I had a whole different blog post planned out for today. It was going to be called “Not In Sync”, and I had my late-90s pop music references all planned out. I was going to talk about my stars picking the week where I needed them the most to finally have an off day (which, amazingly, none of them have really done up to now), leaving me just another player in this game for two. It was going to ask Ezekiel Elliott to tell me what to do now, because I want him back (as a big performer). It was going to talk about Team BlueAndGold tearin’ up my heart, and it was going to ask my boys to quit playing games with my heart (which, admittedly, is the Backstreet Boys, but it was too good to leave out).
However, things changed from the time I started scouring *NSYNC’s catalogue for pun bait.
I originally started planning this post out because my day seemed to be going in a pretty terrible direction. I was at work during the first round of games, and I had my phone behind the bar, left open to the app that shows our league’s real-time scores, but I was working. So I wasn’t watching any of the games, and I wasn’t paying too much attention to the app, just sort of glancing at it once every half hour or so.
And through the end of the third quarter of that first slate of games, my team looked pathetic. In fairness, so did my opponent’s, but he didn’t have his best player going in that first round the way I did. Ezekiel Elliott had earned 2 points in three quarters. I was losing to Team RAIDER NATION, 4-2. So I wasn’t out of it, necessarily, but it was pretty depressing to see my best player only accounting for 2 points – to say nothing of the zeros put up at that point by the other two players (Kenny Stills and Kyle Rudolph) I had in that slate of games.
It was at about this point that the owner of Team RAIDER NATION showed up for work. And he immediately came up to me behind the bar.
RN: Dude, you are killing me right now.
Me: I am? Last time I checked we were really close.
RN: Yeah. Elliott just scored again. You’re way out ahead.
Me: Wait – scored again?
So, it turns out my app was frozen. All that angst, all that distress, all wasted. When I reloaded the app, lo and behold, Elliott had in fact scored two touchdowns and run for a ton of yards. And I was up, about 30 to 15, on Team RAIDER NATION, a lead which I did not relinquish for the rest of the day.
My stars were stars. Plain and simple.
Take a look at the final scores. And as you look, see if the same thing jumps out at you that jumped out at me.
The margin of victory, right? Well, that jumped out at me too, of course. It’s pretty high for as good a competitor as I was facing. Don’t be fooled. Even on a day when some of his stars were Not In Sync (what’s with the 4 points, Jonathan Stewart? Not complaining, but still, 4?) RAIDER NATION put up a score that would have beaten six of the other ten players, and two of the other five winners, in our league this week. And I still crushed him, which is a testament to just how insane some of my players’ Week Nine performances were.
But I don’t just mean the margin of victory. There’s a bit of a disparity on my team. Here, maybe it will help you to see it if I show you my team’s stat lines.
There, see it now?
Streamers versus regular starters? Well, mostly, but that’s not as true as it first appears. The two wide receivers I streamed were… can we just say not very good? Honestly, this was not a shock. I knew the pickings were slim, and I just had to go with what I could get. As it turned out, there were better guys with higher scores sitting on the waiver wire. But that was bound to happen – somebody random breaks out every week. There’s no predicting who it will be. I could even have gone with the guys I already had instead of streaming. That would have given me Robert Woods, who I just didn’t trust but had 16 points, and Randall Cobb, who shockingly ended up playing this week and had 7. So yes, there’s an argument to be made that I didn’t play the “right” wide receivers. Or the “right” defense, as the Bills contributed 7 points when I could have had 13 if I’d chosen Miami instead. But who would ever have thought to do that? The Dolphins? Really? I’m supposed to bet on their defense now?
But I did stream the right quarterback. My oh my. Only two quarterbacks had more points this week than Marcus Mariota did. Not two waiver wire quarterbacks, mind you. Two QBs in the entire NFL. Now, does it change the calculus on this decision when you learn that Tyrod Taylor also had 25 points this week? Because it doesn’t for me, really – I’m still happy with my streaming choice. (Side note: Week Nine wasn’t Mariota’s first 25 point game this season. It was his third. How was he even on the waiver wire at all at this point? I’ll tell you one thing – he’s not going back there. He can hang out on my bench and be Tom Brady Insurance. And if any other team wants him, they can have him – for a price.)
But back to the disparity on my roster. See it yet?
Points through the air versus points on the ground. I earn most of my points on the ground, as you’d expect from a team as strong in running backs as I am. And never more so than this week, where I had literally no wide receivers at the start of the week. But still, the disparity is stunning to me.
Let’s break it down.
Brian Quick had 48 yards receiving, earning me 4 points. Kenny Stills had 11, for 1 point. Kyle Rudolph had 1 measly yard, but it was for a touchdown, so he earns 6 points. Then there’s Marcus Mariota’s passing performance – that’s air yards too. 313 yards is worth 12 points, his 3 passing TDs are worth 12 points, 2 interceptions are worth -4 points.
Oh, and let’s not forget the receiving yards that my running backs contributed. Frank Gore caught two balls for 11 yards and 1 point; Melvin Gordon caught four balls for 65 yards and 6 points. Elliott’s 5 receiving yards aren’t worth anything, but they look nice anyway.
Final Through The Air stat line: 313 yards passing; 3 passing TDs; 2 INTs; 141 yards receiving; 1 receiving TD. 38 points.
Now let’s talk rushing yards. Ezekiel Elliott had 92 of them, and 2 TDs on the ground. That’s 21 points right there. Frank Gore was likewise brilliant, 60 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs, worth 18 points. Then there was the insanity that is Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 196 yards and a score, contributing 25 points. Not to be left out, Marcus Mariota also got in on the action, rushing for 14 yards including a rushing touchdown. He did have a fumble, which costs him 2 points, but he added 5 points with his ground game.
Final On The Ground stat line: 362 yards rushing; 6 rushing TDs; 1 fumble. 69 points.
Two teams – entire teams – in my league didn’t earn 69 points this week. And I got that just from the ground game.
When you think of big scoring plays, you usually picture long passes, don’t you? I do. I picture bombs being hefted downfield, contested catches in the end zone, or catching a ball on the run and stutter-stepping to stay in bounds and then fall across the goal line. I picture something like A.J. Green’s amazing catch-of-the-year from a couple of weeks back.
But that’s not my strength on this team. Which isn’t news, it’s just striking to me to see it laid out so clearly.
My favorite football players tend to be pass-catchers. But this year, I have three new favorite players, and while they all might make the occasional catch, they do their work on the ground.
And what amazing work it is.
What makes this even better for me? This season is considered kind of a lean one at the running back position. There’s a column I’ve been reading every week, the Love/Hate column written by ESPN’s Matthew Berry. (He’s one of the experts that gets the most weight on my spreadsheet.) Each week he lists out players who he “loves”, or thinks will overperform their expectations, or who he “hates”, or thinks will underperform. And for a few weeks now, he’s included a note at the end of his running back section about how thin the position is. Here’s the one from his most recent column, as an example:
I look at that note each week, and then I think about how I somehow have three of Week Nine’s top-5 scoring running backs, all of them healthy, all of them performing like rock stars. How did I get so unbelievably lucky?
I don’t know the answer, but I’m grateful all the same. Team BlueAndGold thanks you, boys. Keep on killin’ it.
So I’m 6-3 now, and tied for second in the league. Solidly in line for the playoffs. With every indication that I can make a run at the title.
I’m getting a feeling for who the champion of this league is going to be. And guess what?
It’s gonna be me.
(What, did you think I wasn’t going to go there? Have you met me?)