XFL 2016: Week 2 Is War
By: Connor Lenahan
It seems like every year the landscape of the NFL changes in the first games of the season, but let me tell you this season seems worse than ever with regards to things going goofy on us. There were more injuries this week than one could count, with almost all of them coming on running backs, and studs struggling. The optimistic part of my brain says that we might be in for another fun, unpredictable season. The pessimistic part is saying that we might be in for somewhat of a slog.
Here’s really hoping that the former is correct.
After two weeks of action, the league is almost disturbingly well balanced. There are ten teams tied at 1-1, two that remain undefeated, and two that are still looking to lock up their first victory. What’s heartening is that no team looks like it’s running away with the league just yet, but some teams are looking fairly strong out of the gate. For example…
Baltimore Bears – Laura LaBrecque (1-1) def. Pittsburgh Spikes – Matt Gronsky (1-1)
…The Baltimore Bears, who had their roster explode this weekend to the tune of 2160 points. That’s the first 2000+ point game for any team in the XFL since the High Rollers scored 2190 on the Bears in Week 3 of 2015. The lowest scoring Bear last week was Graham Gano, who still had 130. This is the kind of unbelievable week that teams dream of when everyone comes through at once. The brightest star thus far has been Matt Forte, who might sneakily be a steal. We knew David Johnson would be great, and he has been, but the 30-year-old Forte has been getting more work than nearly any other back in the league. He already has 52 carries on the season and is the second-highest scoring running back in the league. Forte likely won’t keep up this exact pace for the full season, but he’s looking real good on a good looking Jets team.
But Forte is not the only veteran back setting the league ablaze. DeAngelo Williams is the number one back in fantasy this year through two games and had 250 this weekend despite playing through a torrential downpour. Williams is 33 and looks more confident in his ability than most players around the league. This is extremely good news for the Steelers and Spikes, who will have Le’Veon Bell return after this week. While Williams has been solid, Bell is the best fantasy running back in the league when healthy and it’s not terribly close. The Spikes drew the short straw with the Bears this week, but they are getting very, very close to plugging Bell and Josh Gordon back into the lineup. The Spikes have looked good without two of their most talented players thus far, and the looming threat of their improvements has me really, really happy I’ll play the Spikes this week and not from Week 5 on.
Philadelphia Panthers – Matt Pettinato (1-1) def. Washington Senators – Cary Lenahan (1-1)
I’m going to resist the urge to blame Todd Gurley’s early struggles on Matt Pettinato, but it’s not easy. Jokes(?) aside, Todd Gurley is not the monster we saw in 2015 this year. This is obviously a small sample size to base that test on, but so is everything else here. Part of this is due to two weird Rams games so far this year – including a 49ers loss where the team apparently was tipping off where the receivers would be running and a Seahawks game that had me ready to pull my hair out. The good news is that Gurley is a generational talent that won’t struggle like this all year, especially given the quality of defense he’s played thus far. But the bad news is that Case Keenum isn’t that much better of a QB than me – like, he is, but it’s not like when he introduces himself to you at a party you don’t think he’s lying to cover the fact he’s a night manager at Costco, right? – and the NFC West has Gurley playing the Seahawks, Cardinals, and 49ers all twice. Thankfully two of those six games are finished, but other teams like the Giants and Panthers remain. I’m nervous for my boy Todd.
The Washington Senators are led by Andrew Luck, who was the Pepsi Sacrificial Lamb of the Week to Von Miller and his rag-tag group of dirty hitting defensive buddies. Luck had a subpar week, only scoring 210 in a Colts loss, but thankfully this painful right of passage is over. While the Packers struggled against a terrific Viking defense this weekend, causing Cary’s duo of Jordy Nelson & Randall Cobb to have weak showings, Sterling Shephard shone on his bench, scoring 220 on 8 catches for 117 yards. I like this Washington team, man.
New Orleans Tigers – Paul Bruzzano (2-0) def. Oklahoma City Lions – Andrew Rebensky (1-1)
I’ve been struggling with a question in my head all week. The New Orleans Tigers are now 2-0 and have reached that record without stars Jamaal Charles and Rob Gronkowski. Does this indicate that the team is due for a huge upgrade when both are healthy? I think the answer is a cautious maybe. Spencer Ware has looked good for the Chiefs thus far, and I have long been concerned with Charles’s ability to stay on the field, even before his second torn ACL. When Jamaal comes back I’m not sure if he is going to be splitting time with Ware or not, and that’s not helpful for Mr. Bruzzano. What is good is that Rob Gronkowski is a different, more athletic, more handsome species than current tight end Antonio Gates, who is an eventual NFL Hall of Famer, so not all is lost. Unrelated to all of the above: That Eli Manning pick is looking fantastic thus far.
The Lions have to be leaving this week feeling a little cheated. Actually, a lot cheated. Last season Drew Brees had the best game in XFL history against the New York Giants and this year he only had 300 points. Yes, 300 is a respectable score for a QB any week, but Brees literally put up more than three times that much last season. That’s just unfortunate but makes the Giants defense look vastly improved. The best news of the weekend was that Melvin Gordon suddenly looks like the player he was at Wisconsin again. He’s got three touchdowns through three games and his primary competition for carries just tore his ACL – hold this thought.
Kansas City Killers – Dan Schlosser (2-0) def. Seattle Rage – Greg Fenn (1-1)
Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in football. In Week 1 the Washington Redskins decided to have Bashaud Breeland cover him rather than new, expensive toy Josh Norman. Brown torched the Skins, yet on Sunday he was stymied and kept to under 50 yards by the duo of Pacman Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick. Football is weird guys. The Killers have one of their most exciting rosters in years and that’s both because they have the All-World Brown, but also because of Carson Palmer. After looking out of sorts against the Patriots, the former Heisman winner smoked the Buccaneers for 308 yards and 3 TDs. I don’t know about you, but I am very excited to watch Palmer and Brown in the XFL equivalent to an Air Raid offense this season.
The Seattle Rage, meanwhile, should have actually won this game. But for some incredible reason – perhaps Vikings voodoo that Minnesota native Greg put on the Packers – Aaron Rodgers was not himself on Sunday night. Maybe it was the top 5 NFL defense that the Vikings have, or maybe Rodgers was preoccupied with his Emmys pool, but he wasn’t all there on Sunday, failing to crack 300 yards and throwing an interception. This won’t be a season-long trend for Aaron, but certainly was jarring to see Sunday. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on Doug Martin as well. Martin exited the Buccaneers game in Arizona with a tweaked hamstring, and the team would very much like it’s muscle hamster to be able to run in his wheel rather than rehab in his woodchips. Was that weird? I thought so. I’m sorry. Moving on.
Las Vegas High Rollers – Dan Griffith (1-1) def. Green Bay Blizzard – Matt Bruzzano (0-2)
Oh boy was this one tough. Let’s start with the Las Vegas High Rollers who had one of the biggest home runs of the weekend in Isaiah Crowell, who snapped off an 85 yard TD against the Ravens. LeGarrette Blount looked good for the Patriots, especially while hurdling over Dolphins defenders, but Russell Wilson was bottled up by the Rams while AJ Green suffered a similar fate to Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh. The frustrating news is that both Jonathan Stewart and Sammy Watkins are injured this week. It’s sad to say that both are fairly likely candidates for injury every year, but you never want to see this happen. Fingers crossed that they have a few early games where they are banged up before helping the High Rollers down the stretch at full strength.
And then there’s the Green Bay Blizzard. Part of me is curious as to if Matt Bruzzano has been defacing ancient Indian burial grounds or practicing Satanistic rituals as of late because his luck over the past month has been supernaturally bad. First Tony Romo cracks vertebrae, then Robert Griffin III breaks his shoulder, Demaryius Thomas has hip troubles, and then Dez Bryant struggles his way to one catch last week. Dez looked good this weekend, but it was all for naught. Arian Foster has a groin strain that looks to be enough to sideline him for this week. But the marquee name for the team, Adrian Peterson, reportedly tore his right meniscus during Sunday’s game. The Blizzard currently have no backup running backs. This might be a long season for Green Bay, but if any coach were going to figure out how to make this team work out of scraps, it’s the Mad Hatter Bruzzano.
Chicago Hitmen – Jason Kohn (1-1) def. Waverly Chargers – Connor Lenahan (1-1)
An interesting statistic I found over the weekend: The Chicago Hitmen have been in the XFL since the 2011 season. That year the Hitmen beat the Chargers in the championship game, upsetting the then 14-1 Waverly team. Due to scheduling, the Hitmen and Chargers didn’t play in 2012, 2013, or 2014. The Hitmen beat the Chargers last year in Week 2, and again this year. Inexplicably, Jason Kohn is – I believe – the only coach in the XFL to have a perfect record against the winningest team in league history. This year that was in large part due to Will Fuller, who is quickly becoming a candidate for rookie of the year and draft steal of the season. Whereas Matt Forte was drafted as an RB2, Fuller was pegged as a lottery ticket. Two 100 yard games later, both crazy solid efforts for the impressive Texans and Fuller is a lock to start on a team that also has Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks. Chicago is going to be the most fun young team to watch this year, given Derek Carr is also doing great things for the Raiders.
The Chargers blew this game outright by starting John Brown over Stefon Diggs. One had one catch for 14 yards and the other had 9 catches for 182 yards and a TD. Guess which one was on my bench. While the Keenan Allen injury last week was devastating, the Danny Woodhead injury this week was just frustrating. It wasn’t the worst injury of the weekend – I’m so sorry Green Bay – but at least there is belief that Peterson and Foster and Martin and Stewart will play again this season. Two weeks and two torn ACLs, both eerily from the real Chargers no less, is just demoralizing. And be honest, you are afraid of a team that has Stefon Diggs as the third best receiver with John Brown fourth and Danny Woodhead as a plug-in at flex. Now that flex is going to be the disappointing Brown or, like, Duke Johnson Jr.? Christine Michael? I hate this game, man.
Denver Blaze – Ryan Gilbert and Pat Haggerty (1-1) def. New York Titans – Chase Lenahan (0-2)
Who’d have thunk it? When Cam Newton doesn’t play the Denver Broncos he’s really good? That’s impossible. The reigning NFL MVP obliterated the San Franciso 49ers this weekend while leading the league in scoring with 655 points. While last year the Blaze became known for blowing their early round picks, this year they look to have successfully swung for the fences with players like DeMarco Murray and Kelvin Benjamin. Newton doesn’t get to play the 49ers defense every weekend, but there are enough good players in good situations here to have the Blaze looking pretty good. Frankly, they’re in an enviable position – let Cam figure it out and hope everyone else does average. If they do above average? Everything is gravy.
We close this week with the New York Titans, who started to see their running game come alive, as well as Blake Bortles cannon arm. Frank Gore didn’t do atrociously in a bad matchup with the Broncos D, while Mark Ingram was bottled up by Olivier Vernon and Co. from the Giants in a game destined to be decided through passing. The only major cause for concern was Ezekiel Elliott who fumbled twice on Sunday. Alfred Morris ended up with what should have been Zeke’s second score of the game and made the situation look a little uneasy. Let’s pump the brakes here for a second, however. Zeke is a terrific running back but is still a rookie all the same. Add in that he went through the majority of training and preseason with Romo under center and suddenly the learning curve for Zeke and Dak Prescott makes far more sense. Plus, again, the Giants run defense is better and both men are trying to learn the NFL at lightspeed and I’m not panicking. The Titans aren’t at full ability yet, and they might not be this week either, but you don’t win championships in Week 2. Be patient, you never know what’ll happen after one week of action – just look how quickly the league is different from Week 1.
Week 3 Schedule:
Pittsburgh Spikes vs. Waverly Chargers
Baltimore Bears vs. Las Vegas High Rollers
Washington Senators vs. Oklahoma City Lions
New Orleans Tigers vs. Seattle Rage
Green Bay Blizzard vs. Kansas City Killers
Denver Blaze vs. Chicago Hitmen
New York Titans vs. Philadelphia Panther