SHOCK NFL NEWS – ANDREW LUCK RETIRES

In news that sent shockwaves across the NFL and many a FF owner, Indianapolis Colts starting QB Andrew Luck announced he would retire before the start of the 2019 regular season, aged just 29. Selected with the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft — a move that would see Peyton Manning released — Luck was universally recognised as the most pro ready QB to come out of college since John Elway. The projections were accurate as he would go on to enjoy great success in what will now be viewed as a criminally short career — being selected to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, leading the league in touchdowns in 2014 and being named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2018 after sitting out the entire 2017 season with a serious shoulder injury.

However, the injury sustained in 2017 was not an isolated event — Luck had torn his right Labrum in the same year and suffered a lacerated Kidney that ended his season in 2015. Ultimately, a calf/lower leg injury would hinder his ability to practice this offseason and it now appears to have taken a much greater toll on Luck than had previously been reported. Rumours of his retirement had circulated during the Colts preseason game against the Bears, causing mass confusion amongst fans which led to a chorus of boos as Luck exited the Lucas Oil stadium sideline at the end of the 4th quarter. Once inside the Colts locker room Luck would inform his teammates and would later confirm those earlier rumours in what was a highly emotional press conference —

“I’m in pain, I’m still in pain. It’s been four years of this pain, rehab cycle” luck said.

“It’s a myriad of issues — calf strain, posterior ankle impingement, high ankle sprain. Part of my journey going forward will be figuring out how to feel better”.

“Honestly it’s the hardest decision of my life, but it is the right decision for me. And it’s been unceasing and unrelenting, both in-season and in the off-season”.

Luck finished by saying “I felt stuck in it, and the only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away, I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live”.

From the above one can clearly see that Luck was struggling with day to day life. As fans we rarely get to see the man behind the star player. Walking away from a sport that has given so much joy to Luck must be hard, especially as QB’s are now playing into their mid 40’s. Nevertheless, one thing is certain — the sport will miss Andrew Luck more than he will miss the sport. Here at Benny Given Sunday we wish you all the very best with the next chapter in your life. J

FANTASY 5IVE (II) – ROOKIE MOVERS AND SHAKERS

Ok, I admit preseason games are rarely an indicator of future success for a rookie. With the vast majority of veteran players not participating until the regular season, those receiving regular reps are rarely tested against the very best the league has to offer. Nevertheless, these games do give FF owners an opportunity to unearth potential game changing additions to their rosters, additions that could ultimately make the difference when one of your star players inevitably goes down with injury and/or suspension. Subsequently, with the second round of preseason fixtures now complete — here I take a look at 5 offensive rookies who have a real shot of contributing to their respective teams this season.

1. Jakobi Meyers, WR (New England Patriots)

As the de facto GM of the New England Patriots Bill Belichick has rarely landed talent at WR during each of his last 20 NFL drafts. The last great success was Malcolm Mitchell (who had is career cruelly cut short due to a chronic knee injury). Yet he might have unearthed another diamond in the rough. Enter Jakobi Meyers. Despite going undrafted, the 6’2″ former NC State QB/WR had a great college career in what is widely considered an ultra competitive ACC. Having received rave reviews during training camp Meyers has excelled in each of his first 2 preseason games despite limited game time; posting 12 catches, 151 yards, 2 TD’s as well as hauling a two-point conversion. Despite Josh Gordon’s reinstatement, at this rate Meyers will not only make the Patriots active roster — he could very well start alongside Tom Brady and co. week 1 of the NFL regular season. Draft him while you still can.

2. Jalen Hurd, WR (San Francisco 49ers)

Who better than Kyle Shanahan to unlock the potential of a 6’5″ former RB transitioning to WR? Selected with the 67th pick, the former Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year has everything to be a future success in the NFL. Starting opposite fellow rookie WR Deebo Samuel against the Cowboys in week 1 of this years preseason, Hurd caught each of his three targets — with two resulting in TD’s. Subsequently, the 49ers could very well have shown their hand with how they wish to utilise Hurd long term. Rarely does a player have both the size and speed to be a genuine red zone threat in the pros and he has significant experience running the ball. Because of this I expect Hurd to see meaningful game time in 2019. Additionally, due to said size and athleticism, I really would not be surprised to see him line up as a flex TE against some of the more weaker offensive lines too, thus allowing the 49ers to look for a potential mismatch that George kittle can exploit.

3. Mecole Hardman, WR (Kansas City Chiefs)

According to Draft Wizard Mecole Hardman’s current ADP is down to #161. Of course this is likely where one would expect a rookie wide receiver who was selected in the second round to fall. Nevertheless, despite his elite speed and exceptional college career, what makes Hardman such an intriguing prospect is the organisation to which he was drafted. With Tyreek Hill facing indefinite suspension amid allegations of child abuse, Hardman was largely considered to be Patrick Mahomes insurance policy heading into 2019. However, with the NFL reinstating Hill due to a perceived lack of evidence the Chiefs suddenly find themselves having to incorporate both players into what is already considered to be the NFL’s most explosive offence. With Mahomes, Hill, Watkins and Kelce drawing significant attention, Hardman could legitimately wreak havoc across the league. Additionally, as a special team specialist Hardman will likely take the field as the Chiefs primary kick/punt returner — much needed points that are often disregarded by FF owners.

4. Devin Singletary, RB (Buffalo Bills)

With a backfield consisting of veterans LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore, the Bills were always going to add a much younger, cheaper option at RB during the 2019 off-season. However, many across the league gasped when the Bills took a shot on Devin Singletary with the 74th overall pick having played for a relatively unknown college program at FAU. However, during his last 2 seasons Singletary would lead all Division I FBS RB’s with 54 combined rushing TD’s. Despite said risk, production like that was obviously too hard for the Bills to turn down and Singletary could potentially pay dividends. Add to this rumours of the Bills waiting to release McCoy before the regular season and with Gore turning 36 years old, it would come as no great surprise to see Singletary move up the depth chart as the season progresses. Additionally, as inclement weather inevitably approaches, expect Brian Daboll to run the ball as much as he possibly can — making Singletary a prime target for any FF owner between weeks 10 and 16.

5. Ryan Finley, QB (Cincinnati Bengals)

Ok, having observed the first 2 weeks of preseason Ryan Finley is somewhat of a wildcard. Nevertheless, question marks remain over Andy Dalton’s fitness as well as his ability to perform at the highest level — having thrown for just 1 TD and being picked off 6 times in 4 postseason games (all losses). Additionally, two of Cincinnati’s AFC North rivals (Baltimore and Cleveland) have their QB’s set for the foreseeable future and it won’t be long until Pittsburgh have to find Big Ben’s successor. Put simply, the Bengals are not expected to win in the short term and could very well give significant game time to a player former Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner believes to be “the most impressive rookie QB” in this years draft class. Yes it may take some time, but I fully expect the Bengals to be out of the playoff picture by week 10 and Finley could very well stand to benefit from any further decline in Dalton’s game. Will he post huge numbers? Probably not. But if you want to be your FF league’s Jedi Master and like to gamble, then stash Finley away and hope he gets the call from Zac Taylor when Dalton inevitably fails to impress. J

Notable mentions: Hunter Renfrow, Preston Williams, Jarrett Stidham

10 MUST-WATCH NFL GAMES IN 2019

There were some truly classic NFL regular season games in 2018. Right off the bat week 1 had the Bucs put 48 on the Saints. In week 3 thousands of Bud Light refrigerators around Cleveland were unlocked when the Browns finally won their first game in 635 days against the Jets. Finally, who can forget the Chiefs explosive offensive performances against both the Patriots and the Rams — where Andy Reid’s boys scored a combined 91 points — and still managed to lose BOTH games? 2019…… more of the same please.

Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes embrace after a wild week 11 clash

1. SAINTS @ RAMS – Week 2

There are some great games in week 1. But the NFL regular season truly arrives in week 2. Who can forget THAT pass interference non-call on Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman in last years NFC championship game? It ultimately cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl, and robbed everyone of a dream Brady v Brees matchup. More importantly, it led the NFL to change what coaches can now challenge — with pass interference calls/non-calls to be trialled in 2019 as a direct result of said fallout. Will it alter the flow of the sport? Quite possibly. But those from the ”Big Easy” won’t care. Prediction — the Saints dominate the Rams 34-13.

2. COLTS @ CHIEFS – Week 5

Another playoff rematch between two of the NFL’s best. The last time these teams met the Chiefs had arguably their best defensive game of the season. Andrew Luck was hurried all game, sacked 3 times, and limited to just 203 pass yards. Albeit part of Andy Reid’s game plan to run the ball and control time of possession, Patrick Mahomes was far from his explosive best too. Nevertheless, this game could very well be a dress rehearsal of this years AFC championship. Both teams are loaded on offence, and both have got better defensively this off season. More importantly how much longer can Tom Brady and the Patriots dominate the AFC? Prediction — both QB’s put on a show, but the Chiefs edge their opponents 38-34.

3. BROWNS @ PATRIOTS – Week 8

When was the last time the Cleveland had a signature win against a legitimate championship contender? Long suffering sports fans from the greater Ohio area did indeed have the great LeBron James in town for a while — he even delivered an NBA championship in 2016. But football is America’s game, and Browns fans have not witnessed a playoff appearance for a league record 16 seasons. Yet, after years of failure, and loading up on some of the best defensive talent college football has had to offer, there appeared to be a genuine shift in team culture in 2018. Signing stud WR Jarvis Landry certainly helped, but drafting elite competitors in Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb, and Antonio Callaway — all young explosive skill position players — has the Dawg Pound dreaming once again. Oh and they just added Odell Beckham Jr., and Kareem Hunt too. Subsequently, what better way to announce yourselves than by beating the defending champs in Foxborough? Prediction — the Browns shock the Patriots 28-24.

4. PACKERS @ CHIEFS – Week 8

Tom Brady is the undisputed G.O.A.T, and Aaron Rodgers is arguably the most talented QB to have ever played the sport. Nevertheless, if I could choose any QB to lead my team over the next 5 years I would take Patrick ”Mahomeboy” Mahomes every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Yes he has benefited from some truly spectacular play design from Andy Reid, but name me one QB who can throw no look passes on a dime, and who can rip the ball 80+ yards in cold weather? Last year we got to see ”old man” Brady beat out both players. But this year we get to see two of the most physically talented QB’s of all time go head to head. Prediction — in what will be a game of preposterous offensive quality, Green Bay’s much improved defence will do just enough to keep Mahomes at bay. Packers win 31-28.

5. BEARS @ EAGLES – Week 9

Will Bears fans ever get over their traumatising 2018 wild card defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles? What should have been a game winning field goal proved to be the stuff of nightmares for Chicago kicker Cody Parkey. As time expired Parkey’s field goal managed to strike the goal post not once — but TWICE. Until the Saints knocked off the Eagles, ‘Saint Nick’ had me convinced that he was about to run the table for a second successive year. Alas, Parkey has since been released, and Foles will be the starting QB for Jacksonville after paying the Eagles $2 million to void their team option. Yet, despite the immediate history between both teams, each can legitimately lay claim to having the best roster in the NFL. Prediction — the Eagles hold off the Bears much improved offence 26-21.

6. PATRIOTS @ EAGLES – Week 11

Week 11 will see a rematch of one of the greatest Super Bowls in NFL history — Super Bowl LII. As a Boston sports fan I still struggle to see how the Patriots managed to lose, especially when Tom Brady managed to torch the Eagles for 505 yards. Talk of infighting did not help, and the benching of Malcolm Butler will likely remain a mystery for as long as there is the same level of Area-51 style security that is currently found at the Patriots practice facility. Nevertheless, it’s been some time since New England last played in Philly. Naturally, Brady will be greeted with a chorus of boos in what is widely considered to be the most intimidating atmosphere in the NFL. But the fans won’t beat Brady alone. As previously mentioned, the Eagles can lay claim to having the best roster in the NFL. I also expect a bounce back year from Carson Wentz — who could be in the running for league MVP when its all said and done. Prediction — this will be a relatively low scoring affair, but the Eagles win 27-23.

7. COWBOYS @ PATRIOTS – Week 12

Just who is ‘America’s Team’? The Cowboys have long held the self-proclaimed title — from 1978’s championship winning team to be precise. Yes the ‘The Boys’ did win 3 Super Bowls in the early 90’s, but has Jerry Jones truly upheld the model of accountability and leadership that was set by Tom Landry over 50 years ago? I think we all know the answer to that question. To have just two playoff wins in the Tony Romo era was criminal, but to make matters worse, the Patriots went on to build the greatest dynasty the sport has ever seen over the same period. OUCH. Nevertheless, despite the failures of yesteryear there are signs of life in Arlington —the Cowboys are one of the most balanced teams in the league heading into 2019. Not only can they lay claim to having the best defence in the league, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper are arguably the best offensive skill position trio in the league. However, to truly put the league on notice they will have to beat NFL royalty. But can Jason Garrett out-coach Bill Belichick? I have my doubts Prediction — the Patriots play some of their best football of the year to win 32-14.

8. CHIEFS @ PATRIOTS – Week 14

Yes there is a theme to my last three picks — watch as many Patriots games as you can. Why? Not only do they consistently bring the best out of their opponents, they can bring the worst out too. In 2018 the Patriots certainly brought out the best of Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence. However, when they had the finish line in sight — and had the Patriots staring at the barrel of a gun in the AFC championship — the Chiefs wilted under pressure. They say to be the man you have to beat the man, and in the playoffs Tom Brady continues to be the self proclaimed ‘baddest mother f’ on the planet. The Patriots predictably marched into sub zero Kansas City and stole the dreams of multiple generations of Chiefs fans — including the family of the great Lamar Hunt who’s name dons the AFC championship trophy. Nevertheless, this was Mahomes first year as a starting QB, and Reid has previously bested the Patriots with Alex Smith under centre. Prediction — Mahomes finally exorcises his Patriot demons to help his team win 34-28.

9. COLTS @ SAINTS – Week 15

My penultimate pick for one of the must-watch games of the 2019 season comes in week 15, when we see the Colts head south to face the Saints. In what could be a vital end of season game that helps determine the playoff picture for both conferences, put money on Sean Payton calling a number of trick plays to disrupt the Colts young, yet impressive Tampa 2 defence. More importantly, we get to see two of the league’s best QB’s come face to face for just the second time. After a serious shoulder injury kept Andrew Luck out of action in 2017, he was at his irresistible best last year — coming close to surpassing his career best single season marks for both TD’s (39/40) and pass yards (4,593/4,761) respectively. Prediction — Luck puts on a clinic to shock the Saints 38-34.

10. CHIEFS @ BEARS – Week 16

Despite each team losing in gut wrenching fashion in last years playoffs, could this be a dress rehearsal of Super Bowl LIV? On paper both appear to have addressed their respective deficiencies during the off season. Yes the Chiefs await an NFL report into Tyreek Hill’s personal conduct — amid allegations of domestic abuse and child battery — but adding Tyann Mathieu, Frank Clark and Juan Thornhill will surely make their leaky defence better. The Bears got significantly better too. Taking both David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. at RB were easy decisions to make, especially when players of their quality fall into the latter rounds. However, with the additions of Riley Ridley, and more importantly Cordarrelle Patterson at WR — the Bears have added much needed versatility to an offensive scheme that relies heavily on RPO’s and play-action bootlegs. Still, both teams are likely to revert to type, and it is this that makes this game so fascinating. Who doesn’t want to see 2018’s most electric offence come up against 2018’s best defence? Prediction — in a cold, snowy Chicago, the Bears win 23-21. J

What games are circled on your NFL calendar? Post your comments below.

TOP 5 ‘UNDER THE RADAR’ PICKS FROM 2019 NFL DRAFT

Ok. If you’re familiar with College Football then you will likely know who each of the following 5 picks are. In fact you are likely to know what position they play, who they played for, and where they were projected to come out of the draft. Advanced warning — yes some of these picks were drafted in the 2nd round, and for those players I am going to argue their draft stock(s) should have been a lot higher. However, once the regular season starts, there could be a lot of head scratching around the league, with several coaches and GM’s asking themselves ‘just how did we let this guy slip?’. Let me explain……

Andy Isabella (WR, Arizona Cardinals)

Yes the former UMass product did indeed go to the Arizona Cardinals with the 62nd overall pick, and was rated as the no. 1 wide receiver in all of college football by Pro Football Focus prior to the 2019 NFL Draft. But if we’re being honest how many ‘reputable’ reporters, former executives and players had Andy Isabella go that high? We certainly didn’t. But if you judge a player simply by his combine/pro day performance then you aren’t paying attention. Put simply this kid had a monster senior season, compiling 102 receptions, 1,698 receiving yards, and 13 TD’s (albeit playing against weakened opposition that one would expect of an independent school). Nevertheless, despite the lack of college competition, the aforementioned Cardinals are a perfect fit. If first year Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s ‘Air Raid’/RPO heavy offence is to work it will require dynamic pass catchers who have elite speed. More importantly, Kyler Murray will need a security blanket when the going gets tough — because it will. Yet with Larry Fitzgerald entering his 16th season, you can bet on Isabella being his man.

Josh Oliver (TE, Jacksonville Jaguars)

2019 proved to be one of the strongest TE draft classes in recent memory. Former Iowa Hawkeye teammates T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were taken in the first round, and both Irv Smith Jr. and Drew Sample in the second. Yet of those previously mentioned TE’s, who can impact both the run and pass games respectively? Of course Hockenson immediately springs to mind (he is widely viewed as the heir to Rob Gronkowski’s ‘unicorn’ crown), but the others are a little more difficult to judge. For example, both Fant and Smith Jr. could very well be viewed as heavier, big bodied WR’s. Others, like Sample, could be viewed as pure blocking TE’s. However, like Hockenson, Josh Oliver has shown flashes of being able to do both — and do both well. The 6’5″/250Ibs former San Jose State TE has the size, just enough speed, and catching ability to be viewed as a serious red zone option. Although his run blocking is not as strong as his pass catching ability at this point in his young career, Oliver played linebacker at high school, knows how to hit, and has demonstrated a willingness to learn. Thus, providing his skill set is utilised correctly, and he is consistently moved along the line of scrimmage, he could very well become Nick Foles go to receiver — like Zach Ertz was for him in Philly.

Jaylon Ferguson (DE, Baltimore Ravens)

Just how did Jaylon Ferguson slip to the 3rd round? Yes his weight has been a concern at times, and he lacks an inside pressure game for now, but boy can he set the edge. In his 4 year college career he amassed 45 sacks (including 17.5 as a senior), making him the all team sack leader in NCAA FBS history. Yes the level of competition could be called into question, but outside of a QB orchestrating an offence, those tasked with chasing and harassing said player position can arguably have the most impact for a franchise, and he’s going to the RAVENS. A defensive behemoth for the best part of 20 years, those in Baltimore know defence wins championships. Yet despite being ranked 1st in both pass yards allowed and total defence in 2018, the departures of veteran leaders Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley should indicate just how high the Ravens are on their rookie DE. Expect him to be used almost exclusively in several defensive packages in the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season whilst he acclimatises to pro football — before being unleashed on the league in the run up to the 2019 NFL Playoffs.

Damien Harris (RB, New England Patriots)

Confession time. Pre-draft I had 3 RB’s ahead of Damien Harris (Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders and Bryce Love). Of course, me ranking said players higher than Harris is not a reflection of a perceived lack of ability on Harris’s part, because this young man is a stud. After all, you don’t play for Nick Saban for 4 years; best your former Alabama teammate (Josh Jacobs) in almost every major rushing category in each of your 3 seasons together, and become a 2x CFP National Champion, without having immense talent. Yet with the exception of Trent Richardson being taken 3rd overall in 2012 (which in itself was a disaster), teams have rarely overpaid for RB’s. However, this all changed when Todd Gurley came along in 2015. As a direct result of his success, RB’s are now viewed as viable commodities once again — paving the way for Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley to be drafted as high as 4th and 2nd respectively. Subsequently, Harris should be viewed as a steal at 87, especially when you consider the same franchise drafted another RB with their 31st pick last season (Sony Michel). Yes Super Bowl winner Michel should progress after enjoying a stellar rookie season, but he does have a history of knee injuries dating back to college. For this reason, and because the Patriots offence has been rebuilt to protect Tom Brady, Harris will likely see plenty of action in his first year. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised to see Harris sit for the first 3-4 weeks, then announce himself by having a 120+ yard, 3 TD regular season game.

Kingsley Keke (DT/DE, Green Bay Packers)

Ok. I admit it. I didn’t know a whole lot about this former four-star recruit before the draft. Selected by the Green Bay Packers with the 150th pick, Kingsley Keke is certainly a name to watch out for in the second half of the 2019 NFL season. During his senior year at Texas A&M Kingsley would drop 20 pounds in his bid to transition from DT to DE, and the results were impressive — producing 51 stops, whilst sacking the QB 7 times in what is an ultra competitive SEC. Nevertheless, size (6’3″/288Ibs), ability, and college production are not the only reasons why I placed Keke in my list of ‘under the radar’ draft picks. Team fit is often disregarded when predicting a players level of success in the pros, and despite Green Bay traditionally having a relatively poor track record recruiting defensive talent, they do appear to be getting it together in recent years. Outside of Mike Daniels, Keke joins fellow 2019 draft pick Rashan Gary in what is now an incredibly young defensive line. Yet if adding both Keke and Gary to a team that totalled 44 sacks in 2018 sounds like overkill — it isn’t. In reality, the vast majority of these sacks came from linebacker blitzes, designed to mask the lack of a traditional pass rush. Its another reason why the secondary predominantly lined up in press-man coverage — to stop huge chunk plays. Said deficiency severely limited Mike Pettine’s play-calls throughout 2018, as he rarely got to switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in game. With Gary likely to garner a ton of attention from opposing offensive coordinators, and with the hope of Darnell Savage shoring up the middle of the field, Keke could excel at being the ‘closer’ for the green and gold. J

IT’S A ‘HARD KNOCK’ LIFE FOR RAIDERS

The Oakland Raiders will be on Hard Knocks. I repeat — THE OAKLAND RAIDERS will be on Hard Knocks. Put simply this is going to be box office. We are finally going to see how team owner Mark Davis operates behind the scenes (and just who cuts his hair too), how Jon Gruden plans to reignite Derek Carr’s career amidst a huge off season roster overhaul, and what actions former NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock will take to justify being appointed GM for one of the leagues most storied franchises. Then there is Antonio Brown. Forget his official YouTube channel. His legendary competitiveness, yet widely reported divisiveness, should be on full show for the world to see. Then there is the integration of Richie Incognito potentially going south, Vontaze Burfict going Mike Tyson on his new teammates, and the small task of preparing for next years move to Las Vegas. Just how will HBO fit all of the above in just 5 episodes with The Men in Black?

Yet the immediate question should be just who benefits from this weeks announcement? HBO? Certainly. The audience? Most definitely. The Raiders? Well that’s a tough one to answer. In reality both Mark Davis and Jon Gruden likely see their respective participation very differently. From an ownership perspective the Raiders are about to uproot their entire organisation in less than 12 months, leaving fans in Oakland with just one professional sports team (the NBA’s Golden State Warriors move to San Francisco in October). Those who run the franchise behind the scenes know the perils of moving away from an established fanbase to a new market. The Raiders themselves moved to Los Angeles in 1982, just to move back to Oakland 12 years later due to a split fanbase and damaged stadium (due to the 1994 Northbridge earthquake). Don’t forget they also play in a loaded AFC West. Reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes will likely tear up the league for years to come, the Los Angeles Chargers are in their own Super Bowl winning window, and the Denver Broncos are always a threat. So just who will be talking about the Raiders ahead of their move to Las Vegas?

The Raiders are due to move to Las Vegas in 2020

But for Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, the presence of multiple cameras could not have come at a worse time. It’s hard enough to build a winning culture in the NFL, especially with the ever revolving door of player personnel. Yet add tens of cameras, producers and technicians into the mix, the Raiders likely have more than Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live sessions to worry about if they want to better the 4 wins they had in 2018. Sure the Browns were pretty good last year, and 6 of the 13 teams previously documented improved their regular season records immediately following the show. But generally speaking secrecy and cohesion win. Just ask Bill Belichick and the Patriots. In 19 years as the HC and de facto GM, only a handful of reports of dissent and player unrest have ever come out of New England. Subsequently, you have to wonder whether everyone within the Raider organisation, players and execs alike, will ever be able to be themselves in what is a crucial period for any team trying to establish an identity.

But for the rest of us? Put simply we just want to be entertained. For this reason I’ve decided to have some fun and list my top 5 predictions for this years edition. Enjoy. J

  1. Antonio Brown angers Jon Gruden with an impromptu Facebook Live session in the locker room (again). The player is brought in and told it won’t fly in Oakland.
  2. Despite being new teammates their strained history rears its ugly head when Vontaze Burfict takes out Antonio Brown on a crossing route, thus leading to a mass brawl.
  3. Richie Incognito does not make final 53-man roster.
  4. One of the Raiders 1st round picks will go down with a season ending injury during training camp.
  5. Tom Cable (offensive line coach) will steal the show. Seriously, check this guy out.

FANTASY 5IVE

With the 2020 NFL regular season fast approaching and with many of our readers ready to join family, friends and colleagues in Fantasy Football leagues across the country, here we begin our weekly series of FF tips designed to highlight the traps you will want to avoid, as well as the moves that you will need to make to ensure FF domination from week 1.

1. Avoid drafting from New England

I understand the temptation to draft players from New England. After all, they, more than other franchise, put their players in positions to succeed. Yet you would be best served to resist drafting players from the reigning Super Bowl Champions. No one plays the field week to week better than Bill Belichick. Those who have fallen foul in recent years will know that sinking feeling of drafting Rob Gronkowski, believing he would grab a pair of TD’s and 100+ yards when playing against the 32nd ranked pass defence in the league that week — only to find out New England ran the ball down their throats all day. Similar scenarios have appeared when drafting Julian Edelman, James White or Sony Michel (we would know). Said players can of course have impressive FF numbers at times, but guessing when that player will be utilised to do so remains almost impossible whilst BB is in charge.

2. Take a RB early

Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley (if fit), and Le’veon Bell (once game ready). Concerns notwithstanding, these are the players to target in the first 2 rounds of your draft. All have been tremendous value for Fantasy Football owners in the past and will likely continue to churn out huge numbers this season. However, if you fail to draft one of these tier 1 backs, or have to wait until your pick gets back to form or full fitness, then ensure you take one of these backs — David Johnson (due a rebound year), James Connors (who will get plenty of touches for an effective yet predictable Steelers offence), Christian McCaffrey (a back who will see even more of the ball due to his QB’s injury worries), and Nick Chubb (the motor behind the Browns resurgent offence). Sleeper hit? Josh Jacobs of the Oakland Raiders.

3. Don’t underestimate weekly NFL schedule

One mistake every FF ‘noob’ undoubtedly makes is going into his/her weekly matchup believing they are playing their opponent. No. You are playing the NFL schedule, the betting lines, and everything in between. You will need to make calculated decisions as to who your star players are playing each week, how banged up the secondary/defensive line is that your WR’s/RB’s will be going against, whether your players are carrying injuries that will likely limit their production, how bad the weather will be in Buffalo in week 14, or whether one of your QB’s gets to play inside a dome against one of the league’s worst pass rush/pass defence teams. All of the above will matter, and will be the difference between finishing in playoff contention, or having to play against your 12 year old nephew; who regularly torches you at Madden, in a meaningless end of season dead rubber matchup.

4. Wait it out for your QB

Not even the most seasoned of FF players could have anticipated Patrick Mahomes having a 50 TD/12 INT/5000+ yard season. Why? Because this type of season has only been witnessed a handful of times in NFL History, with Marino in ’84, Brady in ’07, Rodgers in ’11 and Peyton Manning in both ’04 and ’13 being the other notable QB’s to have ripped up the stat sheet. Nevertheless, try to wait until the 2nd, or even 3rd round to draft your QB, because said seasons are rare, and there are many ‘face of the franchise’ QB’s who will post incredibly similar numbers over the course of a regular season. Indeed outside of Mahomes, Luck, Rodgers and Watson, who will all likely get the keys to their respective offences in 2019, there is some real value in the next tier. Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Baker Mayfield will all air the ball out a bunch, and players such as Carson Wentz, Cam Newton and Derek Carr are all due comeback seasons. However, if Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy, and he is able to sing from Kyle Shanahan’s hymn sheet, ensure you take him, even if you have drafted your starting QB. This leads us to………

5. Get a ‘backup’ for your star player(s)

Once again you must remember you are playing against the league, not your weekly opponent. This means you will have to contend with multiple bye weeks that could ultimately wreck your chances of winning, and winning well. Avoid taking multiple kickers, multiple defences and TE’s. Instead secure yourself a top 5 statistically ranked RB, WR and QB, if given the chance, then ensure you draft ‘backups’ that play for teams that rely heavy on that player’s particular skill set. This will do one of two things. First, it will give you options — again you play against the league, the schedule and everything in between. Second, although all starting calibre players are prone to a bad day, it reduces the risk of having a significant drop in points from one week to another. Subsequently, one or perhaps two, of your regular starters will pick up the slack that ensures yet another weekly FF win — helping get you into your end of season championship round. J

Benny Given Sunday will post weekly ‘Fantasy 5ive’ Football tips as the NFL regular season approaches. Additionally, we will also be hosting our own FF league this year and if you or anyone you know would like to be a part of it please get in touch by emailing us at bennygivensunday@outlook.com

TODAY IN NFL HISTORY

If you have ever wanted to own the equivalent of an NFL ‘Sports Almanac’ then look no further. After finishing ‘Today in NFL History’ I have come to the conclusion that Ben Isaacs (author), is the Three-Eyed Raven of American Football. Isaacs really has managed to compile every notable event in ‘gridiron’ history into one single format, one that will likely be impossible for future NFL historians to follow without citing his work. As someone who has followed the game for over 25 years, who attends games both in London and the US each year, and who truly thinks he knows everything there is to know about this sport, I was truly humbled to learn so much. The book is not without humour and heart as well, with the events of ‘the whizanator’, ‘Shareece Wright’s Uber’ and ‘the first indoor post season game’ being just three of my personal favourites. Slated to release for eBooks only (I assume due to the shear size of the book) my hope is that Ben Isaacs and his publisher will reconsider print format — because this deserves to be on every NFL enthusiast’s book shelf. J

‘Today in NFL History’ was supplied to Benny Given Sunday by Ben Isaacs.

You can preorder your copy here

Should you have any questions for Ben Isaacs you can find him on Twitter @tweetsfromben