Survivor Pool 2017: The Challenge Begins (and not where most of you might be guessing). … The 2017 NFL Team Tour comes to an end, as the Cutler Chronicles begin (just not this week). … Some market segments are struggling to dodge the LAD slump.
As was the case at the previous platform, Wednesdays in the NFL season will focus on the best options each week for those involved in Survivor Pools. Or perhaps it may just be just this lone Wednesday, with no guarantee of being alive into next week. The 2016 season brought a clean ride all the way through, yet it was fraught with peril from the opening, needing a semi-miracle for the Chiefs to escape the Chargers in Week #1 before the rest of the puzzle got solved.
Today also marks the end of the team-by-team tour across the NFL, and in this case it certainly is not saving the best for last when it comes to QB play. Bills & Dolphins on the way, but first let’s jump into the pool.Survivor Pool 2017: It’s About Diving Deep and not trying to Stay Afloat
There are two basic approaches to staying alive in Survivor Pools, and for the purposes here it will be the “Lose and you are out” variety: A) Pick the most likely winner each week, stay alive as long as possible and hope to be in a positive position as the field narrows; and B) Work the entire season’s schedule, attempting to get the better teams in their better spots, which can enhance the positioning if you survive early.
My strategy has always been the second option, which paid off nicely in 2016 and also has me in a different direction from most folks as the new season begins. This week I will have the CAROLINA PANTHERS, and I don’t expect a lot of company.
There are several bigger favorites on this board, but I don’t need to burn up New England when there are those easy AFC East home games down the line, while there will also be ample opportunities to get behind Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Ordinarily, Buffalo would be a prime temptation vs. the Jets, looking to steal a win with a team that may finish under .500, but as you will read about in a moment there are some misgivings about how ready the Bills are going to be to get out of the gate.
I don’t necessarily expect anything dynamic out of the Panthers this week, and they will not be in pocket from a point spread standpoint. But they are so much better set than the 49ers, who not only have a lot of new faces on the depth chart but also new playbooks on both sides of the ball. Also keep in mind that for as much as Kyle Shanahan should be respected, and his OC ride with Atlanta last season was among the best ever by an assistant coach, he is not so much a system guy as one who develops the best designs he can given the players in front of him. That can mean taking a step backwards before we see improvements, much like what happened with the Falcons.
In terms of Carolina, the timing fits because there is only one other game on the schedule in which the Panthers are certain to be favored by more than this amount – next week at home vs. Buffalo. But I already have Ravens-Browns look-ahead notions for that board, which gets Cam Newton and Co. in play this time. One other Carolina prospect could have been vs. Miami in Game #10, but pegging where the Dolphins are going to be around that stage is not easy.
Miami 2017: Can Jay Cutler do this?
For many of the NFL teams our tour has focused on some subtle handicapping points that may be off the radar screens of the betting markets, but for the Dolphins it really is about the obvious – an offense that has potential across the runners and receivers and will sport a strong OL if everyone stays healthy; it just needs good QB play to bring it all together. The Dolphins weren’t assured of getting that out of Ryan Tannehill, who was showing improvement but may have a ceiling that does not allow for Super Bowls, but now there is an even greater degree of uncertainty. Welcome back Jay Cutler.
Can this be one of those dramatic “second acts” in life with Cutler finding redemption? First we have to start by properly classifying the rather romanticized literary notion of such things, because they do happen more in novels and on stages than in real life. Cutler has had several windows of opportunity to turn his career around, via team changes and coaching changes, but through 11 NFL campaigns his regular-season record as a starter was 68-71, and there was only one playoff appearance.
I can understand the literary setup here – Cutler’s physical tools are still there, he has worked with Adam Gase before, and with Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Julius Thomas able to stretch fields vertically and horizontally, and Jay Ajayi working the ground game for balance, one can daydream about football resurrection. But power ratings are not built on dreams, and while Gase has been positive throughout training camp, there has also been some honesty.
Let’s try one from this week: “I feel good about it. I feel like he did the one thing we talked about he needed to do and that is the feel in the pocket and guys being around. It seems like his arm is in good enough shape to where he’ll be ready to throw more and more as we’ve gone along.”
That can also be interpreted as “Jay isn’t quite ready yet.” And now consider how much Hurricane Irma scrambles things – the Dolphins played their last two preseason games on the road at Philadelphia and Minnesota and now won’t have a home game until Oct. 8 after their opener vs. the Bucs was shifted to Week 11. That is a lot of travel, including a trip to the West Coast to play the Chargers in Week 2, then to the Jets in Week 3 and the long haul to London to face the Saints in Week 4. And when they do finally have a home game it may not feel like one, since it is immediately after the London trip, when most teams are afforded a bye.
I won’t just be looking at the Cutler performance numbers in the early stages, but also a genuine Eye Test as to how comfortable he looks in putting those numbers together. This was going to be a challenging enough transition for the Miami offense, the schedule cycle now makes it even more difficult.
Buffalo 2017: Just how under-coached and under-developed were the Bills in recent seasons?
Buffalo will be popular in many Survivor Pools this week and ordinarily would have profiled highly for me, grabbing a win from a bad Jets team and leaving all of upper half of the league available. There is a catch, however – not only is this a mediocre team, but it is one that has overhauled the roster in a major way, and with new faces having to learn new playbooks, performing well from the get-go is anything but a guarantee.
The focus on the team tours has been full-season perspectives, of course, and that also connects up here. In understanding what Buffalo has to do to get better, the attention needs to go to where mistakes were made in the past, and they were many, both in terms of personnel and how those players were used.
We can start with the roster shake-up, which leaves only 21 players who played in a game for the team in 2016. How much of this was about talent and how much was about other issues? Let’s let Sean McDermott detail himself as he plays a big part in the house cleaning:
"It’s not so much bringing in our own guys. I’m not in that mode of thinking. It’s about the right guys. It’s about the right guys at the right time. That’s really what we’re interested in, is good people, good football players that are interested in the team-first mentality and embrace what this city’s all about. … I believe in the first year, when you look at it, you’re always going in and looking to make sure you get the right people on board, on the bus. And get people that are already on board in the right seats.
“Some of those are tough, difficult decisions. Unpopular in some ways, and I recognize that. ... But it takes some of those decisions for us to get to where we’re trying to go. I think it happens quite a bit out there where you come in and you say, ‘Let’s err on the side of not rocking the boat.’ Well, short-term gain sometimes doesn’t equal long-term success, so we want to make sure we’re doing both."
There are a couple of holdover issues here regarding the Rex Ryan years. First is that Ryan was known as a “players' coach,” and was rather lax when it came to discipline. The Bills were #32 in penalty yards in Ryan’s first season in 2015 and #22 last year. Second is that Ryan was tactically from another era, and his defensive schemes just were not geared toward stopping modern NFL offenses.
In 2013, under HC Doug Marrone and DC Mike Pettine, the Buffalo defense was #5 on the Football Outsiders adjusted ratings. In 2014, under Marrone and DC Jim Schwartz it was #2. Yet in each of Ryan’s two seasons that unit finished an abysmal #28.
There is a lot of overhauling to be done in Buffalo, and part of the difficulty is that the jury is obviously out on McDermott, and a couple of seasons into his career they are still not sure if Tyrod Taylor is the QB they can build around. This is a franchise that went 24-24 the past three seasons, which might bring the indications that only a couple of tweaks are needed to be a playoff contender, yet with the turnover of players involved there could well be a step backwards, in order to build a better foundation, rather than a positive movement in the standings this season.
In the Sights, Wednesday MLB ...
I can at least understand the markets reacting to Arizona star Paul Goldschmidt being out the last two days in terms of moving towards the Dodgers, despite how bad of an offense slump they have been in. Those that have been riding LAD across the summer are finding a tough habit to break. But I just don’t get the early money being out there again this morning, and it has opened a window of opportunity across the side dishes part of the menu – I will have #962 LAD Team Total Under (10:10 Eastern) in pocket, with 4.5 easy to find, that extra half run becoming available as the side streams up to -170.
The Dodgers have reached five runs just twice over their last dozen games and five times in that span were held to one or zero. In the five home games in that cycle they have managed a combined total of just six runs. It is a classic case of MLB regression in play, with so many hitters having been hot at the same time now turning into many of them going cold together.
Taijuan Walker and the Arizona bullpen are also a good fit. Walker’s confidence is spiked by a 2-0/0.54 over his last three starts in which he has nearly as many strikeouts (17) as base-runners allowed (18), and there are no fatigue ratings to be found from anyone in the ‘pen. And of course there is also the possible plus factor of a -170 favorite not having to bat in the ninth inning as well. Kenta Maeda has been inconsistent of late, but if he throws well that suits our purposes just fine.
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