team had the most impressive win?

Tyler: I gave the other writers some grief last week for talking about the Florida Gators so much in the Week 4 Roundup. This week, however, I am going to eat some crow because the most impressive win was the Gators’ 38-10 drubbing over the Ole Miss Rebels. These were the same Rebels that marched into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama. Once Ole Miss came to The Swamp, they were boat-raced by the Gators. 

Will Grier is starting to look like the real deal, the defense is nasty, and the whole team seems to be clicking under new head coach Jim McElwain. The offense looked elite against one of the most hyped-up defenses in the nation, and the team undoubtedly got help from the crowd. Combine all of this and the Gators had one of the more impressive wins of the entire season. If they can keep this pace up, watch for them to win the SEC East, and maybe even make it to the playoff.

Andy: Not only did Alabama completely wallop Georgia between the hedges, they did it in flood conditions. The Tide’s 24-3 lead at halftime was a result of pouring it on very quickly in the first half, combined with an incredible defensive showing. The biggest positive of this performance was seeing QB Jake Coker look like someone who could lead a playoff team, throwing for 190 yards, one TD, and adding a score on the ground. Derrick Henry has proven to be reliable in the backfield, but with Coker playing well, the Crimson Tide will truly be a force to be reckoned with come the playoffs.

Robert: I’m going to split this award between two Big Ten squads: Michigan and Northwestern. The Wolverines blanked the Maryland Terrapins 28-0, giving Michigan its second straight shutout win. And, the Wildcats gave up just 173 total yards to the Minnesota Golden Gophers en route to the team’s first Big Ten shutout victory in 20 years. 

Northwestern and its top-ranked defense (7.0 points allowed per game) head to Ann Arbor to take on the Wolverines’ second-ranked defense (7.6 points allowed per contest). The over/under might be zero for this game, and I’m going with the under.

Sean: After being left for dead, Arizona State came out and put up a heck of a performance against UCLA on the road. Mike Bercovici looked like the QB that had shown flashes of brilliance last season, throwing for 273 yards, two touchdowns, and adding a score on the ground. The Sun Devils defense rebounded nicely after giving up 42 points last week to USC, holding UCLA to just 23 points. 

They made it difficult for the Bruins to get anything going by shutting down the run game, allowing just 62 rushing yards on 28 carries. A win like this could be exactly what Arizona State needs to get back on track and back into the race for the Pac-12 title.

David: I will go with the Alabama Crimson Tide. After getting upset by Ole Miss for the second straight year, many outsiders began to question whether Alabama could keep up their dominant run. They were underdogs against Georgia (rarely will you ever see ‘Alabama’ and ‘underdogs’ in the same sentence). Big mistake. Never count out a Nick Saban-coached team, ever. Alabama came into Athens, Georgia and clobbered the Bulldogs 38-10, and reminded everyone that they’re still the team to beat in the SEC. 

2. Which team had the most disappointing loss?

Tyler: The Nebraska Cornhuskers take this “award” for their loss to the unranked Illinois Fighting Illini. This is the third game this season where the Huskers held their opponent scoreless in the first half, but the “Heart Attack Huskers” nearly gave one of those games away, and ended up actually doing it in this one. Up 13-7 on third and 7 with 55 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, the Nebraska coaches decide to pass the ball instead of run it, while Illinois had no timeouts. 

The pass fell incomplete, and because of swirling winds that reached speeds over 30 miles per hour, the coaches decided against a 45-yard field goal. The fourth down call was another pass, which also fell incomplete. Had the coaches ran the ball on third and 7, Illinois would have only had about 10-15 seconds left to march down the field, but instead, they had 51 seconds. 

A 50-yard pass and multiple pass interference penalties later, the Fighting Illini scored on a one-yard touchdown pass, and hit the PAT to win. Poor playcalling and awful time management cost the Huskers the win. Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw the ball 31 times, completing only 10 of those passes. 

On a violently windy day, where Nebraska successfully averaged 5.5 yards per rush, fans and media pundits everywhere questioned the offensive gameplan of the Husker coaching staff. The decision to pass the ball so often, combined with time mismanagement, drops the Huskers to 2-3 on the season, and gives them the most disappointing loss of Week 5.

Andy: The UCLA bubble has finally popped. The Bruins, led by true freshman phenom Josh Rosen, had a very disappointing night on offense, converting only 3-of-14 on third down, and gaining 342 yards. Rosen threw for 280 yards, two TDs, one INT, and earned a pedestrian 37.5 QBR. The Sun Devils offense showed up when it had to, due to a brilliant showing on defense. The first score of the game was a safety from UCLA’s 13 yard line, and the Sun Devils never surrendered the lead. Moving forward, the Pac-12 will likely be one of the most interesting conferences to follow with a surplus of high-powered teams.

Robert: Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish held Clemson’s star QB Deshaun Watson to just 97 yards passing and outgained the Tigers 437-296, yet fell to the Tigers 24-22. Notre Dame allowed 14 points in the game’s first six minutes thanks to sloppy defense and a 15-yard punt. 

In inclement weather, Clemson loaded the box because Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly consistently tried to run the ball on the early downs, instead of allowing QB DeShone Kizer to air it out. The Tigers benefited from four Irish turnovers. Both teams looked like legitimate playoff contenders, but Notre Dame returned home from Memorial Stadium with nothing but a missed opportunity for a marquee road win.

Sean: What else can go wrong for Texas? Apparently a lot more than what has gone wrong already. A 50-7 loss to TCU pretty much sums up exactly how this season has gone so far the Longhorns. The Texas offense was abysmal yet again, and didn’t even get on the scoreboard until there was 5:14 left in the game. 

For a coach who’s supposed to be a defensive whiz, Charlie Strong certainly did not have an answer for TCU. Giving up 604 yards of offense to any team is never a good sign, and Strong better hope for forgiveness or a quick turnaround because his seat is getting pretty hot right about now.

David: The Ole Miss Rebels had high aspirations, especially after beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Unfortunately, they ran into a strong and determined Gator team and were destroyed 38-10. Quarterback Chad Kelly was harassed all night as he was sacked four times, lost two fumbles, and threw an interception.

3. Offensive Player of the Week

Tyler: Leonard Fournette continues his ridiculous season, but everyone expected him to put up gaudy numbers against Eastern Michigan’s defense, which ranks last in the nation in rushing. So, instead of giving him Offensive POTW, I’m going to give it to Ez
ekiel Elliot. He was there for the Ohio State Buckeyes when they needed him, rushing for a career-high 274 yards on only 23 carries. 

He provided the spark that the Buckeyes needed when he pulled off touchdown runs of 55, 65, and 75 yards, after enduring a tough first half against the Indiana Hoosiers. Without Elliot’s electrifying runs, the Buckeyes likely would have lost this game, which makes his performance even more important.

Andy: While Zeke did put on a great show against Indiana, my pick is Fournette. LSU was having some trouble with the unranked Eastern Michigan Eagles, only leading 20-14 at halftime. On the first play of the second half, Fournette broke a 75-yard run to give the Tigers a two score lead. 

His average per game is now 216 yards, and he is on pace for 2,376 yards. Sanders’ rushing record of 2,628 yards is within reach, Fournette just needs to turn on the afterburners a little more. LSU’s first game against McNeese State was cancelled due to inclement weather, and having one fewer game could keep Fournette out of the record books.

Robert: For his unique performance, I have to give this award to UNC quarterback Marquise Williams. The Tar Heels’ do-it-all player threw for 134 yards on 13 for 24 passing, rushed for 148 more on 15 carries, and even caught a pass for 37 yards. Williams led UNC in all three categories while scoring three touchdowns (two on the ground, one on his reception), as the Tar Heels shocked a quickly fading Georgia Tech team 38-31.

Sean: Trevone Boykin, for me, really got back to showing why a lot of people were so high on him to win the Heisman this season in his performance against Texas. Boykin threw for 332 yards, recorded a passer efficiency rating of 183.96, and lit up the endzone five times through the air (the second time in three games that he’s done that). If TCU’s defense isn’t able to keep pace, at least Boykin is making sure the offense continues to get into the end zone. 

David: I agree with Tyler. Ezekiel Elliot put the Buckeyes on his back with 274 rushing yards and three touchdowns. It was his first 200+ rushing yard performance this season. Indiana was giving Ohio State quite a scare. Unfortunately for them, the Buckeyes have Elliot, and they do not.

4. Defensive Player of the Week

Tyler: Here’s another answer where it is hard not to pick a Florida Gator (yes, I was awarded my degree from UF, but I do not consider myself a Gator fan. I promise there is no bias from me here.) Antonio Morrison played lights-out for the Gators against Ole Miss. The senior linebacker posted 16 tackles (five solo), with 3.5 tackles for loss, including half a sack. 

When the third-ranked team in the nation comes into your stadium and you play a vital role in holding them to only 10 points, it is very difficult for anyone to not realize how well you played. And that is precisely what Morrison did.

Andy: The nod has to go to Antonio Morrison. Anytime a player has 16 tackles against a Top 25 offense, you know they had a truly special performance. Florida’s walloping of Ole Miss is a major topic this week because of how strong they looked on offense, but holding the Rebels to 10 points is just as big of an accomplishment, and Morrison was a major part of that.

Robert: Michigan middle linebacker Desmond Morgan had nine tackles (five solo) and an interception in the Wolverines’ dominating win over Maryland. Morgan, a fifth-year senior who was granted eligibility due to medical hardship after missing the team’s final 11 games in 2014, has been instrumental in limiting Michigan’s opponents to just 184 total yards of offense per game. Morgan spearheads this mighty Michigan defense that ranks in the top five nationally in nearly every defensive category.

Sean: I’m just going to give this to the Florida Gators defense overall. Ole Miss could not get anything going down in the Swamp, and Chad Kelly found himself on the ground way too many times. The Gators registered 11 tackles for loss (four sacks), five pass breakups, four QB hurries, and two forced fumbles. 

Antonio Morrison led the charge with 16 tackles and Vernon Hargreaves III notched another interception. People expected a defensive shootout in this game, but Florida’s defense delivered and only gave up 10 points. By far, this is one of the best defensive performances from any team all season.

David: Antonio Morrison was everywhere for the Gators. His 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and half a sack paved the way for a dominant defensive performance against the Ole Miss Rebels. Before the season even began, Morrison had doubts because of an injury that he had suffered. With this performance, he has erased all doubts. 

5. Freshman of the Week

Tyler: I tried to find someone else who was more impressive than Will Grier, but I could not, so I have to give yet another award to the Gators. The kid played with the flu against the No. 3 team in the nation, but it did not faze him one bit as he finished 24 for 29 with 271 yards and four touchdowns. 

All four touchdowns came in the first half, where he posted a 206.8 quarterback rating. The “landshark” defense of the Ole Miss Rebels failed to show up, and Will Grier exploited them for the best game of his young career. You have to go all the way back to Chris Leak in 2005 to find a Gator quarterback that threw for four touchdowns in one half. I swear, I would not be giving all these Gators awards if they had not played a top-five team. 

However, I think I set myself up for this by giving grief to the writers for last week. As I said in my award for most impressive win, I am eating crow for my comments about Gator bias. This team is legitimate, and they are led by one of the best freshman quarterbacks in the country.

Andy: While Grier went off and had an insane statsheet, I’m going to give this award to Minkah Fitzpatrick. The true freshman DB had a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown, to put Alabama up 17-3 in the first half against Georgia. The play was an integral part of the Tide’s roll over the Bulldogs.

Robert: TCU’s Kavontae Turpin had just six catches on Saturday against Texas, but they went for 138 yards and four touchdowns. The speedy Turpin – who is just 5 foot 9 and 155 pounds – clearly cannot be defended in man coverage by linebackers, which will be an issue for all of TCU’s opponents. The Horned Frogs just have too many offensive weapons, and Turpin will be a tough cover for every defense the team faces.

Sean: You have to give this one to Grier. The first-year QB used the momentum he built in the comeback win against Tennessee and poured it into the game against Ole Miss. If he truly was suffering from flu-like symptoms, I’m sure Gator fans wouldn’t mind him being sick for every game if he can perform like that. 

He showed excellent command of the offense, and threw for over 270 yards for a second straight game. We saw that he could be accurate in his first game against New Mexico State, but he’d been a bit sloppy until this past week, completing 82.8% of his passes. The Gators have something special with Grier, and if he can continue to improve, he could get some hardware at the end of the season.

David: Will Grier, despite having the flu, not only started, he completely picked the Ole Miss defense apart. He had 271 passing yards, completed 83% of his passes, and threw four touchdowns in the first half (becoming the first Gator quarterback to accomplish that since Chris Leak in 2005). He built off of his
clutch fourth-quarter performance against Tennessee to have the game of his life. For the first time since the Tebow years, Florida might finally have a quarterback.

SQ Heisman Power Rankings: 1st Edition

Welcome to the first ever SQ Heisman Power Rankings. Now several weeks into the season, our writers have conducted a roundtable to put forth their takes on the frontrunners for college football’s most prestigious award. The five players in the rankings are: Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Trevone Boykin, Nick Chubb and Chad Kelly.

As you will see throughout the rankings, our writers disagree on where each player ends up. For example, one may say he ranked a player at number 4, and the actual ranking came out to number 2. That is all part of the fun.

These rankings will be updated every week and will more than likely shuffle through a handful of players. In fact, an honorable mentions section is at the bottom of the page, so look out for those guys to make a leap in the upcoming weeks.

How the Scoring Works

Each of the writers was asked to rank the top 5 current Heisman contenders from 1-5. This 1-5 ranking was then used as a points system. I tallied up how many points each athlete got and ranked them based upon their total. The lower one’s total is, the higher on the rankings he is. 

Without further ado, here are the SQ Heisman Power Rankings heading into Week 4:

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU 6 points (unanimous #1)

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

19 carries 228 yards 3 touchdowns vs. Auburn

47 carries 387 yards 6 touchdowns this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: After Fournette singlehandedly massacred the Auburn defense last Saturday, he’s been a story across the country. He showed a lot of promise at the end of last season and everybody was expecting him to break out this year. Well, it’s safe to say he has. Through two games, against two SEC opponents, Fournette is averaging over 8 yards per carry. At this rate, he can finish the regular season with over 1700 yards and nearly 30 touchdowns. I have a good feeling that it’s within reach.

Geoff Hammersley: Leonard Fournette is the man everyone is chasing right now. After a 3 TD performance against Auburn, he looks like the toughest running back to bring down in the country. If he can keep up this kind of production throughout the season, he has a good chance to be a finalist – at a minimum.

Alex Koslow: Leonard Fournette almost singlehandedly tore up an Auburn defense that was supposed to be much improved with the help of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. In only two games, his rushing numbers put him in the top 15 for rushing yards and top 10 for touchdowns. Barring a setback, Fournette will be headed to New York for the Heisman presentation.

Robert Hess: Fournette is an absolute monster. When you go off on an, albeit struggling, Auburn defense for 228 yards and three scores, you are going to vault to the top of the Heisman power rankings.

David Street: Is there any team that can stop Leonard Fournette right now? Mississippi State couldn’t and neither could Auburn. Fournette unleashed his full potential against the Tigers as he absolutely tore their defense apart with 228 rushing touchdowns and three touchdowns. He’s looking like the best running back not just in the SEC, but in the nation.

2. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia 13 points

Jeremy Brevard / USA Today Sports

21 carries 159 yards 2 touchdowns vs. South Carolina

56 carries 468 yards 4 touchdowns this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: Nick Chubb has not disappointed since becoming Georgia’s starter. He ended last year as arguably the best back in the SEC and has since continued to prove his worth. Chubb is also averaging over 8 yards per carry and is on a similar historical pace as Fournette is right now. It’s going to be a race between those two for the Heisman.

Geoff Hammersley: Staying in the SEC, I have Georgia’s Nick Chubb at second. Chubb is speedy, at that’s a big reason for his 468 total yards on the ground this season. As Georgia and LSU go about their respective seasons, the eye-test might be the only differentiating factor between Fournette and Chubb.

Alex Koslow: What more can you say about Chubb? He took over for Todd Gurley last year and has looked like a Heisman candidate ever since. With 11 straight games of 100+ rushing yards Chubb is almost a lock to be a finalist. The only thing that could hinder Chubb is Georgia using sophomore Sony Michel more. We could possibly see Fournette and Chubb in the SEC Championship game, which could determine the Heisman winner.

Robert Hess: Chubb is performing well, but Georgia has posted wins against weaker competition. The Georgia RB does have a superb 8.4 yards per carry, so he and Fournette will be duking it out for the top spot.

David Street: Nick Chubb is still a beast. He rushed for over 100 yards for the 11th straight game.

3. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss 22 points

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

18-33 362 total yards 4 touchdowns vs. Alabama

47-73 965 total yards 12 touchdowns 1 int. this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: If Leonard Fournette is the talk of the nation right now, Chad Kelly is the runner up. Ole Miss has been lighting opponents up and it’s mostly thanks to Kelly. The Rebels put up 43 points against Alabama, in Tuscaloosa. Chad Kelly accounted for over half of the team’s offense that night. He’s quickly making a case for himself as the best quarterback in the country.

Geoff Hammersley: Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly comes in at number four on my list. A breakout game against Alabama, especially this early in the season, can give anyone Heisman momentum. Kelly fired four touchdowns against perennial powerhouse Alabama, including a quintessential Heisman moment TD that came off a bad snap and a tip by an Alabama defender. If Kelly can guide Ole Miss to a 10-win season, he will be a real contender to walk away with the trophy in December.

Alex Koslow: Chad Kelly’s rise to fame reminds me a little Johnny Manziel’s. Everyone knew about Kelly coming into the year, but wasn’t sure what he was really capable of showing. He put up big numbers in the games leading up to Alabama, and like Manziel, in the spotlight against the Tide he rose to the occasion. Kelly impressed fans and the hype is now building for him to be considered as a serious Heisman candidate. Alabama’s defense was supposed to be one of the best in the country and Kelly tore them up with four touchdowns.

Robert Hess: Chad Kelly impressed by putting up 4 (three through the air, one on the ground) touchdowns in Ole Miss’ win in Tuscaloosa. However awesome he was, albeit on only 54.5% passing, he faced two ridiculously poor defenses in weeks one and two. If Ole Miss can stay undefeated, expect Kelly’s name to stay in the picture.

David Street: Chad Kelly came into a hostile
environment and passed the test with flying colors. He led his Ole Miss Rebels to an impressive victory over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa with 341 passing yards and three touchdown passes.

4. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU 23 points

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

21-30 504 total yards 6 touchdowns 1 int vs. SMU

65-99 1133 all purpose yards 12 touchdowns 3 ints this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: Trevone Boykin has been underwhelming at best this season. Maybe this is due to us expecting too much out of him. Boykin burst onto the scene last season, establishing himself as one of the flashiest guys in the NCAA. Ever since his struggles against Minnesota, his reputation has been hurt, even though he’s already totaled over 1000 yards and double digit touchdowns. It’s going to take a quality performance against a tough Big 12 team to move Boykin back up the list.

Geoff Hammersley: I have Trevone Boykin in fifth. Even though Boykin tore through the SMU defense, the quality of his opponents comes into question. Like last week, Boykin will stay in my top-5, but will only move up if he can recreate the numbers he’s had thus far against Oklahoma or Baylor.

Alex Koslow: Boykin was my preseason favorite to win the Heisman. A dual-threat QB who can put up big numbers and light up the scoreboard, what’s not to love? From his start against Minnesota, Boykin has yet to meet the expectations I had for him. He’s still putting up stellar numbers, but with running backs taking center stage, Boykin is falling back.

Robert Hess: Trevone Boykin will remain in this conversation until the season ends. He is putting up RG3-like numbers and similarly suffers from being on a team with a porous defense. Boykin will have to keep slinging and keep his INT numbers down if he intends to stay in the Heisman picture.

David Street: Trevone Boykin had a very solid game against SMU with 504 total yards of offense and six total touchdowns. He is lower on my list because the other contestants have faced slightly better competition. TCU’s offense is looking like a juggernaut and Boykin is powering the engine.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State 26 points

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

23 carries 108 yards vs. Northern Illinois

61 carries 331 yards 4 touchdowns this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: Ezekiel Elliott’s slip in the rankings is mostly due to Ohio State’s mediocrity this year. Yes, they’re still the number one team in the country, but they barely escaped a Northern Illinois team that they should’ve beaten by 40. Elliott himself has played well, but not at the same level as Fournette and Chubb.

Geoff Hammersley: Since I already have running backs going no. 1 and no. 2, I might as well make it three deep. Ezekiel Elliott from the Buckeyes is my no. 3 man right now in the Heisman race. Even though Ohio State has shown a lackluster offense in their last two games, Elliott has still been able to produce. Remember, Elliott broke off an 80-yard TD against the Hokies, and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in every game this season. He has just as many touchdowns as Chubb, and has only about 60 fewer yards than Fournette.

Alex Koslow: Ezekiel Elliott, the forgotten player. Elliott was supposed to build off his final three games last year, but everything coming from the Buckeyes has been about the quarterbacks. Elliott is still in the top 25 in rushing yards, but has yet to meet the expectations everyone had for him coming into the season. If Ohio State can’t figure out their quarterback position and keeps winning, it will be because of Elliott. That should be enough to at least bring his name up in Heisman conversation.

Robert Hess: Zeke is a Heisman candidate because he’s on the nation’s #1 team. At “only” 5.4 yards per carry, I don’t think he belongs in the top 5 quite yet, but he’ll get there.

David Street: Ezekiel Elliot, by his standards, has not been overly impressive. He has still been very, very good but so far, we just haven’t seen that Elliot-esque type game yet like last year. He rushed for 108 yards against a very underrated Northern Illinois team but failed to register a touchdown. With Ohio State’s struggles at quarterback right now, they need to feed Elliot the ball more and let him go off.

Honorable Mentions

Although you did not see these guys on this week’s list, keep a close eye on them throughout the season:

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

26 carries 219 yards 1 touchdown vs. BYU

58 carries 511 total yards 3 touchdowns this season

Erik Weiss: Paul Perkins is a guy to watch out for. Yes, we already have three backs in the top 5, but Perkins is quietly knocking on the door. Last game, he ran for 219 yards against a stout BYU team. Perkins is a big play waiting to happen for the Bruins, as he’s averaging nearly 8 yards per carry this season and has reached the end zone 3 times. If UCLA continues to win and Perkins continues to put up big numbers like he did against BYU, he’ll be in the top 5 soon enough.

Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports

2 tackles 1 interception returned for 41-yard touchdown vs. NIU

12 tackles 2.5 sacks 1 interception 1 touchdown this season

Geoff Hammersley: The one guy I have on the outside looking in is a defensive player. Darron Lee from the Buckeyes has been a force, and has been a big factor in the team’s past two wins. Lee is one of the defensive leaders on the team in terms of sacks, and housed an interception last week against Northern Illinois.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

15 carries 54 yards vs. Boston College

64 carries 476 yards 5 touchdowns this season

Alex Koslow: My outsider that I feel should be brought up in the conversation is Dalvin Cook at FSU. Cook is second in rushing yards and top 20 in touchdowns. The level of competition could be the reason no one mentions Cook. His first two games were against Texas State and South Florida and he gained 422 yards. The first good defense the Seminoles faced was BC and Cook only managed 50 yards. If Cook can carry the offense and perform well against quality opponents, his name should rise in the conversation.

C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame

tos-USA TODAY Sports

22 carries, 198 yards, 3 TDs against GT

59 ATT, 451 yards, 4 TDs, 7.6 YPC

Robert Hess: Prosise (5th in the NCAA in rushing yards) deserves to be on Heisman ballots because he’s allowed the Notre Dame offense to remain potent despite losing their starting signal caller in Malik Zaire.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

32/38 572 total yards 6 touchdowns vs. Tulsa

74/110 1201 total yards 14 touchdowns this season

David Street: One player who is not on this list but I believe will be very soon is Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. The junior lit up Tulsa’s defense with 487 passing yards and four passing touchdowns on 32/38 passing. He also rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Mayfield has been very productive for the Sooners and is currently in the top five in the nation for passing yards.

Tune in next week for the second edition of SQ Heisman Power Rankings!

NFL Pythag Model: Power Rankings and Win Projections for the 2015 Season

After what seemed like an eternity, football is back. Tailgates and flat-screens will now make Sundays the best day of the week.

During the seven month NFL offseason, armed with far too much free time and nothing good to watch on TV, a good chunk of my time went toward predicting how good each NFL team would be in 2015. One thing led to another, and the end result was a pretty cool statistical model built using a combination of Google Spreadsheets and R.

It is called the Pythag Model because the foundation of the model is a formula derived by one of the pioneers of sports analytics, Bill James, called the pythagorean expectation. It uses margin of victory in previous performances to analyze the true strength of a team and how often they will win in the future.

The model has a few holes that will leave the final results vulnerable to significant error. The holes are:

Projecting a rookie QB is quite difficult, and for that reason there is considerable margin for error in the ranking of the Bills, Buccaneers, and Titans.

Jason Pierre-Paul and Aldon Smith are both dynamite edge rushers and are invaluable assets when on the field. How much either will play this season is not yet clear.

Attempting to evaluate rookie coaches is even more difficult than doing so for rookie QBs, so teams with first year head coaches also will have a large margin for error.

Now to the good stuff. Listed below are power rankings and win projections based on the Pythag Score (PS) generated from the model. The higher the PS, the greater the chance a team wins in a theoretical matchup with a neutral opponent.

Pay more attention to the PS than to the team ranking, as two teams may be far apart in ranking but close in PS, particularly in the 12-20 range. The win projections are calculated by adding up the percent chance to win each game for the entire season so they are in decimal form. The Vegas O/U are courtesy of bovada.lv. Don’t consider any projection within two games of the Vegas line significant enough to act upon. 

Power Rankings:

1. Denver Broncos – Pythag Score (PS): 0.806

Vegas O/U (Vegas): 10 Wins

Pythag Win Projection (Pythag): 10.4 Wins

Image title

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With a healthy Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos are the most complete team in the NFL. The defense is elite, maybe the best in the league. CB Chris Harris Jr. CB Aqib Talib, LB Brandon Marshall, EDGE Von Miller, EDGE DeMarcus Ware, and DE Malik Jackson are all above average at their position.

The addition of G Evan Mathis will help shore up the interior of the offensive line and help in the running game, but the key on offense will be rookie LT Ty Sambrailo. If he can protect Peyton’s blindside well enough to keep him healthy, the Broncos are the 2015 Super Bowl favorites. 

2. Seattle Seahawks – PS: 0.781

Vegas: 11 Wins

Pythag: 10.7 Wins

Kam Chancellor holdout aside, this team is still as stacked as ever. Adding TE Jimmy Graham is a big plus, but losing C Max Unger in the trade to get him will further weaken an interior offensive line that was already among the league’s worst. If the offensive line can hold up and they get Chancellor signed, a third Super Bowl trip in a row could be in store for Seattle.

3. New England Patriots – PS: 0.746

Vegas: Not available due to game on Thursday night (odds to beat PIT were 64%)

Pythag: 11.4

It wouldn’t be the NFL if the Patriots weren’t in Super Bowl contention. The offense will be exceptional once again and while the defense will be good, New England will miss Darrelle RevisTom Brady, Bill Belichick and company should have no trouble making the playoffs against a relatively easy schedule. 

4. Baltimore Ravens – PS: 0.708

Vegas: 9 Wins

Pythag: 10.6 Wins

The Ravens are good year-in and year-out primarily due to the magnificent work done by GM Ozzie Newsome in the draft and free agency. The roster is always stocked with young talent and 2015 is no exception. 

Joe Flacco will lead a serviceable offense driven by a strong line. The defense will be a classic Ravens defense and wreak havoc on opposing backfields. With a few good breaks they could find themselves in the Super Bowl.

5. Green Bay Packers – PS: 0.646

Vegas O/U: 11 Wins

PWP: 10.2 Wins

Image title

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in football. The Green Bay offense will be top-notch as long as he is under center. Jordy Nelson‘s season ending injury hurts, but what is equally concerning is that four different starting offensive lineman have been injured at one point or another in training camp. That being said, the defense is decent and you can never count out Aaron Rodgers.

6. Indianapolis Colts – PS: 0.640

Vegas O/U: 11 wins

PWP: 11 wins

Andrew Luck is still improving and is already one of the better QBs in the NFL. Locked and loaded with a full arsenal of pass catching weapons, Luck is the early favorite to lead the league in passing. The interior offensive line is poor, but LT Anthony Castonzo is a stud and RT Jack Mewhort showed some positive signs last season. 

The defense, led by All-World CB Vontae Davis, is still not quite good enough for the Colts to be considered a top five team. The regular season schedule is incredibly easy and should allow for a monster season from Luck and the Indianapolis offense. 

7. San Diego Chargers – PS: 0.603

Vegas O/U: 8 Wins

PWP: 10 Wins

The first real surprise on the list is the San Diego Chargers. Phillip Rivers is getting old, but is still a top 10 QB. The Chargers have depth at RB (not a huge Melvin Gordon fan but Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead are both quality players), a solid O-Line and a quietly impressive group of pass catchers (Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green). If CB Jason Verrett, CB Brandon Flowers and S Eric Weddle can stay healthy, the defense will be good enough for the Chargers to steal a wild card spot.

8. Minnesota Vikings – PS: 0.600

Vegas: 7.5 Wins

Pythag: 10.1 Wins

Add Adrian Peterson< /a> to a Vikings team with a promising young QB (Teddy Bridgewater) and an up-and-coming defense and you get a top-10 NFL team. If Teddy can build upon a strong finish to his rookie season and the wheels don’t fall off the injury wagon, the Vikings are a playoff team in 2015. Their schedule isn’t easy, but the Vegas Over/Under of 7.5 wins is far too low.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers – PS: 0.589

Vegas: Not available due to Thursday night game (odds to beat NE were 36%)

Pythag: 9 Wins

Image title

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ben is surrounded by arguably the most explosive group of skill position players in the league in Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. The offensive line is a quality group but will miss C Maurkice Pouncey for at least half the season.

The Pittsburgh defense is a work in progress and will keep the Steelers from being elite in 2015. They won’t be the worst unit in the NFL, but they will be lucky if they finish as league average.

10. Dallas Cowboys – PS: 0.573

Vegas: 9.5 Wins

Pythag: 10 Wins

Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and the league’s co-top offensive line (Cleveland Browns have the other top OL) should have no trouble scoring points in 2015. The defense won’t be quite as imposing. 

Losing CB Orlando Scandrick for the year to a torn ACL was a huge blow to an already porous secondary. The Cowboys could outplay this ranking if DE Greg Hardy returns to his 2013 form and EDGE Randy Gregory and EDGE Demarcus Lawrence can generate a pass rush.

11. Philadelphia Eagles – PS: 0.562

Vegas: 9.5 Wins

Pythag: 10.1 Wins

One team out of the Eagles and Cowboys will win the NFC East while the other will likely claim a wild card spot. The Eagles have one of the lightest schedules in the league and their easy schedule is why they are projected to win slightly more games than the Cowboys despite a lower PS. 

Sam Bradford is still somewhat of an unknown. Chip Kelly offenses can succeed with almost anyone at QB so the Eagles can survive if Bradford gets injured again and Mark Sanchez has to take over. 

The front seven is loaded while the secondary is still not where it needs to be despite adding CB Byron Maxwell in free agency. The front office must be regretting trading CB Brandon Boykin to the Steelers after seeing their would-be slot corner, rookie 6th round pick JaCorey Shepherd, tear his ACL later in training camp. Ultimately, if Sam Bradford can showcase the talent that got him selected 1st overall the Eagles will win the division.

12. Kansas City Chiefs – PS: 0.539

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 9 wins

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The health of NT Dontari Poe is the key to the Chiefs season. The offense will be a classic Alex Smith-led offense. The defense must carry the load and Poe holds the Kansas City defense together. 

He had back surgery roughly two months ago and has recovered much faster than was expected. Poe is considered probable to play in the Chiefs Week 1 matchup with the Houston Texans. A full 16 games from Poe will likely mean a season above .500 for the Chiefs.

13. New Orleans Saints – PS: 0.529

Vegas: 8.5 Wins

Pythag: 10.2 Wins

If it weren’t for Drew Brees, the Saints would be among the worst teams in the league. Luckily for Saints fans Drew Brees is still a top 5 QB. The Saints face the leagues easiest schedule according to opponents average Pythag Score. The most highly ranked team they face all season is the Colts, and they play the Jaguars, Redskins and Titans once and the Falcons and Buccaneers twice.

The defense isn’t going to be good, but as long as Brees, OT Zach Strief, and OT Terron Armstead stay healthy the offense will put up points. DE Cameron Jordan was recently involved in an off-field incident that could potentially result in legal ramifications, though he will likely not be suspended. The Saints need him rushing the passer to win the NFC South.

14. Carolina Panthers – PS: 0.520

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 9.9 wins

The season-ending injury to Kelvin Benjamin is less of an issue than the injuries to defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Charles Johnson. None appear to be overly serious, but if one or two miss extended time this ranking will be too high. If the Panthers utilize Cam Newton‘s running ability more in 2015 it could help offset their deficiencies at WR and OT and lead them to another NFC South title.

15. Buffalo Bills – PS: 0.508

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 9.6 wins

The Buffalo defense is littered with above average starters. Barring injuries to multiple key guys and the Bills could have the #1 defense. Rex Ryan will have a lot of fun calling plays on Sundays. 

Tyrod Taylor is the X-factor for the Bills. If he can play at a league average level, the Bills will make the playoffs. If he plays like a career backup, they could go 6-10. If the Bills get Tyrod out on the bootleg 5-8 times per game and he runs for a first down on third down every now and then, the Bills could be a wild card team in the AFC.

16. Detroit Lions – PS: 0.498

Vegas: 8 wins

Pythag: 8.1 wins

The Detroit defense will not be as dominant as it was in 2014 after losing both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. On the bright side, Lions DC Teryl Austin is a tremendous defensive coordinator and has suitable replacements for Suh/Fairley in Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker.

Matthew Stafford is supremely talented from a physical standpoint, but so far in his career hasn’t shown the ability to consistently take care of the football. If Matthew Stafford cuts down on his interceptions the Lions could make a run at the playoffs.

17. Cincinnati Bengals – PS: 0.488

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 8.1 wins

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Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The clock is ticking for Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. If he doesn’t lead them to the playoffs both he and Marvin Lewis will likely be gone. 

The talent is abundant on offense. Top five offensive line, A.J. Green and Marvin Jones on the outside, Tyler Eifert at TE and Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard in the backfield. The offense should put up points. 

The defense has some talent but will likely be slightly below average unless Vontaze Burfict comes back healthy and returns to his 2013 form. Their schedule does them no favors,
and as a result the playoffs are unlikely for the Bengals.

18. Miami Dolphins – PS: 0.481 

Vegas: 9 wins

Pythag: 8.8 wins

Ryan Tannehill has plenty of weapons to throw the ball to, but the guys protecting him up front may not be able to give him enough time. The Dolphins desperately need LT Branden Albert to stay healthy. Coming off a torn MCL and ACL, his health is a huge question mark. 

Ndamukong Suh, Cameron WakeBrent Grimes and Koa Misi should keep points off the board and be an above average defense, but this team’s season hinges on its offensive line.

19. Cleveland Browns – PS: 0.452

Vegas: 6.5 wins

Pythag: 7.2 wins

Josh McCown was downright terrible last year in Tampa Bay. However, the Bucs had no semblance of an offensive line and literally did not have an offensive coordinator. In Cleveland he will be playing behind potentially the best offensive line in the league and will have plenty of time to throw. He won’t revert to his incredible 2013 form, but should be better than he was in 2014. The Browns front seven is decent while the secondary is elite. They should be better than most expect in 2015.

20. Atlanta Falcons – PS: 0.437

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 8.6 wins

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Desmond Trufant are a special trio. The issue is the talent around them. Vic Beasley is going to be very good, but he’s a rookie so its not fair to expect too much right away. The Falcons’ schedule is among the easiest in the league based on opposing PS and it could allow them to sneak into the playoffs.

21. New York Jets – PS: 0.426

Vegas: 7.5 wins

Pythag: 7.9 wins

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Up to this point in time Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a better QB than Geno Smith, so the locker room fiasco may have actually been a blessing in disguise. The defense will be solid with the addition of Darrelle Revis, but the offense won’t move the ball efficiently enough to make a run into the playoffs. 

22. New York Giants – PS: 0.420

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 7.3 wins

Losing LT Will Beatty for at least six games is a huge loss for a team that was already weak at offensive tackle. Rookie 1st round pick Ereck Flowers will man the blind side while journeyman Marshall Newhouse will likely play RT (unless the coaches wise up and slide Geoff Schwartz out to tackle). 

Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie form as good of a CB duo as there is in the NFL, but the question marks at safety and linebacker will keep the Giants defense from being formidable in 2015.

23. Arizona Cardinals – PS: 0.418

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 6.4 wins

Out of all 32 teams, this ranking surprised me the most…at first. After investigating further it makes sense. Carson Palmer is a quality NFL QB when he’s on the field but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy the past few seasons. He will be playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and staying upright will be easier said than done.

On the defensive side of the ball Calais Campbell is a stud up front. In the secondary the Cardinals have Patrick Peterson, who should improve after getting a handle on his diabetes, and Tyrann Mathieu, who is returning from injury. Outside of those three and a few others, the roster is as barren as there is in the league. Bruce Arians will have to work some serious magic to get this team to the playoffs.

24. San Francisco 49ers – PS: 0.414

Vegas: 7 wins

Pythag: 6.2 wins

The defections the 49ers suffered this offseason have been well documented. Despite all of the losses they’ve suffered, there are still quality players on the roster. Colin Kaepernick is solid, NaVorro Bowman is back and they still have Joe Staley at LT. The playoffs are unlikely, but things will have to go very wrong for them to end up among the league’s bottom dwellers.

25. St. Louis Rams – PS: 0.409

Vegas: 8 wins

Pythag: 6.8 wins

The Rams defensive line is as good as it gets and is led by one of my personal favorite players, Aaron Donald. Adding Nick Foles at QB is a solid addition, but he is not going to carry them to the playoffs by himself. The roster is still a few years away from being deep enough to be a true contender.

26. Houston Texans – PS: 0.355

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 6.7 wins

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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

J.J. Watt is unquestionably the most valuable non-QB in the league. If only he had more help. DeAndre Hopkins is a player to keep an eye on, but other than him, the Texans are short on star players. Arian Foster is fantastic when he’s healthy, which unfortunately isn’t often. Brian Hoyer isn’t the worst QB in the league, but he’s too close to the bottom for the Texans to be contenders in 2015.

27. Chicago Bears – PS: 0.349

Vegas: 7 wins

Pythag: 5.8 wins

The Bears have the ability to outperform this ranking if the new coaching staff can maximize all of the talent on the roster. Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee and Jared Allen comprise a solid group of pass rushers and Kyle Fuller should improve in his second season. The safeties and interior defensive line appear to be problematic.

If Jay Cutler improves, Kyle Long moves to tackle and both Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal stay healthy, the offense could be quite effective. Jeffery has dealt with a calf injury for the past month and the odds that he plays 16 healthy games looks slim at this point. Eddie Royal also missed time in camp due to a hip injury. After Jeffery and Royal the depth at WR is nonexistent. Head Coach John Fox, Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio have some work to do, but the roster has potential.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – PS: 0.320

Vegas: 6 wins

Pythag: 5.5 wins

The Bucs will go as far Jameis Winston takes them. If he plays well, they could contend in the NFC South. If he doesn’t, they could have the #1 pick again in next year’s draft. He will have his work cut out for him with WR Mike Evans suffering from a hamstring injury and LT Demar Dotson out for at least the first eight games. 

The defense has three bright spots: DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David, and CB Alterraun Verner. The defense, other than the impressive trio, is unimpressive. The coaches would be smart to start Bradley McDougald at safety. He has far more upside than the other options currently on the roster. The Bucs should play as many young guys as possible and build for the future.

29. Tennessee Titans – PS: 0.264

Vegas: 5.5 wins

Pythag: 3.9 wins

Like the Buccaneers, the Titans are depending heavily on Marcus Mariota right away. DT Jurrell Casey is a star in the making and is the key cog in what will be a solid front seven. Outisde of the defensive front seven there isn’t a lot to get excited about. If Mariota shows promise in 2015, the season will be considered a success.

30. Oakland Raiders – PS: 0.250

Vegas: 5.5 wins

PPW: 2.8 wins

Derek Carr was not very good in 2014. Even when accounting for some potential improvement he still doesn’t project to be a league average QB in 2015. Amari Cooper will help move the ball on offense and Rodney Hudson is a nice addition on the interior of the offensive line, but there’s little reason to think the Raiders offense will be above average in 2015.

Khalil Mack is everything to the Raiders that the Texans wanted in Jadeveon Clowney. He’s an absolute force on the edge and gives the Oakland defense a fighting chance every Sunday. Combine Mack with Justin Tuck and Aldon Smith and you have what may be the best group of edge rushers in the league. The secondary and linebackers are what will hold the Oakland defense back. 

Unfortunately for Raider Nation, Oakland faces an incredibly difficult schedule. Wins will be hard to come by in 2015.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars – PS: 0.243

Vegas: 5.5 wins

Pythag: 3 wins

As bad as Derek Carr was last year, Blake Bortles was worse. He’s had a nice preseason, but had a nice preseason last year too. He can’t get much worse, but he has a lot of work to do before he is a top 20 QB. Allen Robinson is a nice weapon at WR, but other than that the offense isn’t scaring anyone.

There are a few promising pieces on defense (DL Sen’Derrick Marks, EDGE Ryan Davis, CB Aaron Colvin), but on the whole the defense is deficient in too many areas to keep opponents out of the end zone on a regular basis. The Jaguars did a nice job in the draft this year in rounds 2-6 so the future is looking bright in Jacksonville.

32. Washington Redskins – PS: 0.228

Vegas: 6.5 wins

Pythag: 2.1 wins

The Redskins win the Most Dysfunctional Team Award in a landslide for 2015. The RG3 saga is a complete mess as is the roster itself. New GM Scot McCloughan made some quality free agent pickups this offseason (CB Chris Culliver, DT Stephen Paea, DT Terrance Knighton) but the cupboard was bone dry when he got to Washington. 

The SQ NFL Power Rankings: Week 1

   RK (LW)

1 (1)


New England Patriots

Well, Tom Brady is back, and he’s essentially taking over the same offense he led to a Super Bowl win. The real difference from last season’s Patriots squad is going to be the totally different defense: Darrelle Revis took his talents back to the Jets, Vince Wilfork signed with the Texans, and Brandon Browner signed with the Saints. I don’t expect the Patriots to be able to stop most teams, but I don’t expect many teams to stop the Patriots either. I mean, they do have Gronk. (Tyrell W)

2 (2)


Seattle Seahawks

Adding Jimmy Graham was the biggest change on the offensive side of the ball for Seattle, and Graham’s role on the offense remains a huge question mark that will have to be addressed as the season moves along. Defensively, the core remains the same, but will the production continue? (Bobby E)

3 (3)


Green Bay Packers

Even without Jordy Nelson in the lineup, the Packers are still a Super Bowl contender. Anytime you have Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback, you have a chance to win. If the offensive line can protect Rodgers and the defense can create turnovers, the Pack will be bringing the Lombardi trophy back home. (Dan R)

4 (9)


Indianapolis Colts

The Colts offense only got better this offseason with the additions of Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and Philip Dorsett. The big concern is whether the defensive line has enough depth now that Arthur Jones is out for the season. (Josh C)

5 (5)


Denver Broncos

We’ll learn a lot about the Broncos during their first three games (v. BAL, @ KC, @DET). This may the Broncos’ last season as a Super Bowl contender for some time, so Manning, C.J. Anderson, and the Denver defense must start quickly. (Dominic K)

6 (4)


Dallas Cowboys

Losing Murray will hurt, but this team was a catch away from a rematch with the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game. The offensive and defensive lines will be great, with help on the way when Greg Hardy returns. This team is still loaded, and the playoffs are definitely there for the taking. (Austin T)

7 (14)


Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia’s crazy offseason will finally be put to the test, as Chip Kelly shipped out LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin, but brought in DeMarco Murray and Sam Bradford. The Eagles are taking a huge gamble on Bradford’s health, but could have one of the top offenses in the league yet again. (Austin T)

8 (7)


Pittsburgh Steelers

Gone is former DC Dick LeBeau, the mastermind behind a decade of defensive dominance in Pittsburgh. His protege Keith Butler moves up from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, and is unlikely to stray away from the foundation LeBeau cemented. Star RB Le’Veon Bell’s two-game suspension should be no more than a blip on the radar for a high-powered offensive attack, as QB Ben Roethlisberger should have no issue building off last year’s seventh-best scoring offense. A young defense will be the key for a first-year coordinator, and expect to see the Steelers improve on that side of the ball as the year goes on. (Nick C)

9 (13)


Baltimore Ravens

Though Joe Flacco looked comfortable in Gary Kubiak’s offense, new OC Marc Trestman has vowed he won’t change much in terms of scheme and balancing runs with play-action pass. The Ravens defense gets Jimmy Smith back, and added veterans CB Kyle Arrington and S Kendrick Lewis in an attempt to limit bigger downfield plays. Overall, Baltimore is as sound a football team as any in the NFL, and a playoff berth is once again a strong possibility. (Nick C)

10 (8)


Cincinnati Bengals

QB Andy Dalton got paid top-dollar this offseason (six-year/$96M), meaning his 0-4 postseason record will need a bump in the win column in order to serve what has been one of the NFL’s most consistent franchises since 2011. Expanded roles for RB Jeremy Hill and TE Tyler Eifert should help ease Dalton’s burden. An aging secondary may prove costly, but young CB Dre Kirkpatrick showed flashes of the first-round talent the Bengals have hoped to see since 2012. Like the Ravens and Steelers, the Bengals just don’t have any discernible holes to keep them out of playoff discussion. (Nick C)

11 (11)


Arizona Cardinals

The running game has to be the biggest question mark heading into the season for Arizona. Will Andre Ellington be able to lead the Cardinals, or will Carson Palmer have to throw 40 times again? (Bobby E)

12 (17)


Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins hit the jackpot this offseason by signing Ndamukong Suh to a six-year/$114 million deal, making him the highest pai
d defensive player in NFL history. The Dolphins also bolstered the offense by giving QB Ryan Tannehill more options by signing Greg Jennings and Jordan Cameron. Additionally, the Dolphins traded for wide receiver Kenny Stills and drafted DeVante Parker. Parker has been injured during the preseason, but I expect him to replace the departed Mike Wallace as Tannehill’s primary red zone target once he returns. (Tyrell W)

13 (15)


Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have upgraded at WR by acquiring Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, and their defense figures to be stingy again. But the Chiefs have a brutal early-season schedule, making their Week 1 game at Houston a must-win. (Dominic K)

14 (26)


Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have by far the biggest increase in their power ranking, and for good reason. Adrian Peterson having a year off should put scare into opposing defenses’ eyes, and the evolution of Teddy Bridewater has become apparent. If the defense can find its rhythm, Minnesota can give the Packers a run for the NFC North title. (Dan R)

15 (10)


San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers figure to be in playoff contention deep into December once more. I don’t think the Bolts can compete for a division title, but the offense has major potential now that Melvin Gordon has a functional line to run behind. (Dominic K)

16 (6)


Detroit Lions

The Lions have the biggest drop in ranking out of all 32 teams. Losing the big man in the middle in Suh definitely hurts Detroit. But, if Calvin Johnson can stay healthy and the dual threat of Bell and Abdullah can perform, then the sky’s the limit for the Lions. (Dan R)

17 (16)


Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons, at 17, are our highest-ranked team in the NFC South. They’ve turned the backfield over to a pair of younglings, including rookie starter Tevin Coleman, who hopefully can help Matt Ryan out despite a projected poor offensive line. (Cory R)

18 (12)


Houston Texans

Houston proved last year that a defensive superstar can only take you so far when your QB play is mediocre at best. The biggest challenge facing the Texans in 2015 will be getting consistent QB play. Without it, Houston fans will be waiting at least another year for a return to the playoffs. (Josh C)

19 (21)


New York Giants

There’s no denying that Eli Manning has not fit well into Ben McAdoo’s system over the past few years. But add in a healthy Odell Beckham Jr, and Eli is suddenly closer to Peyton. The defense still has many question marks, but the Giants could be rising up our rankings very soon. (Austin T)

20 (20)


Buffalo Bills

Rex Ryan has a plan and sticks to it no matter what. Build a fantastic defense, rely on a strong running game, put your faith in a suspect QB and make lots of headlines in the media. The Bills made a big splash in trading for LeSean McCoy in the offseason. If McCoy can return to his 2013 form where he rushed for 1,607 yards, then the Bills can compete for second place in the division. Plus, I trust McCoy running the ball more than I trust Tyrod Taylor throwing it. (Tyrell W)

21 (23)


New Orleans Saints

Look below the Saints in the rankings, and it’s slim picking in terms of QB play. Set to establish the run with Mark Ingram even more this season, Drew Brees may see less of the national spotlight than he’s accustomed to. (Cory R)

22 (24)


St. Louis Rams

Take it how you want it, but the Rams now have Nick Foles under center. With Todd Gurley being eased back onto the field, is St. Louis looking to take another year “off” before making a playoff run next season? (Bobby E)

23 (18)


Carolina Panthers

The NFC South champs for a second consecutive season (albeit with a 7-8-1 finish last year), these Panthers again will be putting their offensive deficiencies all on Cam’s shoulders, with a somehow worse receiving corps and backfield than he had last year. (Cory R)

24 (25)


Chicago Bears

The Bears start their season off against their hated rivals the Packers, who have owned them the past few years. The entire defense, as well as the offensive line, are huge question marks coming into the season. Can first year coach John Fox right the ship and bring back tradition for the Bears? (Dan R)

25 (19)


San Francisco 49ers

In the last couple of years, San Francisco has done a perfect 180, leading
the team to the bottom fourth of SQ’s league rankings. Can Colin Kaepernick turn the team around, or is he far from that elite status? Can the 49ers defense exist with its key losses? (Bobby E)

26 (29)


New York Jets

Maybe Geno Smith getting sucker-punched was the best thing that could have happened for the Jets offense. The offense in the preseason seemed to not have too much trouble moving the ball with Ryan Fitzpatrick taking snaps under center. I don’t expect Fitzpatrick’s luck to last, because outside of Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the rest of the o-line are not reliable. If the Jets expect to make any noise this season, they will have to be led by their defense. (Tyrell W)

27 (28)


Oakland Raiders

Like their divisional peers, the Raiders made upgrades at the WR position with Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Unlike those peers, the Raiders will be lucky to win six games. (Dominic K)

28 (22)


Cleveland Browns

Starting Josh McCown at quarterback is the safe move for head coach Mike Pettine, but McCown’s limitations as a passer will hold back an offense that lacks any punch at the skill positions. The Browns defense will continue to thrive, even more so with rookie DT Danny Shelton, but Cleveland’s hopeless offensive attack is likely to take another step back. Expect Johnny Manziel to be given the keys to a Browns team that falls out of playoff contention early in the year. (Nick C)

29 (31)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Instead of starting the season off with McCown, they’ve got the No. 1 pick in Jameis Winston to go with an impressive duo of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson at wideout. Suddenly intriguing, can the Bucs become relevant again? (Cory R)

30 (30)


Jacksonville Jaguars

There were times during the preseason when Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense clicked. Whether that will translate to the regular season remains to be seen. Until they prove otherwise, the Jags will remain near the bottom of our power rankings. (Josh C)

31 (32)


Tennessee Titans

A new era for Tennessee began in May when the Titans selected Marcus Mariota instead of trading the No. 2 pick for a large return. Now that they have their guy, will the Titans finally turn the corner, or will the turmoil continue in Tennessee? (Josh C)

32 (27)


Washington Redskins

Was there any team that had a worse offseason than Washington? Jay Gruden obliterated RGIII in the preseason, RGIII told everyone that he has to believe he is the best quarterback in the league, Dan Snyder didn’t support releasing RGIII, then Snyder did, and then finally RGIII was benched in favor of Kirk Cousins, a quarterback with a 2-7 record as a starter. This is the side show folks, move along. (Austin T)

2015 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet Guaranteed To Lead You To Playoffs

Fantasy football is back. Money and bragging rights are squarely on the line.

To those unfortunate souls who have already drafted and ended up with Jordy Nelson, I feel your pain. I own both Nelson and Aaron Rodgers in a keeper league.

For everyone who has drafts yet to come, your secret weapon is here. I have assembled a list of the top 150 fantasy players for the upcoming season based on performance over the last two to three seasons, projected volume for this season, and health during the preseason. If utilized properly, these rankings are sure to land you a spot in the playoffs.

There have been many injuries this preseason that are factored into my rankings even though the player who suffered the injury is not out for the season. I’ve documented injuries to both offensive and defensive players this preseason, and the full list of injuries can be found here. If you see that there are injuries missing, please let me know so I can update the list (@mrosekNFL).

Rather than discussing all 150 players, many of whom are ranked similarly to the general public opinion, I felt this article would be more useful if instead I focus on players that I am high or low on relative to their current ADP on ESPN and Yahoo. The link to my full big board with position rankings can be found here. These rankings are for standard scoring leagues.

Before getting into the players I’m buying/selling, I must emphasize that drafting is all about value, and value is determined by how the other owners in your league view a player. 

I’m fully aboard the Stevie Johnson bandwagon, but only because I can get him for a cheap price. If his ADP spiked to the mid 40s tomorrow, I would no longer be on the bandwagon. However, his current ADP resides between 130-170, depending on the site, which I am more than happy to take advantage of. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I am much lower on LeSean McCoy than many seem to be, but if he falls into the 30s, I’ll take a chance on him. I am selling him because of where he is being valued, not because of how I think he will perform in a vacuum.

It is also important to remember that where you rank a player is not equivalent to where you would end up taking them. If you have the 20th pick, the odds that the 19 picks before you align perfectly with the top 19 players on your board are very slim. 

To project where you would actually take a player based on their rank, my general rule is to add 20% (multiply the rank by 1.2). If you have a player ranked at 20, you can reasonably expect to take that player if he falls to 24.

Now, on to the guys who are going to decide fantasy leagues this season. All ADP values are as of Aug. 28, 2015.


RB Jeremy Hill: 11 (my rank) // Projected Draft Slot (PDS = my rank * 1.2): 13

ESPN ADP: 18  // Yahoo ADP: 14

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Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

After the consensus top five RBs (Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Adrian Peterson), there are few sure things at the RB position. Hill has as good of a chance to finish as a top ten RB as anyone after the top five guys, and for that reason I have him 11th overall. 

Hill’s ranking is just as much about his offensive line as his talent as a player. The Bengals offensive line was one of the league’s best last season, led by LT Andrew Whitworth, Pro Football Focus’ top graded OT. Cincinnati drafted O-Lineman in both the first and second round to add to an already stout line. 

Gio Bernard will be involved, but this is Hill’s show. He will get enough touches, especially near the goal-line, to be the consistent starting RB in the lineup you need to win your league.

WR DeAndre Hopkins: 21 // PDS: 25

ESPN: 35 // Yahoo: 33

With Andre Johnson now in Indianapolis, Hopkins is the unquestioned WR1 in Houston. He’s going to be catching passes from Brian Hoyer and potentially Ryan Mallett, so his QB play will be less than optimal. 

Despite the lackluster QB options the Texans possess, the future is bright for Hopkins. He is by far the best pass catcher on the Texans’ roster and a good bet to finish among the league leaders in targets. He was targeted 127 times last season and is sure to absorb some of Johnson’s 147 targets.

In 2014, Hopkins averaged almost 10 yards per target (1,210 yards on 127 targets). He could easily surpass 150 targets next season if he stays healthy. The upside is there. If you go RB early, Hopkins is a low-end WR1 option that you can get with your third, and maybe even fourth pick, depending on league size.

WR Jordan Matthews: 28 // PDS: 34

ESPN: 39 // Yahoo ADP: 41

Matthews is in a similar situation to that of Hopkins. The Eagles’ WR1 from 2014 (Jeremy Maclin) is now on a different team (Chiefs). Maclin was targeted 143 times last season, while Matthews was targeted 103 times.

Matthews is slated to be the new WR1 in Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense and should receive a decent chunk of Maclin’s targets. He does some of his best work in the slot and subsequently won’t always put up huge yards per catch averages. What he will do is score touchdowns in one of the fastest-paced offenses in the league.

Among WRs who saw at least 50 targets in 2014, Matthews finished ninth in the NFL in touchdowns per target. His 6’3, 215 lb frame allows him to be a dangerous red zone threat. Philly will still run the ball, but Matthews will put up points in 2015.

TE Travis Kelce: 35 // PDS: 42

ESPN: 58 // Yahoo: 49

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John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Kelce is a freak. He has athleticism that is rivaled only by Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham at the TE position, which he used to average 7.5 YAC/reception last season, an incredible number considering Gronkowski averaged only 5.6. 

The Chiefs’ offense is never going to be a fantasy goldmine, but Kelce doesn’t need it to be. He just needs the ball. With Anthony Fasano no longer a Kansas City Chief, 2015 will be a breakout year for Kelce. 

RB Ameer Abdullah: 37 // PDS: 44

ESPN: 82 // Yahoo: 84

As you get later into the ADP numbers, kickers and D/ST start to pop up due to the limited length of 8 team drafts. This flaw in the ADP rankings has inflated Abdullah’s ADP a bit. With that being said, Abdullah is an absolute steal where he is being taken.

At the 2014 NFL Combine, Abdullah showcased mind-blowing short area burst and quickness. Abdullah’s 3-cone, jumps and shuttles were off the charts, and it shows on tape. His ability to make defenders miss in tight spaces is already among the NFL’s best. 

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Some have compared him to Cincinatti Bengals RB Giovani Bernard, but that might be selling Abdullah a bit short. Both were drafted in the second round, and Bernard was better in the 10- and 40- yard dash at his combine, but the explosiveness and agility Abdullah possesses are matched by few players in the NFL.

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Joique Bell is still in Detroit, and his presence is depressing Abdullah’s ADP. Bell may steal touches from Abdullah to start the season, but this situation seems destined to play out how the RB situation did last year in Cincinatti. Bernard started the year as the RB1, got hurt, and then talented second round pick Jeremy Hill took his opportunity and ran with it.

Bell has had more surgeries than I can count, and Abdullah is a special talent. As long as he doesn’t fumble (my biggest concern of his coming out of college), Abdullah’s primary hurdle to fantasy dominance in 2015 is the Detroit Lions’ coaching staff. Take him as your RB3 with confidence.

RB Doug Martin: 53 // PDS: 64

ESPN: 80 // Yahoo: 99

There are several kickers and D/ST listed above Martin on the yahoo.com ADP list, so 99 may not be an accurate indication of where he is actually being drafted. Even if it significantly lower than 99, Martin is still a good value on both sites.

Martin lost weight this offseason, something that almost always benefits an RB. In losing weight, he may not absorb hits quite as well, but he will be more shifty and won’t get hit as much or as hard.

The Buccaneers drafted two offensive lineman in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet both appear ready to help improve what was one of the worst units in the league in 2014. Combine an improved line with one of the league’s easiest schedules (the NFC South is going to be the worst division in the NFL again), and 2015 is shaping up as a bounce-back year for the Muscle Hamster.

RB Duke Johnson: 71 // PDS: 85

ESPN: 115 //  Yahoo: 125

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson is the leading rusher in University of Miami (FL) history. Yes, you read that right. To put it lightly, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West are place-holders. Johnson has missed some time in camp due to a hamstring injury, and the injury forced me to move him down my board a bit, but this job is Johnson’s to lose as long as he’s healthy. 

The Browns have one of the top offensive lines in the league. LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio and C Alex Mack are as good of a threesome as any in the NFL. The holes should be there in the running game, and Johnson is by far the best pass-catching RB on the Browns roster.

Even though he’s playing in a mediocre offense, the opportunity to grab a potential starting RB as late as Johnson is going is a no-brainer.

Update: Duke Johnson suffered a concussion last night (8/29) in the Browns third preseason game. Due to the unfortunate setback I moved him down to 88th overall.

WR Anquan Boldin: 72 // PDS: 86

ESPN: 120 // Yahoo: 106

Boldin is the definition of a solid WR2. Boldin doesn’t have the highest ceiling in the world, but also has one of the highest floors. It could be coming soon, but Boldin has been so good the last few years that it’s difficult to imagine much fantasy regression in 2014. 

Torrey Smith is now a 49er, but Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson no longer are. Boldin should see at least as many targets as he did in 2014 (131) and could easily see more, given the 49ers will likely be playing from behind a lot in 2015. You can load up on RBs early knowing you can snag Boldin later.

TE Tyler Eifert: 77 // PDS: 92

ESPN: 131 // Yahoo: 122

Eifert is a talented player who hasn’t yet had the chance to fully showcase his ability at the NFL level. In 2013, he was overshadowed by the presence of Jermaine Gresham, and last year, he only played one game due to injury.

Gresham is now an Arizona Cardinal, and the TE snaps are Eifert’s for the taking. He should see a healthy volume of targets in 2015 and easily outperform his ADP. If you can’t get your hands on Gronk, Kelce, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen or Martellus Bennett, take Eifert.

WR Stevie Johnson: 79 // PDS: 95

ESPN: 170 (max number) // Yahoo: 130.4

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Out of all the players on this list, Johnson may be my favorite deep sleeper for the 2015 season. He was extremely efficient last year in San Francisco but only played 305 snaps. He is now locked in as the co-WR1 with Keenan Allen in San Diego. 

Many would call Johnson the WR2 in San Diego. After breaking down Johnson’s and Allen’s statistics over the past two seasons, it appears as though Allen and Johnson are actually quite close in skill level. 

That’s not to say that Allen’s established chemistry with QB Phillip Rivers won’t lead to him having better numbers than Johnson in 2015, but I’d much rather have Johnson in the late rounds than Allen in the 45-55 range. Knowing Johnson (among a few others on this list) will be available late can allow you to pass on WRs early and ensure you come away with enough depth at RB.

RB Ronnie Hillman: 83 // PDS: 100

ESPN: 138 // Yahoo: 118

This pick is all about upside. The RB in a Peyton Manning-led offense is always put in a position to succeed, and Hillman is the clear backup to C.J. Anderson. Hillman has been praised for his work in practice and the preseason as of late, and if Anderson gets hurt or does not perform, Hillman will be an extremely valuable fantasy asset.

WR Eddie Royal: 84 // PDS: 101

ESPN: 133 // Yahoo: 117

Royal sustained a minor hip injury in practice this week, which forced me to drop him a few spots on my board. Despite the injury, I love Royal this year. Brandon Marshall is now a New York Jet, and Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White are both dealing with injuries. 

Royal has played with Jay Cutler before and has drawn rave reviews in camp. Yet again, efficient WR changing teams are underrated. It happens every year. Last year it was Golden Tate and Jeremy Maclin. This year its Royal and Stevie Johnson.

Honorable Mentions:

RB Arian Foster: 42 (my rank)  

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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Foster suffered a serious groin injury this offseason that required surgery. The outlook on Foster’s injury is not quite as bad as was initially believed, and his ADP is rising as a result. If Foster can get healthy in time for the fantasy playoffs, he will be an invaluable asset. If you can get him in the mid 50s, take him.

TE Martellus Bennett: 55 – Bennett would be on the list above, but his ADP isn’t far behind where I have him ranked. I’m buying Bennett for the same reasons I’m buying Eddie Royal, and Royal is currently nicked up, which further adds to Bennett’s value. Bennett should be targeted heavily all season long and has a very realistic chance to finish as a top five TE.

WR Allen Robinson: 62 – Robinson was a favorite of mine coming out of Penn State and is a physical presence on the outside at 6’3, 210 lbs. He injured his foot last season and was only able to play 10 games. 

Foot injuries are not to be taken lightly, and it’s certainly possible he may suffer another lower leg injury next season. If A-Rob is able to stay healthy for a full 16 games, he should have a big season as the clear WR1 on the Jaguars. Julius Thomas has missed a significant portion of camp with a broken hand which should free up more red zone targets for Robinson.

RB Ryan Mathews: 70 – Mathews should see six to 10 touches a game even when DeMarco Murray is healthy and be the rare handcuff who has standalone value. If Murray goes down, Mathews will be a fantasy force. Take him as your RB3/4.

RB Khiry Robinson: 107 – Sean Payton likes to involve multiple RB when he has more than one healthy back, and Khiry Robinson is one of two currently healthy Saints’ RB. C.J. Spiller underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on August 14th and should be ready for Week 1, but his health is a question mark. If Robinson does manage to gain a significant share of the workload, he will be a viable RB3/FLEX candidate.


RB LeSean McCoy: 26 // PDS: 31

ESPN ADP: 15 // Yahoo ADP: 19

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Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

McCoy wasn’t efficient last year in the Eagles’ offense, so there’s little reason to think he will improve in the anemic Buffalo offense. While Rex Ryan has stated publicly he wants to give Shady plenty of touches, McCoy has suffered multiple injuries this offseason and has missed a significant amount of practice time. Don’t pay for the McCoy from 2013. He is a different player now and should be evaluated as such.

RB Melvin Gordon: 48 // PDS: 58

ESPN ADP: 31 // Yahoo ADP: 41

I wasn’t as big of a Gordon fan coming out of college as many were, including the San Diego Chargers. I had him ranked as the fifth best RB in the class behind Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon, Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah.

Montee Ball, Ron Dayne, P.J. Hill and many others were able to put up big numbers in the Wisconsin offense and were disappointments in the NFL. Gordon has more physical talent than any Wisconsin RB to enter the NFL in my lifetime, but the trend is concerning. Gordon has the tendency to stop his feet at the line of scrimmage, is regularly stuffed for little or no gain and isn’t great at catching the ball or in pass protection.

Danny Woodhead is back healthy and is an excellent pass-catcher, while Branden Oliver is a solid player in his own right. There’s a very good chance Woodhead and Oliver command a significant portion of the RB workload in San Diego next season. If that ends up the case, I’d rather not be the one who spent a pick in the 30s on Melvin Gordon.

WR Julian Edelman: 69 // PDS: 83

ESPN: 41 // Yahoo: 55

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Julian Edelman has been a reliable WR2 over the past few years, and his ADP reflects that valuable consistency. Unfortunately for Pats fans, Edelman has been sidelined for much of camp with an ankle injury. 

Bill Belichick never has (and never will be) forthcoming with injury-related information, so the severity of Edelman’s injury is uncertain. Regardless, Edelman’s absence is concerning. Combine the injury with the possibility that Tom Brady may miss the first four games, and you get a player who is being overvalued, particularly on ESPN.

WR Davante Adams: 76 // PDS: 91

ESPN: 54 // Yahoo: 110

Adams’ Yahoo ADP doesn’t appear to reflect the Jordy Nelson injury, while the ESPN ADP does. Personally, the mid-50s is too rich for my liking. Adams will absorb many of the targets Nelson would have seen, and his ADP has spiked for good reason. I moved him up my board as well, but in the public eye he has passed many receivers who are far more talented. 

For example, Adams has passed Jarvis Landry in ADP on ESPN. Landry is a superior player and in all likelihood will receive a similar number of targets. Playing in the Packers offense is certainly enticing, but only to a point. 

If Adams falls, take a chance on him. Don’t be the guy to reach for him.

Update: Randall Cobb left Saturday’s preseason game with a shoulder injury. By all reports the injury is a minor one. If the injury ends up being more serious than initially believed, move Adams up 15-20 spots.  

WR Vincent Jackson: 129 // PDS: 155

ESPN ADP: 59 // Yahoo ADP: 70

Jackson’s ADP is about right…if it were 2012. He is coming off one of the worst seasonsof his career and is the clear WR2 in a below-average offense. 

Take a chance on a younger, higher upside WR2 in a better offense (Terrance Williams, Marvin Jones) before you take V-Jax. Depth at RB is far more valuable than adding V-Jax as a WR4/5. He is still draftable, but only at the right price.

WR Roddy White: 150 // PDS: 180

ESPN: 94 // Yahoo: 82

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Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

White falls into the same boat as Jackson. He’s a WR2 (at best) on his team in the twilight of his career, and his health seems to be declining by the day. White had his knee drained multiple times over the past few months and just recently had elbow surgery. GM Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons’ front office know White is fading, drafting Justin Hardy and signing Leonard Hankerson as insurance. Take White as a late round flier and nothing more. 

Honorable Mention:

RB Matt Forte: 16 (my rank) – Forte didn’t make the list above because I still think he can be a useful fantasy player when taken with realistic expectations. However, people who are taking him at his 11th overall ADP on ESPN are likely to be disappointed next season. 

Forte has played significantly more snaps (2658) than any other RB over the past three seasons (2012-2014). The next closest RB is LeSean McCoy (2393), and we saw how that turned out last season. 

To make matters worse, Marc Trestman is no longer calling plays in Chicago, so Forte is bound to see regression in the pass-catching department. I’ll take him if he falls into the early 20s, but I’ll pass on Forte before then.

Running Backs Still Rule Fantasy Football

Over the last few seasons, the NFL has transitioned into a pass-first league in part due to rule changes allowing less contact between defensive backs and wide receivers. The change in offensive philosophy has resulted in some believing that the fantasy value of quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends are higher than ever. This notion couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the shift in play-calling is actually increasing the fantasy value of running backs.

As teams pass the ball more, there are more serviceable WR/TE to be found on waivers and more depth than ever before. As teams run the ball less, there are collectively less RB touches to go around and less quality fantasy players at the position. For this reason, it is rare for a second-string RBs to have legitimate fantasy value, while second-string WRs are consistently productive fantasy players (i.e. Randall Cobb).

Because there are fewer desirable options and less depth at RB than at other positions, elite RBs are the most valuable assets in standard fantasy football. There is a larger fantasy point differential between an elite RB and a replacement level running back than there is between an elite QB, elite WR, elite TE and a replacement level player (RLP) at that position. 

This point differential can be referred to as PAR (points above replacement). The more PAR a player provides, the more valuable that player is to your team. A replacement level player (RLP) can be defined a number of different ways. The best way to describe a RLP is a player that you already have on your bench or could acquire with little difficulty through waivers or trade. 

For this example, I’ll define an RLP for a ten team, standard-roster league (1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 FLEX, 1 K, 1 D/ST). Assuming that four teams start a RB at Flex, four start a WR at FLEX and two start TE (the number of that position in the starting lineup multiplied by two) and account for some teams being stacked at certain positions, replacement level players can be defined as the following:

  • QB – QB13 (Ten in starting lineups, two quality backups)

  • RB – RB28 (20 in starting lineups, four at FLEX, three quality backups)

  • WR – WR28 (20 in starting lineups, four at FLEX, three quality backups)

  • TE – TE15 (Ten in starting lineups, two at FLEX, two quality backups)

To quantify how many PAR an elite player at each position provided last season, we recorded the point differential between the third overall scorer and a RLP at QB, RB, WR and TE for all fantasy relevant weeks (1-16) of the 2014 season. 

Due to injury, matchup or other reasons, normally solid players are not startable some weeks whereas normally mediocre players are occasionally great options (i.e. Knile Davis when Jamaal Charles went down last year.) By analyzing replacement level production on a week to week basis we can get a better idea of what the depth of the player pool was like at that moment in time. This is why its important to look at replacement level production from each week of the season rather than the player who finished as the RB28 for the season.

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For purposes of comparing what is considered elite to a RLP, the third highest scoring player at each position is a better indicator than the first overall scorer. Looking at the top scoring player in a given week at each position can be misleading because there will always be outliers at the top of any numerical distribution (i.e. Jonas Gray scoring 43.9 points in Week 11). Analyzing the third overall player gives a more accurate depiction of reasonable expectations for an elite player (i.e. Jamaal Charles scoring 27.8 points in Week 11 as the RB3). 

The following data pertains strictly to leagues with a standard lineup (1 QB/2 RB/2 WR/1 TE/1 FLEX) and a standard scoring system. If your league starts two QB then elite QB will provide more PAR than the numbers below. Same goes for WR if your league starts three WR.

All of the following numbers are the average of the weekly point totals produced by the player who happened to be the QB3, RB28, etc. that week. All stats are courtesy of fantasypros.com. 

2014 Weekly PAR:

QB3 Avg (per week): 26.39 pts // QB13 Avg (per week): 17.03 pts // Avg PAR (per week): 9.36 pts

RB3 Avg: 23.46 pts // RB28 Avg: 7.36 pts // Avg PAR: 16.1 pts

WR3 Avg: 21.96 pts // WR28 Avg: 8.91 pts// Avg PAR: 13.05 pts

TE3 Avg: 14.53 pts // TE15 Avg: 5.83 pts // Avg PAR: 8.69 pts

These numbers show that high-level production from RB is going to give you more of an advantage over your opponent on average than similar production from every other position. Elite WR production is also important and WR should be prioritized over QB and TE.

While it is important to analyze replacement level production on a weekly basis, there is far less turnover at the top of each position group. As a result, comparing the average weekly production of the player who finished last season third overall at each position to a RLP at the same position will give us further insight as to which position provides the most value. 

Below is a compilation of the PAR provided by the third overall player for the 2014 season. The positional value trend remains the same.

2014 Season-Long PAR:

QB3: Russell Wilson – Weekly Avg: 20.5 Pts // QB13 Avg: 17.03 Pts // Wilson’s Avg PAR per Week: 3.48 Pts

RB3: Marshawn Lynch – Weekly Avg: 16.6 Pts // RB28 Avg: 7.36 Pts // Lynch’s Avg PAR per Week: 9.24 Pts  

WR3: Demaryius Thomas – Weekly Avg: 14.4 Pts // WR28 Avg: 8.91 Pts // Thomas’ Avg PAR per Week: 5.49 Pts

TE3: Jimmy Graham< /strong> – Weekly Avg: 9.1 Pts // TE15 Avg: 5.83 Pts // Graham’s Avg PAR per Week: 3.27 Pts

No matter how you slice it, elite RB are the most valuable fantasy commodity. WR provide more value than TE and QB, but Marshawn Lynch was still markedly more valuable than Demaryius Thomas last year.

The main takeaway here is that when you only have to start one player at a position each week (QB/TE), there are plenty of serviceable options available on waivers or through trades. When you have to start two players at a position each week (RB/WR) and also count on that position to fill your flex spot, quality fill-ins are much harder to come by. 

How to Incorporate PAR and RLP Into Your Fantasy Strategy

One interesting implication of analyzing players through the scope of PAR is that it ends with the conclusion that players who drop in the draft due to being perceived as injury-prone are often underrated. Arian Foster and Rob Gronkowski are two examples. Both have had their fair share of injuries over the years but have produced at an elite level when healthy.

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Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

When analyzing an injury prone player, it is crucial to remember that if Foster or Gronk get hurt, you’re not going to take a zero at that spot for the week. You’ll plug in a RLP or a quality backup and hope for the best.

When Gronk/Foster are in the lineup, they have the potential to explode any given week and provide the almighty PAR that will lead you to victory. In 2014, Arian Foster scored the fifth most fantasy points (235.5) among RB in standard leagues. However, he was second in fantasy points per game (18.1) in the 13 games in which he did play. 

After adding replacement level production (7.36 points) for the three games in which Foster missed last season to his 2014 fantasy point total (3 games x 7.36 points = 22.08 pts + 235.5 pts = 257.08 pts), he was actually the fourth most valuable RB behind only Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray and Le’Veon Bell. Factoring in replacement level production shows that Foster was actually more valuable than Matt Forte (244.6 pts in 16 games) in 2014 despite accumulating less total points. 

Foster’s groin injury is not a minor one and will rightfully drop him down draft boards. However, I’m absolutely open to taking him in the middle rounds and I currently have him at 52 on my big board. Foster may not play until the middle of the season, but I’ll gladly store him on IR and hope he regains enough health to get on the field and run behind the Texans’ solid offensive line. 

To roughly estimate where you would take a player based on where he is ranked on your board, my rule is to add 20%. For Foster, this means look at taking him in the early 60s (52 x 0.2 = 10.4 + 52 = 62.4). This rule accounts for the fact that you’re almost never going to take your 49th ranked player with your 49th pick because other owners will always take players earlier than you feel they should.

I’m more than willing to risk a pick in the 60s on a running back who could be a crucial piece for a playoff run. It could come back to bite me, but that bite won’t hurt nearly as bad as watching a healthy Arian Foster crush me in the fantasy playoffs.

Now, back to Gronk. TE in general don’t score at an overly high rate, but Gronk is the exception to that rule. Despite only playing one TE in most leagues, he can still provide significant PAR when he is in the lineup.

He averaged 12.3 fantasy points per game (fppg) in 2014, a whopping 2.7 fppg more than the TE2 last year (Antonio Gates – 9.6 fppg). The difference between the #1 and #2 QB, RB, and WR was 0.2, 0.4, and 1.2 fppg respectively. For that reason, Gronk is still an extremely valuable fantasy commodity this year and I currently have him 7th overall on my board.

Drafting RB and Maintaining RB Depth

Elite running backs and running back depth in general are still the key to success in fantasy football. In standard leagues with a 16 player roster, you should have a minimum of five RB on your team at all times and preferably 6-7. 

There is no reason to have more than one K or D/ST, so that’s two spots. You really only need one QB but sometimes you might need a backup for a bye week, so QB can count for two. The same rule for QB applies to TE, so we can also allot TE two spots. 

That’s six spots that you should allot to non-RB/WR. That leaves ten spots for WR and RB. If you have enough RB depth to start one at FLEX, there is no reason to carry more than four WR on your team. There are replacement level WR on waivers deep into the season. The RB waiver crop dries up much more quickly. 

As long as you draft multiple RB and pay attention to the waiver wire, you should always have three RB to fill out your RB and FLEX spots. If you have any RB left over, you can always trade with an RB-needy owner.

Don’t necessarily pass on a stud WR or even stud QB or TE in favor of a middling RB. Owning an elite RB is the best way to win a standard fantasy football league and that you should organize your big board accordingly. 

If you are in a league where the objective is not to get last place, then the strategy changes a bit. Going WR at the top may be a more effective strategy for playing risk-averse due to injury concerns with RB. If your goal is to win the league and there is no difference between finishing second or last, drafting RB early and often will give you the best chance to come home with the trophy. 

I’ll release my full fantasy big board next weekend and analyze players I am particularly high or low on relative to general public opinion. If you have questions about where I have certain players ranked or about anything football related, feel to reach out on twitter @mrosekNFL.

Good luck next season, and make sure you’re not the guy desperate for RB come Week 4.