XFL 2016: Now Things Get Crazy
By: Connor Lenahan
Darren Sproles had simultaneously the best and worst game he’s had in what seems like forever this past Sunday afternoon. The Kansas City Killers running back took the field in place of the injured Thomas Rawls and managed an objectively bad -1 yard on 2 carries. This is only half the story because Sproles also finished the game with 6 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. And that’s still not everything because the touchdown was a 73-yard scamper that helped everyone realize that maybe the Eagles are kind of good now?
Why bring up Sproles today? Thankfully he’s not hurt for Dan Schlosser, but he is on bye this week. We now enter the real stretch of the season. Weeks 1-3 are all opportunities for fantasy teams to play with their full rosters (or healthiest version of the roster available), while Weeks 4-13 all see teams on bye weeks. Week 4 specifically isn’t awful – only the Eagles and Packers are on bye – but it does leave Kansas City without the surging Sproles, the Seattle Rage without Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Mathews, and the Washington Senators without both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. This is the time of year where the best-constructed teams shine and the imitators fall by the wayside.
This week we are looking at the four collections of teams – all by record – and how they are shaping up heading into the rest of the year.
Undefeated at 3-0: Kansas City Killers – Dan Schlosser & New Orleans Tigers – Paul Bruzzano
Don’t adjust your television set, what you are seeing is true – the Kansas City Killers are 3-0 for the first time since 2009. This is in large part due to Antonio Brown and Doug Baldwin. The duo both find themselves in the top ten for wideouts currently and DeSean Jackson is within the top 24 at the flex for the Killers. The running back situation isn’t anything that’ll give you nightmares, but in a league that has seen most major names either get hurt or be largely ineffective a combination of Theo Riddick and Darren Sproles isn’t all that bad. At least they’re playing and scoring at that. The biggest question mark with the team will, of course, be Carson Palmer. Palmer has had two bad games and one world destroying one so far this season. Thankfully, the bad games make sense. Their season opener against the Patriots saw the Cardinals looking underprepared for the season, yes, but also stymied by one of the best defensive units in the game. The Buffalo Bills shocked the Cardinals on Sunday, leading Palmer to throw 4 interceptions, but that makes sense as well. He threw 50 passes and was explicitly forcing balls to try and get the Cards back in the game. I’m not worried about Palmer, and I’m not worried about the Killers.
The New Orleans Tigers had the surprise performance of the day Sunday when Marvin Jones caught an I-bet-Cincinnati-really-is-missing-him-right-now 74-yard touchdown in Lambeau against the Packers while racking up 6 catches for 205 yards and 2 touchdowns total on the afternoon. I’ve long enjoyed watching the Lions and, as a long-time Matt Stafford owner, I have more faith in them than most but holy moly I don’t think anyone knew Jones had this in him. The Tigers having Jones at flex behind Julian Edelman and Eric Decker is nothing short of highway robbery. The Tigers have some intriguing options coming up with Jamaal Charles due to return to action any time now, new Chicago standout Jordan Howard on the bench, and Rob Gronkowski’s eventual return to GRONK when he doesn’t have Jacoby “Brisket” Brissett throwing it to him. New Orleans has never been known to stand pat, but this team is surprisingly solid, and better yet, deep as is.
Currently Playoff Bound at 2-1: Baltimore Bears – Laura LaBrecque, Oklahoma City Lions – Andrew Rebensky, Pittsburgh Spikes – Matt Gronsky, Chicago Hitmen – Jason Kohn, and Philadelphia Panthers – Matt Pettinato
Laura LaBrecque is like a horror movie villain. You try to kill her Baltimore Bears and they just keep coming for you. Corey Coleman lit up the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 before breaking his hand and Laura simply plugged in Jamison Crowder, who took a bubble screen from Bears QB Kirk Cousins for a 55-yard touchdown. It’s just not fair, dammit. As it stands now the Bears have one of the strongest starting rosters in the league, and for the third week in a row let me remind you that they add in Tom Brady after this week. The saving grace for all opponents is knowing that Baltimore’s bench is currently thinner than my chances of snagging Angelina Jolie on the rebound. Don’t worry she’ll probably just figure out a way to solve that problem too, damn it all.
Seasons change, years pass, Drew Brees still puts up points for the Oklahoma City Lions. The runner-up for last year’s championship and the 2014 champion is looking strong yet again thanks to the cannon-armed Saint. But this year the team takes on a twist from Atlanta. Tevin Coleman has looked dynamite thus far in 2016, and three touchdowns last night helped push the Lions to the high score of the week. Melvin Gordon is the lone back in San Diego, Allen Robinson and Mike Evans are freaks of nature that were put on this earth to catch every ball in their path, and Jordan Reed is a monster. I think we are in for a third year of the Lions looking real good.
Matthew Joseph Gronsky owes T.Y. Hilton money. The Colts wideout took a 63-yard pass to the house at the end of Sunday’s game against the Chargers, both real and imagined. My Waverly Chargers were projected to win until Hilton’s late score swung the entire game in Gronsky’s favor. Similar to the Patriots, the Spikes have been waiting out suspensions before reaching their full strength. Also like the Patriots, the Spikes have brought a winning record to the returning Le’Veon Bell this week and will likely again next week to Josh Gordon. A Spikes roster that starts Roethlisberger/Bell/Hill/Gordon/Hilton/Fitzgerald/Kelcie is my favorite in the league when healthy, and we are about to finally see it. This might be the best roster that the Spikes have had in the XFL yet, and that’s positioning them for a special season.
The Chicago Hitmen are sitting at 2-1 and haven’t even had their season go all that well so far. Odell Beckham Jr. is yet to score a touchdown, the Raiders and Derek Carr haven’t looked like the Super Bowl contender that we thought they would be, and Devonta Freeman has been underwhelming. All of this is to say that if the Hitmen can win with underperforming players, then I am concerned for the rest of the season for the Hitmen’s opponents. I love the trio of Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, and Beckham Jr, and Devonta Freeman suddenly looked like himself again last night. Derek Carr might not be a sexy name like Aaron Rodgers to fantasy players, but he’s got targets like Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to hit. Jason is even harboring Philip Dorsett and Terrelle Pryor on his bench. Watch out for the Hitmen, because they might keep sneakily winning for weeks to come.
The Philadelphia Panthers got an unexpected double whammy of injury news this weekend with Rashad Jennings hurting his thumb and his backup Shane Vereen tearing his triceps, ending his season. This wasn’t great news, but Todd Gurley punching in two scores certainly was. The Panthers are in an interesting position this season. When all of their players show up to play, they’re super strong. But if Matt Ryan falters, Gurley continues to struggle, Brandon Marshall is hurting worse than let on, or more the team isn’t as solid. That said, I don’t think the Falcons are going to suck this year for fantasy purposes, Gurley is too talented to struggle forever, and Marshall is a tank. I think this team has some real potential.
Outside Looking In at 1-2: Las Vegas High Rollers – Dan Griffith, Denver Blaze – Ryan Gilbert & Pat Haggerty, Washington Senators – Cary Lenahan, Seattle Rage – Greg Fenn, Waverly Chargers – Connor Lenahan
I think Russell Wilson might be a cyborg. That’s the only way he got away with a sprained MCL on a tackle that certainly looked like a season ender in the Seattle game on Sunday. Did you know that the play he took off after that hit to get a brace on his leg was the first snap that Wilson has missed in his NFL career? I might use the descriptor “not human” a lot for the elite athletic talent on this planet, but I sincerely think Russell Wilson might be a genuine alien. The High Rollers have had two unlucky breaks with Jonathan Stewart and Sammy Watkins, the latter of which is about as shocking as the sunrise, but have found success from unlikely sources. Who in the hell would have figured that the best running back tandem in the league so far would be Isaiah Crowell and LeGarrette Blount? The High Rollers might be without two of their biggest names for a while, but Dan Griffith has a long history of winning games with teams greater than the sum of their parts.
Denver was the unlucky recipient of the Week 1 bashing that Drew Brees and the Oklahoma City Lions laid down in the shootout with the Raiders, meaning that their record of 1-2 is a bit of a misnomer. This weekend they had a fluke of a day where Kelvin Benjamin was specifically shut out by the terrific secondary of the Vikings. Because this team relies so heavily on the Panthers, it makes sense that Cam Newton taking on two of the five best defenses in football the first three weeks would hurt. Brighter days are ahead for the duo, and they have unexpectedly found the best running back in the league so far – DeMarco Murray. Pairing him with a suddenly not bad LeSean McCoy has the Blaze ready to bounce back big from an unlucky early draw.
The Washington Senators are banking hard on the resurgence of the Green Bay Packers this year, so Aaron Rodgers’s 4 touchdown day was specifically what they wanted to see. Well, only if the scoring strikes to Davante Adams were to Randall Cobb instead. The Packers suddenly looked strong again against the Lions, and Sterling Shephard continues to impress in New York. In a somewhat beautiful twist of fate, the biggest bye week problem for the Senators comes this week. The Senators this season are a team of patience. Their immediate future doesn’t look amazing given the Packers bye week, but they’ll play down the stretch with most of their full roster at once. You don’t win titles in Week 4 after all. Plus Andrew Luck has looked better in these first three weeks than in any other point of 2015.
Greg Fenn is Marvin Jones away from 2-1. Losing by just 45 to the New Orleans Tigers, the Seattle Rage just lost their second game in a row decided by 100 or fewer points. You know what that tells me? They’re just unlucky for now. I love the construction of this roster. Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Mathews being on their bye this week might make 1-3 a decent possibility, but beyond that this is one of the deepest teams in the league. Doug Martin’s hamstring will sideline him for a bit, but Jerrick McKinnon and Derrick Henry can at least give some points to the total. Greg’s got a bench full of regular contributors which is more than a lot of teams can say right now. I’m already excited for the Rage to steal a low seeded playoff spot and blow up someone in the first round.
Another week and another afternoon of me wanting to pull my hair out over my team. The Waverly Chargers were the unfortunate recipients of the late game T.Y. Hilton touchdown that I didn’t even see happen because I turned off Sunday Ticket for the day. At least this week’s injury for the Chargers was just Jeremy Langford spraining his ankle, rather than tearing his ACL, though he likely lost his starting spot in Chicago in the process. Here’s the crazy thing, if the Chargers finally get in a rhythm they could be really good. Lamar Miller and Christine Michael are dependable, talented running backs, John Brown finally emerged from hiding, Julio Jones and Stefon Diggs are incredible when they’re at full strength/workload, and Matt Stafford is looking like a man possessed. The depth that once made this team frightening is a thing of the past, but the possibility of a big game for Stafford/Jones/Diggs helps the weaker parts of the lineup. Maybe I shouldn’t be hopeless, even if Julio Jones was held to one catch against the Saints last night… I need a drink.
Let’s Go Crazy at 0-3: Green Bay Blizzard – Matt Bruzzano and New York Titans – Chase Lenahan
There’s something interesting happening this season. Far and away my favorite teams to watch in 2016 are the Green Bay Blizzard and the New York Titans. This is objectively odd because they are the two teams most in need of improvement through three weeks. There’s no way to really sugarcoat that these teams are the bottom of the league in points scored and the ones most ravaged by injury. That’s why I think they have the potential to be very, very intriguing.
I’ve written before that teams in the XFL have to reach 7-6 to comfortably make the playoffs every year. The Blizzard and Titans both sit right now at 0-3, meaning that they need to find a way to go 7-3 the rest of the way to make a comfortable playoff push. Anything better is incredible, and worse means they are picking in the front half of the draft next year.
What do you do if you’re Matt Bruzzano, who has had the worst injury luck of anyone thus far and just lost Adrian Peterson for the year? Or Chase Lenahan, who has a trio of really solid running backs but an underperforming Blake Bortles and underwhelming receiving corps? I say you go crazy.
The only way that the Titans and Blizzard are going to survive is to get creative with their rosters. This means that no one is off the table for the right price. Ezekiel Elliott has the potential to change a backfield for a team. Dez Bryant could command depth that Bruzzano desperately needs. Maybe Carson Wentz should get reps at QB for the Titans? Who knows?
Here’s what I’m convinced of. I would much rather roll the dice and try to fix a struggling roster to make a run at turning the tides for the season than stay put and struggle. It’s entirely possible, and likely, that both teams will probably ride with their rosters and use their waiver order priority to stash new starters. But where’s the fun in that?
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m excited to see what trades Matt Bruzzano can pull off now – or what he can do without trading.
If you’re stuck in a rut, why not throw up a hail mary and see what happens?
Week 4 Matchups
Seattle Rage vs. Waverly Chargers
Las Vegas High Rollers vs. Philadelphia Panthers
Denver Blaze vs. Baltimore Bears
New York Titans vs. Washington Senators
New Orleans Tigers vs. Kansas City Killers
Green Bay Blizzard vs. Pittsburgh Spikes
Oklahoma City Lions vs. Chicago Hitmen