XFL 2016: We’re Doomed
By: Connor Lenahan
Maybe it’s because I live in Boston, or maybe it’s because I root for the New England Patriots; perhaps it’s because my girlfriend’s team is the prime beneficiary of his return, or consider if you will the fact that Deflategate is now over. No matter the reasoning, we have officially arrived at the proper NFL season. That’s because the weeks of waiting for teams to find their identity or return their Super Bowl-champion, Greatest-Of-All-Time quarterback, the league feels figured out. At least a little bit.
But let’s not bury the lede here, the story of the weekend was always going to be Tom Brady’s return to the New England Patriots and Laura LaBrecque’s Baltimore Bears. In a dominating, 400+ yard performance, the Patriots looked better than they have all season, despite being one of the NFL’s best already, and the Bears scored over 1900 points in a blowout of the Philadelphia Panthers.
We are now heading into Week 6 and not everything seems clear just yet. However, as I had contemplated last week there seemed to be two teams that I considered the best the league had to offer. That number is now three, and I think we might be doomed.
Baltimore Bears – Laura LaBrecque (3-2) def. Philadelphia Panthers – Matt Pettinato (2-3)
Let’s begin with the aforementioned Bears. Tom Brady looked terrific on Sunday. Yes, he was able to carve up the Browns defense – a task that isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility for me to complete as well – but there was no sign of rust. Rather, there was a sign of Brady getting ready for a war path on the road to the playoffs and another AFC East title. The Bears had other huge games this week, logging 795 between David Johnson and Sammie Coates, which helped the Bears jump into first place for the highest scoring team in the league after 5 games. I’d argue that this year’s team isn’t as good as last season’s champion squad, but the combination of Brady and David Johnson is one that I’m terrified of. The Achilles heel of this Bears team remains the receiving corps, but DeAndre Hopkins can’t keep playing this poorly, right? Right?
The Philadelphia Panthers are a misnomer of a 2-3 team. Pettinato’s boys dropped their first game of the season by only 60 points and lost their last two by wide margins. But upon closer inspection, these losses make sense. The High Rollers tagged them for over 1600, while the Bears posted over 1900. In both games, the Panthers scored over 1300 points. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, and if not for inopportune luck the Panthers could be 4-1, or even 5-0. They’re the fifth highest scoring team in the league and currently the eighth playoff seed. Given that they employ Matt Ryan, having the comeback season of the year, and the awesome duo of Brandon Marshall & Amari Cooper (and, oh yeah, Todd Gurley), the Panthers are trending in a very good direction, especially against the Denver Blaze this week, who are without Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin.
Pittsburgh Spikes – Matt Gronsky (4-1) def. Seattle Rage – Greg Fenn (1-4)
Note to self: Stop betting against Ben Roethlisberger. See, I was one of those people that thought the vaunted Steelers offense would suffer without Martavis “Martinis” Bryant, who is out for the season under suspension. But no, the Steelers remain one of the three best teams in football, and arguably the best offense in some order with Atlanta and New England. The Spikes are riding this tear of a season that Big Ben and the returned Le’Veon Bell have been on to great success. But that undersells the great contributions of Larry Fitzgerald and TY Hilton, the later inexplicably being the top receiver in fantasy so far on the strength of two giant games against bad defenses/long touchdowns late. The Spikes, like the Bears, have some reason for concern – Jeremy Hill has an injured shoulder, and DeAndre Washington has been underwhelming – but I don’t see these issues as all that important if their top stars are putting up the numbers they are. Depth will be important going forward, but I think the Spikes, Bears, and Lions (hold that thought) are the three best in some order going forward.
A pre-draft conversation with Seattle Rage coach Greg Fenn saw him tell me that he thought any conversation that didn’t see Aaron Rodgers as the first quarterback off the board seemed ludicrous. I happened to agree, only because I was slightly less high on the likes of Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, and Brady’s suspension removed him from first round consideration. Rodgers has been a different quarterback than we have been used to this year, and is averaging the 13th most among QBs this season. Danny Kelly of The Ringer wrote a great article on why Rodgers is struggling that I encourage checking out. The Rage are, much like the Panthers, two tight losses away from being 3-2 instead of 1-4. Rodgers’s decreased performance rising back to career norms? Suddenly the Rage bounce back.
Washington Senators – Cary Lenahan (2-3) def. Waverly Chargers – Connor Lenahan (2-3)
The above is a live look in at Waverly Chargers QB Matt Stafford and a perfect encapsulation of the team as a whole this year. Stafford was, somehow, the only player on the team to score above 100 last week, and this is a team that employs Julio Jones and Lamar Miller. The logical part of my brain looks at how this was the worst possible matchup draw for every player and takes solace. Stafford and Golden Tate (in place of the injured Stefon Diggs) faced the strong Eagles defense, Lamar Miller drew the Vikings brick wall, Duke Johnson filled in for Christine Michael (on bye) to take on the Patriots, John Brown was catching passes from Drew Stanton instead of Carson Palmer, Julio Jones and Jacob Tamme (in place of the injured Eric Ebron) were stifled by the Broncos, and a partridge in a fucking pear tree. The Chargers aren’t an awful team on paper, but they are disturbingly inconsistent. However, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, one unlucky roster play and a late-game TY Hilton bomb have caused the Chargers to fall to 2-3 when 4-1 isn’t that far off. If everyone can show up at once the Chargers still can play with the big boys – they just need to stop living as a hypothetical contender and do it.
The Washington Senators are lively again with this much-needed win on the heels of another big yardage game from Andrew Luck. The best possible thing to happen to the Senators this season was the collapse of the Colts as a team. By constantly struggling against bad teams – San Diego, Jacksonville, Chicago – Luck is forced into throwing the ball as much as humanly possible, and he’s the 3rd overall QB in the league as a result. Luck’s health will be a question mark for as long as he has his current/rotating offensive line in front of him, but that’s a bridge to be crossed when it is reached. The immense wide receiver corps of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Sterling Shephard, and Emmanuel Sanders might only be as good as the quarterbacks throwing to them are, but there’s good reason to be excited with three of those four playing at a time – note that Nelson and Cobb have already been on bye as well. The Senators might be able to recover well in these next few games.
Denver Blaze – Ryan Gilbert and Pat Haggerty (3-2) def. Kansas City Killers – Dan Schlosser (3-2)
All the credit in the world to the Denver Blaze for picking a running back duo that no one else in the league would have put together. DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy are both in the top four for running backs, along with Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson, and have look really good this season. The Titans have realized they are better off trusting Murray to pound the ball rather than have Marcus Mariota, quickly regressing, throw the ball, and the Bills have refocused the offense without Sammy Watkins to great effect. Frank Gore is a solid if unexciting flex, but the fact he could/should be a top two back elsewhere speaks volumes to the Blaze’s draft strategy. I’m not sold on the Panthers yet and the Cam Newton-Kelvin Benjamin combination isn’t quite as strong as some others, but if the Panthers start figuring out their team/Cam returns in Week 7 from his concussion, the Blaze could become the fourth major contender in the league with ease.
The Kansas City Killers have had multiple players on bye for two straight weeks now, and I am willing to entertain that it’s miraculously bad luck. The first case of playing an absent player came because there was literally no alternative to the missing Darren Sproles, and Julius Thomas was ruled out of a 9:30 AM game. This week Carson Palmer was ruled out for a Thursday game, Doug Baldwin’s only replacement played in that Thursday game, and Cairo Santos is a kicker. If Dan, like most players, sets his lineup on Sundays then this was just miraculously bad luck. This is no reason for concern of a season-long trend, I thin. If I’m wrong, then something is up in KC. Here’s hoping the Killers are back to form this week.
New York Titans – Chase Lenahan (2-3) def. Chicago Hitmen – Jason Kohn (2-3)
Remember when it looked like the New York Titans were in serious trouble? Yeah, that’s what we call the BZ period – Before Zeke. Ezekiel Elliott has been a supernova for the last three weeks, scoring north of 300 points thrice and electrifying the Cowboys & Titans in the process. But there’s another huge reason for the newfound success in Gotham: Philip Rivers. The San Diego Chargers locker room is beginning to look like a military triage akin to M*A*S*H, but Rivers has been throwing the ball with absurd success even as the Chargers continue to lose and lose. Rivers is averaging 411 points per game, good for 5th among quarterbacks, and suddenly solving the biggest problems that Blake Bortles was creating. Mark Ingram hasn’t looked too shabby either, and just sat for his bye week. The Titans are going to greatly appreciate Jeremy Maclin and Cole Beasley, the latter especially in wake of Dez Bryant’s leg injury, as the prize of the Frank Gore trade, which might ultimately prove as the best move of the year to help two teams bounce back quickly.
Jason Kohn couldn’t buy a break this week, seeing Rivers and Elliott go off while Will Fuller was contained by Minnesota and Eddie Lacy was injured late. But things are still looking up for the Hitmen overall. Odell Beckham Jr. has his first touchdown at long last and has made up with the kicking net that felled him a few weeks ago. Devonta Freeman has looked much better in the newly reinvigorated Falcons offense. Best of all Derek Carr keeps showing flashes of greatness while carving up defenses. Don’t sleep on Chicago just for raw talent alone.
New Orleans Tigers – Paul Bruzzano (5-0) def. Las Vegas High Rollers – Dan Griffith (2-3)
As we consider the New Orleans Tigers, let’s pause to hear from senior XFL correspondent Jesse Pinkman.
With his first loss looming, Paul Bruzzano skirted losing yet again thanks to a late game rush from Tampa Bay third stringer Jacquizz Rodgers, who’s final carry went for seven yards, giving him 101 yards on 30 carries for 265 points. Excuse me while I light myself on fire. The Tigers seem to be winning games with pure magic at this point, and I would feel worse about saying that if there wasn’t an air of truth to it. The Tigers have won their three closest games by a combined margin of 165 points and won another with the Kansas City Killers starting two missing players. The Tigers are far and away the luckiest team in the league thus far, and it’s hard to see this pace keeping up, especially when they’ve scored 1600 fewer points than the best team in the league despite being in standalone first place. To play Devil’s Advocate with myself, the Tigers do have a number of intriguing options at skill positions – Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Howard, and Marvin Jones – so I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the Tigers making the playoffs, especially when their record to get there only requires going 2-6 the rest of the way. But I am willing to wager on multiple losses for the Tigers in the back half of the season.
The High Rollers have won their two victories in decisive fashion and two of their losses, this week included, have been either close or strong. Week 1 saw the High Rollers fall to the Seattle Rage despite scoring 1400 points. That’s a win most every other week, as a Jacquizz Rodgers explosion-less Tigers game. The High Roller have one of the most interesting players in the league this season in Russell Wilson, who looked incredible in his last two games despite playing at sub-optimal health. If and when the High Rollers can not only put Wilson back in the lineup (this week), but Jonathan Stewart (potentially Week 7), the High Rollers can shift LeGarrette Blount to flex, suddenly creating one of the weirder, yet effective rosters to take on league-wide.
Oklahoma City Lions – Andrew Rebensky (4-1) def. Green Bay Blizzard – Matt Bruzzano (0-5)
I was told this weekend that Andrew Rebensky wants to actively try to become the Villian of the XFL. This is admirable, if not impossible. Andrew is simply to kind and likable to be truly despised in the league – he’s one of my favorite people in the world even though he attends Ohio State, which is saying something. But if his goal was to try and become the Villian by emulating Bill Belichick’s ability to plug and play random people in positions to great success – Mission Accomplished. Despite being down both Drew Brees and Allen Robinson, Andrew popped in Brian Hoyer, seeing the journeyman beat up on the Colts for 560 points – no typo. The singular misstep my Andrew this week was not starting Tevin Coleman against Denver. He finished with 320 points and could have made the gap of victory wider, but the wise decision, in this case, is to sit any running back splitting carries against the Broncos before considering that Coleman has the sickle cell trait and could have been ruled out before the game or sat for safety concerns. But no, the Lions again won and lean on players that play in the southern half of the US (Brees, Melvin Gordon, Coleman, Robinson, Mike Evans, Michael Crabtree, and sorta Jordan Reed) to become one of the best teams in the league for a third straight year. Maybe he is a Villian after all.
We close this week again with the Green Bay Blizzard, who must have broken a whole bunch of mirrors or something because the team’s luck is just absurdly, almost impossibly bad. The Blizzard are now stuck at a crossroads for their season. They will need an almost unprecedented comeback to become a playoff contender. If the mark is 7-6, which is a historical minimum, the Blizzard need to go 7-2 from here out. This is no small task with Baltimore and Philadelphia remaining on the schedule, as well as New Orleans in Week 13. Matt can go for it and try to make a run, or he could very well remain content with trying to be a disrupter. Unlike other teams in years passed that have been towards the bottom of the league, Green Bay is just dangerous enough that you can’t completely count them out in any given week, even one like this week where both the Blaze and Blizzard do not currently have a quarterback. All bets are off for the Blizzard, but they are officially in win-now mode for this season to be salvaged. Here’s to watching our most enigmatic owner try to figure it out.
Week 6 Matchups
Waverly Chargers vs. New Orleans Tigers
Baltimore Bears vs. Chicago Hitmen
Green Bay Blizzard vs. Denver Blaze
Oklahoma City Lions vs. Kansas City Killers
New York Titans vs. Las Vegas High Rollers
Pittsburgh Spikes vs. Philadelphia Panthers
Seattle Rage vs. Washington Senators