XFL 2016: The Quarter Season Mark
By: Connor Lenahan
Four weeks down, twelve to go. The first month of the XFL has come and gone, and one thing seems to be true thus far: It’s anyone’s game. Yeah, yeah, I say that a lot through the season, but this year it seems to actually be true. We have one team at 4-0 and one at 0-4. Three each at 3-1 and 1-3, and six at 2-2. That’s some disturbing parity thus far. But one thing is different this year, and that’s that there’s no runaway favorite. The teams at the top of the league are good, but not without question marks. The teams at the bottom are largely capable of bouncing back. This is the first time in a while that I’m convinced that the standings will get topsy-turvy before the season really comes into focus.
The most impressive performance of this past weekend was Julio Jones’s career outing against the Carolina Panthers. The Super Bowl runner-ups let the Falcons wideout explode for 16 catches for 300 yards and a 75-yard TD. No typos. Julio finished with 620 points in dominating fashion on a defense we all thought was good coming into this season. We might need to relearn the NFL because nothing is as it seems yet.
This week let’s take a look at teams organized by their record to see what the outlook should be as we head into the next stretch of the season.
4-0: New Orleans Tigers – Paul Bruzzano
The New Orleans Tigers are an interesting anomaly because their record and their performance don’t quite match. The only undefeated team left in the XFL is actually the fourth lowest scoring team of anyone, leading only New York, Washington, and Green Bay, who are a combined 2-13. How does this happen you may ask? A great run of luck thus far from the Tigers. They won their season opener against the Philadelphia Panthers by 60, comfortably beat the Oklahoma City Lions by 195, beat the Seattle Rage by 45, and this week vanquished the Kansas City Killers by a score of 870-620. Due to injuries, Dan Schlosser was forced to start one running back, and Julius Thomas was ruled out for the 9:30 AM London game with too little time to sub in a replacement. Throw in that DeSean Jackson and Cairo Santos combined for no points, and the Killers were playing with roughly half a roster.
The Tigers could very easily be 1-3 this season, but they’ve gotten the job done. It’s hard to throw stones if the games are getting won. The team has enough contributors to keep chugging along for more of the season, with Rob Gronkowski scheduled to return to form with Tom Brady and Jordan Howard assuming the starting role in Chicago. But beware, the Tigers might be a favorable playoff matchup come the winter if their current scoring pace continues.
3-1: Oklahoma City Lions – Andrew Rebensky, Pittsburgh Spikes – Matt Gronsky, and Kansas City Killers – Dan Schlosser
Gun to my head right now I’d pick either the Oklahoma City Lions or the Pittsburgh Spikes as the best team in the league. Let’s begin with the Lions, who fended off the Chicago Hitmen this week despite a weak outing from Drew Brees. Another year, another season spent wondering how we all let Andrew come away with Brees yet again. The Saints QB is #2 at his position this season and has been a big reason for the Lions success thus far. But let’s not overlook the terrific contributions of Melvin Gordon, who is the #7 running back in the league with six scores this year. Gordon was a bust of an early pick last season, but with a team in need of some dependable play – Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead’s knees threw this promising offense into abject chaos – Gordon has been very solid. Andrew has been relying on some crafty veterans like Michael Crabtree to score with huge success so far, and I don’t think it’s due to stop. Save for an injury, the wide receiver line up of Mike Evans, Allen Robinson, Michael Crabtree, and Steve Smith Sr. is genuinely stacked. If only Brees could throw to that offense in real life.
As someone that hates the Pittsburgh Steelers and generally enjoys when Matt Gronsky has his fantasy team annoy him you can imagine my horror when Le’Veon Bell returned to the field for both Pittsburgh squads and suddenly the Steelers looked unbeatable. Yeah, sure, the Chiefs are struggling with their defense with Justin Houston out, but he doesn’t play corner, nor does he allow five passing touchdowns for Ben Roethlisberger. Ben and Le’Veon combined for 900 points this weekend, with DeAngelo Williams helping cement a late comeback against Green Bay with a touchdown in the fourth quarter. This is a pace that isn’t likely to continue, but from a sheer physical aspect, there is no team I fear like the Spikes. The Lions have a solid roster, but I don’t 100% trust Brees this season yet. I sure as hell trust the Steelers offense, and Gronsky’s got two of the three most important aspects of it.
The Kansas City Killers are stuck at the moment due to some unfortunate injury luck, but they are far from being in serious trouble. There is a lot to this team to like, including DeSean Jackson, Doug Baldwin, and this Antonio Brown kid at wide receiver. Sure, the running backs – Theo Riddick and Darren Sproles – don’t instill great fear in opponents, but both are uniquely suited to contribute in both the run and passing games. Carson Palmer is not looking quite right this season, making this an interesting crossroads for the Killers. I am patiently waiting on the decision we all need to see happen. It’s gotta be Carson Wentz time, baby. (Unrelated: It just dawned on me that the Killers have two quarterbacks named Carson. This is a very positive development).
2-2: Baltimore Bears – Laura LaBrecque, Las Vegas High Rollers – Dan Griffith, Waverly Chargers – Connor Lenahan, Denver Blaze – Ryan Gilbert & Pat Haggerty, Philadelphia Panthers – Matt Pettinato, and Chicago Hitmen – Jason Kohn
The Baltimore Bears didn’t show up to play on Sunday, plain and simple. Every week thus far it has seemed as if some teams just collectively have a bad week. These things happen, and I don’t really trust DeAndre Hopkins and DeVante Parker catching three passes combined as a trend to continue. While I’m keeping an eye out for the workload of Matt Forte, who is splitting more with Bilal Powell, the Bears have fared well for the four-game stint without the best player in football. Tom Brady is free at long last, and I think this means Deflategate is over and done. The real Bears team debuts this Sunday, and the Philadelphia Panthers are on the receiving end of Brady’s afternoon versus the Cleveland Browns. This is going to be fun.
As a fan of the Seattle Seahawks, boy was I happy to see Russell Wilson looking healthy and out for blood against a good Jets pass rush on Sunday. 309 yards passing and 3 TDs to the tune of 480 points was a welcome surprise, and the Seahawks have this week off to let the injured knee recover more for Wilson. Ironically, the High Rollers will visit the New Orleans Tigers in a stroke of good luck while starting… Andy Dalton, who is again ready to help out for Vegas. The Andy Dalton-AJ Green connection has been electric yet again this year. The big news for the High Rollers last week was Sammy Watkins heading to IR, again, meaning that there is a search for his replacement ongoing. This doesn’t directly pertain to the High Rollers, but how much longer do we keep talking about Sammy Watkins potential as a wide receiver before addressing the fact that he’s been hurt every year he’s been in the league and hasn’t remotely lived up to his price as a 4th overall pick? Just tossing that out there ahead of the 2017 draft.
We already covered the Julio Jones domination that’s had me giggling for days now, but the Chargers bounced back with a necessary win over the Seattle Rage this week. John Brown finally showed up for the Cardinals, logging over 140 yards on Sunday, and suddenly solving the flex woes for the Chargers in the process. I don’t want to jinx a thing about the season, but one thing is interesting about the Chargers thus far. Matt Stafford is in the top 5 for quarterbacks, both starting wide receivers, Julio Jones and Stefon Diggs are in the top 10 at their positions, Eric Ebron is the number 7 tight end, and Lamar Miller & Christine Michael are both top 15 running backs. The lowest ranked starter in their position is John Brown, the 29th wide receiver who has suddenly emerged in the last two games. The Chargers are improving even without Keenan Allen.
It’s going to pain me to say this, so I’m grabbing some Motrin before I type it. *Gulp* That DeMarco Murray pick was an outright steal for the Denver Blaze. He’s scored over 200 points in every game this year so far and is the top back in fantasy yet again. This shouldn’t have happened, but maybe Mike Mularkey knew that his offense was better suited to rely on DeMarco and Derrick Henry rather than Marcus Mariota, who’s just been bad this year. I really like this Denver team right now, but I have two points of caution. One is Cam Newton’s health in the concussion protocol and going forward as he’s the most hit QB in the league thus far. The latter is a concern that Stephania Bell raised on ESPN’s Fantasy Focus podcast – how much longer will DeMarco be able to run at this workload pace? He’s been oft-injured in the past, so seeing more work for Derrick Henry seems inevitable above all else.
Bad luck led to the Philadelphia Panthers dropping their game this week against the Las Vegas High Rollers, who had AJ Green and Russell Wilson have terrific afternoons. Matt Ryan has been out-of-his-damn-mind this season and is the top scoring player in the league. More and more people are coming around to the Atlanta offense and after four weeks they seem legitimate. Ryan is going to be a huge part of this team’s success this season, as are Todd Gurley and Brandon Marshall, who can hopefully pick up their performances in the weeks to come.
So… anyone other than me concerned with Odell Beckham Jr. this season? The Chicago Hitmen’s first round pick has been one of the best players in the league through his entire career, but this season the dynamite wideout is struggling. Hard. Beckham has yet to score a touchdown and was held to less than 30 yards receiving last night against the Vikings. OBJ definitely can’t struggle like this for the rest of the year, so he is due to bounce back. The Hitmen haven’t had their team all work at the same time yet, but there are reasons to believe that if they all get going together the team could be very fun this fall.
1-3: Seattle Rage – Greg Fenn, New York Titans – Chase Lenahan, and Washington Senators – Cary Lenahan
The Seattle Rage is the anti-New Orleans Tigers this year. Greg lost in Week 2 and 3 by a combined 145 points. This week he not only had the misfortune of facing Julio Jones and the Chargers, but Aaron Rodgers was on his bye. Talk about some tough luck to start the year. The Rage, however, is equipped to survive and recover. Rodgers is back for the rest of the year with his bye behind him. Doug Martin is due back soon to complete a suddenly strong running attack with Carlos Hyde and Jerick McKinnon. The Rage is far better than their record suggests, and I am already expecting to write about them in a higher tier as early as next week.
Now that was the Ezekiel Elliott we were all excited about. The rookie is the second overall running back in fantasy after a second consecutive game of 310 points. Suddenly the New York Titans are looking competitive. The switch at quarterback from Blake Bortles to Philip Rivers paid off greatly, and picking up Cole Beasley and Jeremy Maclin for Frank Gore looks like a potential season-saver. The Titans are in bye week hell this week, down Mark Ingram, Maclin, and Allen Hurns, but they will get back Tyler Eifert for the first time all season this Sunday. The Titans could be figuring themselves out pretty quickly. Side note: Josh Doctson is almost certainly done for the season with his Achilles injury, finishing what Chase had hoped would be a promising rookie year.
The Washington Senators were without three starters last week and it showed. Cary Lenahan’s team scored just 630 as his remaining players were stuck in poor matchups. Thankfully the roster will get back Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb this week, giving a much-needed jolt to the offense. Andrew Luck has inexplicably performed well enough to be the third overall quarterback in the league thus far, but not without getting flattened his fair share of times. The Colts are not good, and the offensive line is historically awful. The former bodes well for Cary – the Colts will throw a ton – but the latter could force him to start Ryan Tannehill for extended periods of time, something that the Dolphins don’t even really want to do. Brighter days are ahead for this team.
0-4: Green Bay Blizzard – Matt Bruzzano
We’ve now come to the only team to explicitly be in trouble in the XFL this season. The Green Bay Blizzard have encountered enough bad injury luck to make you wonder what Ancient Indian Burial Ground Matt Bruzzano defaced, or what mythical deity he drew the spite of. Tony Romo, Adrian Peterson, Dez Bryant, and more have all been banged up in the infancy of this season. He’s now stuck with a rag-tag group of players that needs to come together quickly or the season will pass them by. This sounds negative, and objectively it is, but in the most backward way possible it might actually be a positive for the Blizzard. No owner in the league would be a better fit for a narrative of the down and out team storming back down the stretch than the Matt Bruzzano coached Blizzard. This is a long season, and the year is far from over for the Blizzard. Add in prime position to make moves on waivers and the Blizzard might have some more tricks up their sleeve.
Week 5 Matchups:
Waverly Chargers vs. Washington Senators
Seattle Rage vs. Pittsburgh Spikes
Philadelphia Panthers vs. Baltimore Bears
Denver Blaze vs. Kansas City Killers
Chicago Hitmen vs. New York Titans
Green Bay Blizzard vs. Oklahoma City Lions
New Orleans Tigers vs. Las Vegas High Rollers