XFL 2015: Black Sunday
By: Connor Lenahan
I’m an optimistic person and even I am convinced of the following: No one is safe. Not a one. More than seemingly ever before this past Sunday proved that the best laid plans can not only not play out, but get obliterated in one misstep. The gridiron turned into a triage this week. Major names like Le’Veon Bell, Keenan Allen, Matt Forte, Steve Smith Sr., and more went down with either major or season ending injuries. Add in crazy developments like Cowboys RB Joseph Randle getting released and you have got the makings of the most ridiculous XFL season in history. And frankly, it’s not close. Want even more proof of how nuts this all is? Through all those brutal, painful injuries, Drew Brees managed to drop 930 points on 505 yards passing and 7 TDs, the highest point total in XFL history. For lack of anything better: this season is fucking bananas.
So this week let’s take a brief recap of what’s gone wrong for each team. Because a lot of the things that have befallen our 14 XFL franchises this year have been seemingly freak injuries. This year will be defined by things beyond our control. It won’t be any of our coaches doing, it’ll largely be the collective health of ACLs everywhere. Let’s defend how this wasn’t our fault.
Baltimore Bears (6-2)
The Baltimore Bears/Death Star have actually had just about everything go right for them so far this year. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Devonta Freeman, and Dion Lewis all have panned out far better than expected – which is really saying something given those first two names. But the injury bug finally chomped down on the Bears this week, hitting Bears 1st round pick Matt Forte. Forte has some sort of MCL injury, but no specifics are clear. Seriously, the team is withholding most of the diagnosis information outside of the fact that their RB will not need surgery and isn’t finished for 2015. The Bears are clearly the strongest team on the whole but losing Forte is no joke. He was their lead back all year long and the shorter his absence the better. Not panic time yet, but watching how his production is replaced will be paramount.
Pittsburgh Spikes (6-2)
Unlike almost every other team the Spikes have been largely healthy this season. In fact, they have been healthier than projected with players like Chris Johnson suddenly looking years younger than he is. But if anything really has gone wrong it would be the addition of Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has ironically stopped defying his years to the point that he looks far less effective than any other point in recent memory. Throw in Antonio Brown’s brief dip in production – entirely the fault of Mike Vick & Landry Jones – and that early blockbuster with Matt Bruzzano looks like a win for the Blizzard. Outside of this week when both Lynch and Johnson are on bye the Spikes will look to continue their winning ways – 5-0 over since Week 3.
Oklahoma City Lions (6-2)
We covered the catastrophic, genuinely upsetting injury that OKC WR Steve Smith Sr. sustained on Sunday night. That one injury is hurtful because Smith was super effective for the reigning champs, but not season ending for the Lions. His production could be replaced by Allen Hurns almost immediately, but still a loss nonetheless. The biggest thing that went wrong for the Lions this season was the DeMarco Murray pick at 15th overall. Murray has not performed at the same level as his crazy 2014 season at all. The best possible thing that Andrew Rebensky could have done was trade him for parts, which is exactly what happened. In no small way, trading for Justin Forsett and Steve Smith Sr., although the latter now out of the year, saved the chances for another championship in OKC.
Green Bay Blizzard (6-2)
Can I pass on this one? Matt Bruzzano’s team only has one player left that it drafted, TE Jordan Cameron. Outside of that there have been almost 8 different Blizzard teams on the whole that have appeared over this season. Overturn was the norm in the north. Andrew Luck was supposed to be the ultimate saving grace for this team and apparently he has been playing with multiple broken ribs this year – #RibsGate. Luck hasn’t just been banged up, he’s been downright broken all year. Separated shoulder and broken ribs are enough to take people out for significant time, let alone the two weeks that Luck has not played. The guy is a tank, apparently. But let’s see if he will take the field after he gets decapitated later this season.
Washington Senators (6-2)
Each win the Senators get this season, and there are getting to be a lot of them, gets more impressive when you remember they’ve been without their best player all season. Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in the preseason and ever since Cary Lenahan has had to cover for his big name wideout in his lineup. When he’s been able to make everyone collectively forget this originally devastating injury that’s incredible. Underperformance from players like Russell Wilson also hasn’t helped, but that hasn’t stopped the Ws from racking up in our nation’s capital. This makes the Senators, yet again, one of the more interesting teams in the league.
Las Vegas High Rollers (5-2-1)
The High Rollers have had one of the weirder injury situations this season. The most clearly important injury for this team was Jamaal Charles’s ACL tear. The dynamic Kansas City back was the first round pick for the High Rollers – a semi-disturbing trend among first rounders this year – and one cut that didn’t quite land was all it took to send the Chiefs to the untested waters of Charcandrick West. But Las Vegas did something roughly impossible this year as well – they improved at quarterback via injury. Tony Romo’s season was massively changed by Dez Bryant’s foot injury, making his passing outlook much weaker. Once his collarbone snapped the season looked completely lost for Vegas. The Andy Dalton trade has resurrected this team and kept them in the playoff hunt, quite healthily at that, despite two massive injuries. I think Dan Griffith knows what he wants for Christmas.
New York Titans (5-3)
The Titans and Chase Lenahan notably gambled on the health of Giants WR Victor Cruz at the draft. The Mass product was coming off a torn Achilles tendon from last season and no one really knew what was going to come of him. Chase’s mentality was that given the emergence as Odell Beckham Jr. as ODELL BECKHAM JR. that Cruz would serve as a capable second option in a revitalized Giants offense. Well, that hasn’t happened yet. We are officially approaching Week 9 and Cruz hasn’t taken the field yet. That’s not a bad mark on Chase, but rather bad luck – a second calf injury has extended his time away from the field unexpectedly. But the early season swap of Andre Ellington for Joseph Randle has also quickly turned on the Titans. While Ellington missed a great amount of time due to a knee injury he is at least still employed. Randle was cut by the Cowboys today for relatively unclear reasons, but it seems like he did something bad. To go from starter to cut within two weeks – no exaggeration – means something happened. The Titans are still comfortably in the playoffs, but getting running back depth – Randle was their sole backup – is now top priority in the Big Apple.
Waverly Chargers (4-4)
Look, I get that this is my team and I’d be biased in this anyway, but it’s hard to argue with it in reality: This past week for the Chargers is possibly the most costly for a team in league history. I ended up losing three players to injury for the whole season on Sunday, two of which were gigantically important starters. The first was Le’Veon Bell who had his knee rolled up during an tackle in an atrocious Steelers-Bengals game. Despite all efforts to hope that maybe somehow the injury wasn’t as bad as it looked, it was in vain – the injury was exactly as bad as it looked. Bell is done for the year with a torn MCL, and the Steelers are rightly furious given that Ben Roethlisberger had only been back healthy for a hot second before this happened. The second injury chronologically was Khiry Robinson breaking his shin during the New Orleans Saints shootout. Robinson was a fifth stringer, but the point remains. The weirdest injury of the year is hands down Keenan Allen’s lacerated kidney. After coming down from a touchdown catch Allen left the game and remained out for the second half with “muscle spasms.” News then came out that he was in the hospital with a kidney injury, then that he would “miss some time,” then that he was heading to the injured reserve while I was writing this article. Allen was second in the league in catches and quietly having a great year, and somehow lacerated a kidney on an otherwise innocent looking catch. If Waverly can finish above .500 this year after this then it’s a borderline miracle.
New Orleans Tigers (2-5-1)
This year brought an interesting strategy from Paul Bruzzano’s Tigers team. They entrusted the backfield to rookies on more than one occasion. The original drafted tandem was Melvin Gordon and Alfred Morris while trades have changed that into Ameer Abdullah, TJ Yeldon, and Antonio Andrews. While Andrews is technically in his second season this is the first where he’s been playing nearly at all. This strategy, as well as similar roster turnover to his son Matt, has worked on only a few occasions. Weirdly making a trade for Ryan Tannehill instead of Andrew Luck might lead to an improvement. Sammy Watkins has turned out to be mostly injured all season, making the move away from him a good one. All in all even the strong moves from the team haven’t brought massive success. New Orleans will need an especially strong second half to make a playoff push, but the question becomes if the young talent on the team – the running backs plus other young receivers Mike Evans, Jordan Mathews, and Stefan Diggs – can carry the Tigers back to .500.
Chicago Hitmen (2-6)
The Hitmen have stayed relatively healthy this season, but some big early moves have failed to pay off as expected. While Amari Cooper has looked good on a shockingly not-all-that-bad-Raiders team, fellow rookie Melvin Gordon has struggled his way onto the Hitmen bench. Thankfully the other major letdown – the confusingly ineffective, yet undefeated in the NFL Cam Newton – has lost his starting position to Unbreakable favorite Blake Bortles. Jason Kohn’s team has actually been quite unlucky thus far. Chicago is 7th in scoring overall, but they are 4th in points against. That means that Jason has had the fourth highest amount of points scored against his team. This disparity suggests that the Hitmen are better than their record would suggest, and I personally agree with that thought. Wins need to come fast and often for Chicago to jump into the Elite Eight come Week 14, but it’s not impossible with Bortles at the helm. Again, Bortles is the greatest name in the world.
Philadelphia Panthers (2-6)
Eddie Lacy was the 5th overall pick of the 2015 XFL Draft. He is currently ranked 45th among all running backs. These are both facts, and only the latter doesn’t make sense. Eddie Lacy may not have necessarily been the right pick at #5, but he wasn’t the wrong pick. That’s what’s important for Matt Pettinato. Eddie Lacy was believed by many – actually, probably everyone – to be a safe, productive player to choose this season. Well, that is the furthest thing from the case. James Starks is outperforming him, and Starks is not a good player. Lacy was taken ahead of Jamaal Charles and Le’Veon Bell, but it’s not like their seasons are going much better. It’s unfortunate that Philly made a good pick and had it completely fall through on them. That’s especially annoying, I know from personal experience. Similar struggles from Randall Cobb certainly haven’t helped, despite the Packers being Super Bowl contenders. It makes less than no sense, and Pettinato is rightful to be annoyed at Mike McCarthy and Co. for this. Worst case scenario they end up with a top pick next season, but best case is they might get really feisty late with Demayius Thomas and Jarvis Landry in tow.
Seattle Rage (2-6)
The season was all of a week old when Kelvin Benjamin – remember him? – tore his ACL and started a season of horrid injury luck in the pacific northwest. Ben Roethlisberger is back at last to be the strong armed QB that the Rage thought they were getting in (you guessed it) the first round. Big Ben got hurt again by proxy due to Bell’s injury, but his statistics are likely to explode thanks to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. If CJ Anderson could remember how to play football then Seattle could also have some excitement late in the season. Travis Benjamin’s run at the top of the WR scoring chart is over, but being third isn’t bad either. Despite being four games below .500, a team with Roethlisberger forced to air it out and two top 10 WRs is not a bad team. Seattle is going to be very interesting down the stretch.
Kansas City Killers (2-6)
At long last Dez Bryant is back for the Kansas City Killers and I couldn’t be happier. Leave aside personality factors for a second and I am comfortable in saying that Dez is absolutely one of my favorite players in football. What he is capable of doing physically is unreal. We live in an era where players are physical anomalies like never before and Dez is essentially the model for that. Bring in the fact that he’s an absolute head case and I actually love him more. He’s cocky beyond belief but is self-aware of how talented he is at this game. Bryant’s foot injury certainly didn’t help KC and Dan Schlosser, but his return is the happiest news from a viewer standpoint, and as an unabashed fan of the Killers as a whole.
Denver Blaze (1-7)
Really? Everything. Everything has gone wrong for the Blaze.
But they finally won a game!
#1 Baltimore Bears (6-2)
#2 Pittsburgh Spikes (6-2)
#3 Oklahoma City Lions (6-2)
#4 Green Bay Blizzard (6-2)
#5 Washington Senators (6-2)
#6 Las Vegas High Rollers (5-2-1)
#7 New York Titans (5-3)
#8 Waverly Chargers (4-4)
#9 New Orleans Tigers (2-5-1)
#10 Chicago Hitmen (2-6)
#11 Philadelphia Panthers (2-6)
#12 Seattle Rage (2-6)
#13 Kansas City Killers (2-6)
#14 Denver Blaze (1-7)
Week 9 Matchups
Waverly Chargers vs. Las Vegas High Rollers
Baltimore Bears vs. New York Titans
Green Bay Blizzard vs. Seattle Rage
Chicago Hitmen vs. Philadelphia Panthers
Kansas City Killers vs. Washington Senators
Oklahoma City Lions vs. Pittsburgh Spikes
Denver Blaze vs. New Orleans Tigers