XFL 2015: Ten Storylines
By: Connor Lenahan
Seven weeks down and only six left to go for the XFL before we reach playoff time. What’s interesting this year is how clear that playoff picture is shaping up to be. At least in theory. Currently the eight teams that would make the playoffs – Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Oklahoma City, Washington, New York, Waverly, and Las Vegas – are comfortably ahead of the rest of the pack. The closest threat being Jason Kohn’s Chicago Hitmen team, who needs to make up a two game difference on Waverly for the eight seed. Everyone else? We can’t really be sure.
That’s why this week we are throwing it back a bit. I’ve been writing about this fantasy football league for quite a while, but only on Unbreakable for the past two years. When I started it originally I would just put articles up on the league page for those people to see. They would remember (potentially) that the original model had “10 Truths” for the week in question, which I had cribbed from Jason Whitlock.
Well, we aren’t quite doing 10 truths, but we are going to look at 10 storylines to watch for the rest of the season in the XFL. These are the storylines that will define the next six weeks and beyond. This shapes how we remember the 2015 season. If you couldn’t tell, this means that this article in particular is the most important in history. No pressure. Without further ado, ten storylines to watch, in no particular order.
1. The Sudden Return of the Dolphins
Let’s run back a direct quote from this site two weeks ago after the Dolphins replaced Joe Philbin with Dan Campbell.
“With Miami firing Joe Philbin and replacing him with Dan Campbell the team will likely take a more “physical” approach to football from this point out. Know what that’s code for? Running the rock. At least that’s how I heard it. Lamar Miller isn’t a terribly bad player, he just isn’t all that great. But being a B+ player is fine if you get a boatload of carries. Way worse players than Miller have put up gaudy numbers in the past. This is where he has me curious. Lamar Miller does not need to turn into Adrian Peterson. All he has to do is to do even moderately well with a high volume of carries and he will get stats.”
Not a word changed from two weeks ago there. What happened? Lamar Miller has scored more points than any other running back during that span – this week throwing up an absurd game that beat yours truly. And sure, the Dolphins did get to beat up on a bad Texans team this week which allowed Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Miller to lead the league in scoring, but they look better. The Dolphins suddenly look like they are trying.
What does that mean for the league? Well, Ryan Tannehill is stuck on the New Orleans Tigers, who somehow exceeded their average week score by 1000 this week, and might suddenly make Mr. Bruzzano’s team frisky over the past few weeks, while other concerns still make the playoffs a little precarious. New York of course gets a gigantic boost from Lamar Miller and suddenly looks stronger than ever before. Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews are similarly dangerous, unless this is all a complete fluke. I don’t think it is, so the Dolphins reemergence is especially interesting
2. The Todd Gurley Show
A lot of digital ink has been spent on the Georgia rookie already here on Unbreakable, but all you need to do is watch him play even a little and it all makes sense. Gurley has started three games for the Rams this season and is averaging 308 points per game in those contests.
That wasn’t a typo. Gurley has exploded into being one of the best players on earth. Again, it’s his third game. With his bye behind him in Week 6, Gurley figures to be the most exciting player in the league out of pure talent and situation. Coming out of college we knew he’d be good, but we didn’t know he’d be great. It’s been a while since a young running back has exploded like this, and given how visually entertaining that is to watch that’s largely unfair. The question will now become how high does he go in the 2016 XFL draft?
3. Welcome Back CJ2K
I’m not sure there was a soul on this planet that would have bet on Chris Johnson ever making a big impact on the NFL and/or the XFL ever again. Yet here we are, the former rushing champ is sitting as the 7th ranked running back in the league and an exceedingly dependable starter for a greatly improved Pittsburgh Spikes team. Johnson’s sudden return has coincided with Carson Palmer’s and Larry Fitzgerald’s, but is arguably more impressive. Given that his strongest quality was his speed, the fact that a 30-year-old Johnson is still carving up defenses seems impossible.
A question remains as to how much work he will have going forward, seeing as Andre Ellington and David Johnson are also in the mix for the Cardinals, but CJ2K has looked like their #1 thus far. Marshawn Lynch’s struggles remain for the Spikes, making Johnson’s contributions all the more valuable.
4. How Unbeatable are the Bears?
That question is one that I have had in my mind all day, primarily because this week it’s my turn to volunteer as tribute to do battle with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Laura LaBrecque’s team. However, even with her total team points eclipsing the second place team by thousands, the Bears are coming off a second loss, this time to the New Orleans Tigers.
It’s odd to write about frontrunners, because how critical can one be? The Bears look stronger than any other team on a week to week basis, but if everything breaks right they apparently can be taken down. Right now it’s fair to be betting on them heavily for the later parts of the season. You’d have to figure that a team averaging 1700 a week would garner that attention. But there are still a lot of games left to be played. Are the Bears untouchable? Maybe, but I want to see how this unfolds.
5. Who Can Steal A Playoff Berth?
Right now there are six teams sitting at 5-2, the High Rollers at 4-2-1, and the Chargers at 4-3. The next teams out are Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Kansas City, all with two wins a piece. Now, admittedly I haven’t done the proper schedule matching for the final six weeks to see how many of these games conflict, for that’s probably too nuanced. We can’t project that far in advance. Again, New Orleans was 1-4-1 and just scored 1900 to beat the best team in the league.
All teams have flaws, and most of the ones at 2-5/2-4-1 have more than they’d probably like. But they aren’t very fatal. Blake Bortles is looking really like a really strong pick up for an unlucky Chicago team. I personally think Ben Roethlisberger’s return will vastly reshape opinions of Seattle. Dez Bryant might be back Sunday, and Kansas City could suddenly get a burst. The aforementioned awakening of Jarvis Landry is critical for Philly. And of course Tannehill means the world to the Tigers. It is far from over for all of these teams. All that needs to happen is a couple of wins, not a ton. This is far from over.
6. Denver… I’m So Sorry
This year’s Denver Blaze team is not doing terribly well. With a loss last night thanks to Joe Flacco the Blaze have fallen to 0-7, becoming the first team to do so since 2011. The all time record for losing record to open the season is 0-8, which the Miami Typhoons did in that 2011 season. The Blaze are thankfully projected to win this week against Seattle, but Ben Roethlisberger returning might throw a monkey wrench into their best laid plans.
Worst of all? Arian Foster is going to be done for the rest of the year with a torn Achilles tendon. That’s the last thing these guys needed. Well, if it’s any consolation, the number one pick will likely get the Blaze set on better footing in 2016.
7. Return of the Seahawks?
The Seattle Seahawks have made the last two Super Bowls and came one Malcolm Butler interception away from winning both. Yet this year they have seemed especially weak. Well, maybe not weak, but not all right. Something is going wrong. Something seemed to be out os sync for the first couple of games this season. But those days might be coming to an end, and the owners of Seahawks players would be thrilled.
Russell Wilson was picked at #7 by Cary Lenahan, Marshawn Lynch was also a first rounder, Jimmy Graham was the second TE off the board, and players like Tyler Lockett have been making decent contributions as of late. Before the season Seattle was likely one of the safest teams to bet on for continued success, only for it to fail. After beating the 49ers in San Francisco last week the Seahawks might be starting to get their composure back. If they do? Suddenly playoff teams like Washington and Pittsburgh get markedly better, and hopeful late bloomers the Rage and Panthers get increased production from Graham and Lockett respectively. Does Seattle have it in them for a strong second half?
8. Are the Bengals for Real?
This will be huge down the stretch. The undefeated Bengals took their bye this week and in the process took some of the most important players away from contenders. Now with the striped juggernaut back for the rest of the year, it’s time to figure out if they are good or simply did way better than expected early.
Here’s what’s at stake for the league on this team. The Las Vegas High Rollers have ridden a molten-magma-hot Andy Dalton to continued relevance in the face of injuries to Tony Romo and Jamaal Charles. Dalton will likely remain the starting QB all season, but should he fall off he need only carry the team to Romo’s Week 11 return. But Vegas swapped AJ Green to Green Bay for Jonathan Stewart and Latavius Murray last week. Green was a supernova a few weeks back, but hasn’t quite been a world destroyer since. If he can continue putting up games of 120-140 a game alongside Calvin Johnson then the Blizzard will have gotten their money’s worth. Denver needs Jeremy Hill more than ever, while Waverly has gotten a shockingly effective Gio Bernard this season. Similarly, both need to keep this going.
The Bengals, like everyone else we have talked about here, are going to be critical going forward.
9. Who will be the XFL MVP?
I mean, it’s probably going to be Brady, right? Tom Brady is right now averaging over 500 PPG, a number that has only been reached in the greatest of the great seasons. The way the Patriots have been mowing through competition isn’t very surprising, but it does lead one to think that all New England players will do well going forward.
But who else has a shot? Philip Rivers is technically the highest scoring player in the league right now – no, really – and he’s backing up Brady. Andy Dalton has saved his team in Vegas. Chris Johnson? Devonta Freeman? Travis Benjamin? This is an exceptionally odd year, but Golden Boy Brady probably has the pole position now.
10. Who gets the #1 Seed?
Again, this question has a likely answer in Baltimore. The Bears have been destroying all competition that don’t score over 1900 against them. But even with that in mind the Bears are still in the midst of a six way tie for first. We have a lot of season left, and as we see every week all it takes is one game to make everything go screwy. Bet on Baltimore being at the top, but don’t write it in pen just yet.
#1 Baltimore Bears (5-2)
#2 Pittsburgh Spikes (5-2)
#3 Green Bay Blizzard (5-2)
#4 Oklahoma City Lions (5-2)
#5 Washington Senators (5-2)
#6 New York Titans (5-2)
#7 Las Vegas High Rollers (4-2-1)
#8 Waverly Chargers (4-3)
#9 New Orleans Tigers (2-3-1)
#10 Chicago Hitmen (2-5)
#11 Philadelphia Panthers (2-5)
#12 Seattle Rage (2-5)
#13 Kansas City Killers (2-5)
#14 Denver Blaze (0-7)
Week 8 Matchups:
Baltimore Bears vs. Waverly Chargers
Denver Blaze vs. Seattle Rage
Green Bay Blizzard vs. New York Titans
Pittsburgh Spikes vs. Chicago Hitmen
Oklahoma City Lions vs. Philadelphia Panthers
New Orleans Tigers vs. Washington Senators
Kansas City Killers vs. Las Vegas High Rollers