Time for Middleton to Emerge in Milwaukee

By Jack Drapkin

When discussing the Milwaukee Bucks, the conversation rightfully is centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak who will turn 23 in December is the young centerpiece of a franchise on the uptick. However, Giannis needs help and with Jabari Parker sidelined until at least January, someone will need to take up some of the playmaking slack. Some writers are looking towards second-year players Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon to bridge this gap. However, both players seem more likely to stay in their current roles than drastically increase them. This leaves Khris Middleton, now a year removed from a hamstring tear to pick up the playmaking slack.

So why Middleton and not Brogdon or Maker, after all, Middleton is the oldest player of this group and the one who presumably has tapped into his potential the most. A career 40% shooter from deep, Middleton had increased his role each year with Milwaukee before his injury-ravaged campaign last year. Peaking at over 18 points and four assists a game in the 2015-16 season. This numbers should surprise the most ardent of NBA fans, just not the top-notch Bucks fans, I hear ya Milwaukee!

So why will this year be the year for Middleton and the Bucks. Two reasons, opportunity, and health. To the latter, a year removed from the major hamstring injury from last season, expect Middleton to look fresh and re-invigorated at the start of the season. Now as far as opportunity is concerned, this will be the best situation Middleton has had a chance to play on throughout his career. The difference in the level of play that Giannis is playing at compared to the last time Middleton was completely healthy is night and day. The openings created by playing with Giannis are tremendous and will make Middleton’s life easier to pick apart his defender with his old-man, Joe Johnson-like game. Also with the additions of Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon, the defensive burdens will be less on Middleton this season allowing him to have more energy on the offensive end.

With Middleton’s 15 points, nine rebound, six assist opening night performance is just the way the Bucks hoped his season would start.

Potential 2nd Year NBA Breakout Players

By Jack Drapkin

With the season starting this upcoming week, I figured it was time to take a look at the rising sophomores from the 2016 NBA Draft Class. A class that by most measures disappointed across the board. Think about this, the three best rookies of last season were two rookies from Philly in Dario Saric and Joel Embiid who were both part of the 2014 draft and the 36th overall pick Malcolm Brogdon. It’s safe to say that the top of the 2016 NBA Draft failed to live up to the expectations that were frankly already set fairly low. So who changes this narrative and steps up as we head into a new season? I attempt to put on ‘Genie’ hat and predict which players are going to take a step forward this season.

Brandon Ingram

Look, the beginning of his career was not pretty. As a skinny nineteen-year-old in the NBA maybe as a collective, our expectations should have been lower. However, they were not and he struggled immensely through early January. Then, something funny started to happen, things began to click for Ingram. His shot started falling a bit more frequently as he became more assertive on the court increasing his scoring from eight ppg before the All-star break to 13 ppg after the break. Many of the same doubters from last season are pointing to a weak pre-season showing from Ingram as a sign that his performance at the end of last season was a fluke. I’d be careful of following that advice, with pre-season games more accurately reflecting that of pick-up quality, expect Ingram to slowly grow into his role this season and be a 15 ppg scorer on a better than expected Lakers team.

Henry Ellenson

After spending one season at Marquette, Ellenson spent much of last season in the G-League with just 19 appearances to his name. So why is Ellenson poised for a bigger sophomore campaign. Two reasons, first he is much more confident with his skills as was apparent with his summer league dominance. If you’re highly drafted 2nd-year player doesn’t dominate in the summer league its a cause for concern. Ellenson, tore it up to the tune of 17 points and seven boards a game. And, I know it’s just summer league but it is still important for his confidence. Second, the Pistons lost Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes this offseason. Two players who combined were playing 50 frontcourt minutes a game. Besides journeyman Anthony Tolliver the only other frontcourt player Detroit brought in was Eric Moreland, Ellenson is due for minutes this season.

Taurean Prince/DeAndre’ Bembry

The Atlanta Hawks are not going to be a good basketball team this year. That’s the bad news, the good news they have a number of intriguing young players including this pair of sophomore wings. Prince, in particular, was able to move into the rotation last season after the trade of Kyle Korver and performed admirably, especially in the playoffs. If I had to pick one or the other it would be Prince who will have the better season. Bembry however, has a unique game, not a great shooter but does everything else well, and is a deceptively explosive athlete who will look to take advantage of the minutes departed by Tim Hardaway Jr. The Hawks are hopeful they have a couple of wings for the future in today’s switch happy NBA.

Making Sense of the Rookie Hype

By Jack Drapkin

For all of the hype surrounding the 2017 Rookie NBA Class, they have yet to play an official NBA game. However, with the success that many of them had in the various Summer Leagues, the hype is certainly understandable. What I find most interesting is who the spotlight has been placed upon primarily.

Sure, Lonzo Ball has the media in a buzz buoyed by his business-savvy, loudmouth of a Father, but he was not the number one pick that was Markelle Fultz. And of course Dennis Smith Jr. has looked impressive and explosive but he wasn’t even the third point guard selected, De’Aaron Fox, or the fourth for that matter, Frank Ntilikina.

Alright, alright, alright what’s the point? Well, remember how excited everyone was for Michael Carter-Williams and Tyreke Evans after there rookie campaigns. Or how about the promise that Jared Sullinger and Iman Shumpert showed early in their careers. What about how promising Anthony Bennett looked in his days for the Cavs. Oh, too soon you say?

Alright, let’s flip that around, remember what a young Mike Conley was like. How about Harrison Barnes in his first year with the Warriors. Point being, many players can have fast starts to their career and stall out, while others struggle initially before finding their footing.

So my advice to all of you whoever you were high on before the draft process and during the summer maintain that faith, no matter the start of the season.

2017 New York Jets Quarter Report

By Alexander C. Lawrence

Despite all the gloom and doom about the 2017 season coming in, the Jets actually have two more victories (2-2) than their stadium-sharing neighbors, the Giants (0-4). What does this all mean in a world where the Jets have a better record than the Giants AND the Bills (3-1) sit atop the AFC East?

1) The Jets new-look, swagger-filled defense

Since joining the Jets on draft day as first and second round picks, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye have really played intense and fast football to go along with third-year defensive linemen out of USC, Leonard Williams. Not only did this Jets defense outplay Miami in Week 3, they look poised to go all out this season. Something tells me Adams, Maye, and Williams don’t know what the word “tank” means, though I’m also sure they’d rather have guys like Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen on their team.

2) Will Hackenberg ever see the field in 2017?

A month ago I would’ve told you that Christian Hackenberg would be the starting QB for the New York Jets by mid-to-late October, but right now I’m not so sure. I believed in the Jets ability to develop him. He had proven himself in a pro-style offense his first year at Penn State. So far with two wins under his belt, Josh McCown may ensure Hackenberg doesn’t see the field. As a Jet fan, wasting a second round pick shows just how foolish the front office was for drafting him with high capital and then not allowing him to prove himself.

3) Is winning hurting the Jets future?

A lot of people expected the Jets to be either 0-4 or 1-3 at this point, including myself. McCown and that Jets’ offense have played impressive football and I’m honestly not thrilled about it. The Jets need to start fresh at QB and Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold look primed to be that long-awaited franchise guy. That was until McCown started winning. He is not the future, just a hold-the-fort-together guy until they get the chance to draft a real QB. The Jets just don’t have the talent to compete all season long, as teams will adjust and eventually that offense will slow down once they face tougher defenses. If the Jets finish 6-10 and get a top-10 pick, I’d call this season a waste because QB is a must in this draft and the Jets may be too far back in the draft order to grab the one they want/need.

4) Kony Ealy’s tough Week 4

Kony Ealy had a key defensive play in securing the Week 4 victory over the Jaguars for the Jets. He was presented with the game-ball, but not any game-ball. Ealy lost his sister this week, Latoya Brown and no details were given outside of that. That forced Ealy to leave the team for a couple of days but would suit-up Sunday and have the game of his career. He did his scouting report on Blake Bortles, who likes to throw low, and Ealy sure took advantage of that as he put his arms up and ended with four pass deflections on the day. None would top his third quarter batted pass that he caught and ran for seven-yards and almost had their first defensive touchdown in 61 games.

2017 New York Mets Pitching Staff Bust

By: Alexander C. Lawrence

Being a Met fan for over 7 years now, I’ve seen a lot of hope going into the following season, but none quite like 2017 though. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler (the return!), and Steven Matz. I bet most Met fans know by now the only New York Met starting pitcher worth rostering all season in fantasy leagues was (drum roll)….. JACOB DEGROM!

For most Met fans they are looking forward to next season and seeing what free agency brings them as the Mets were derailed by injuries all season long. Matt Harvey, may not be in the rotation in 2018, so that’s the first step in figuring out the Mets pitching staff. Trading for a starting pitcher doesn’t seem like a true option at this point. Signing a starter seems like the most viable option as Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, and Zach Wheeler had to battle injuries in 2017. For the Mets to come in with so many expectations for this pitching staff you’d think we were talking about the New England Patriots and once upon a time it did seem like the Mets had a very good pitching staff.

Zach Wheeler may be the only pitcher to stick around the rotation next season along with DeGrom and Syndergaard as Harvey may be gone, and Matz may be transitioned to a relief pitcher if he continues to show he is not capable of staying healthy during the course of a rigorous MLB season. Terry Collins, the current manager of the Mets has said they need to look into how to properly deal with these injuries and the approach and process need to change. 2018 will be about figuring out how to manage health.

One thing that the Mets could benefit from is finding a couple veteran guys who can eat innings as all their young pitchers risk injury and some may even have innings limits such as Syndergaard and Wheeler. The Mets had the depth, but no one can be prepared to lose five starters in one season when you go into opening day with everyone presumably healthy. Sure they won’t find a veteran such as Bartolo Colon who beat father time and contributed nicely to the Mets for two seasons.

With veterans such as Jason Vargas, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb will be there for the pickings and it’d be in the clubs best interest to do so. Along with getting a big bat, but that’s a story for another day.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – New York Giants Week 3

By Aaron Weiss

The New York Giants were handed a soul-crushing and seemingly-postseason-eliminating loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, on a time expiring 61 yard field goal by rookie kicker Jake Elliott (who had already missed a FG earlier in the day; this is also the last you’ll hear of him today, as he is a blight on me and every other Giants fan today). With a final score of 27-24, the Giants have to stagger home and somehow find a way to resurrect the season, as only 5 teams have made the playoffs after the starting 0-3 since 1980; none have done it since the turn of the millennium. So while the Giants look to do what’s next to impossible, we’ll break down what happened this past Sunday!

The Good:

The first 8 minutes of the fourth quarter – For the first 8 minutes of the fourth quarter we saw a Super Bowl caliber squad Giants team. The defense was on the field for 3 drives: one finishing a 3 and out, one ending after a fumble on the first play, and 1 ending in a punt after 6 plays. Offensively, there was a five play, 55-yard TD drive where Eli was 5-5, a 4 play, 33 yard TD drive where Eli was 2-2 (connecting in the end zone with Odell Beckham for the 2nd straight drive), and Orleans Darkwa was 2 for 22 on the ground, including a powerful 20-yard rush, and finally a 2 play, 78 yard TD drive where Eli Manning connected with Sterling Shepard for 77 yards and the TD. Granted this version of the team was incredibly pass heavy, which isn’t ideal for a Super Bowl squad, but it showed all that the Giants offense (the main source of the Giants early woes) could be; it was the driving force behind Eli Manning’s 366 yard day (and 7.8 yard/pass average), it was the predominant reason for the success of the big 3 receivers that was envisioned by Giants fans this offseason (7/133/1, 9/79/2, 8/66/0 for Shepard, Beckham and Marshall respectively), and most of all, a high octane offense with too many options to cover that’s only overshadowed by a smothering defense. Instead, the Giants are looking at a winless record and more doubt than ever.

Janoris Jenkins – After missing the Week 2 Monday night game with an injury, Jenkins, who was listed as questionable before the game, came out strong, allowing 4 catches on 6 targets for just 38 yards. He spent a lot of the day covering Alshon Jeffrey, and was a large factor in his uninspiring day (4/56/0 on 8 targets).

Calvin Munson – Starting in lieu of the injured BJ Goodson for the 2nd straight week, Munson continued to improve, recording 3 tackles and .5 tackles for loss, with two of those tackles instigating defensive stops. It was a rather ordinary stat line, but he was clearly better in pass coverage, and on a team that hasn’t had a quality healthy MLB since Antonio Pierce, it’s reassuring to know that Munson is a viable option with BJ on the sideline.


The Bad:

Eli Manning – All in all Eli played well on Sunday, and for a full breakdown of his performance you’ll want to check out our film study on his game, but the stat I wanted to point out was his gunslinger stat. Eli only threw the ball further than 20 yards in the air once on Sunday, and it ended up being intercepted. As I said in past weeks, you can make a noodle armed QB work (just ask the Peyton Manning-led Broncos), but it is clearly debilitating when the opposing secondary knows the QB cannot consistently attack it deep.

The Running Game – As I’ve mentioned in the past, obviously a ton of what ails the offense, especially the run game, is as much on the offensive line as it is the RBs, but after the offensive line yards before contact per attempt “skyrocketed” to 1.35 (Giants fans, this is your cue to start crying), I’ve got to come after the backs, who collectively went 17 for 49 and no TDs, averaging 2.9 yards a run. Remove Darkwa’s 20-yard run and that number goes down to 1.8 yards/run, and Darkwa specifically goes from 7/22/3.1 to 6/2/.33. The trio of Giant backs (Darkwa, Perkins, and Vereen) made some headway in the passing game, going 5 for 37 on 5 targets, but with each aspect of the offense that can’t produce (the long ball, the run game, etc) it becomes harder and harder to be productive, and easier and easier for defenses to game plan for.

Brad Wing – Usually one of my favorite players, I have to criticize Wing for perhaps the first time. He averaged a paltry 38.5 yards per punt on 4 tries, including two shanks of 28 yards apiece. Those shanks culminated in 10 Philly points, including the game winning field goal. He’ll rebound, but something about Lincoln Financial Field rattled the Aussie.


The Ugly:

Time of possession – I harped on the significance of this stat last week, but despite the 24 points scored the Giants managed to only hold the ball for 22 minutes and 28 seconds, clinching the worst average mark in the NFL at 25:09, a full minute behind the next worst team, the San Francisco 49ers (whose average TOP of 26:19, and they’re a whole minute behind the next worst team, the LA Chargers (27:19)). This led to the Giants defense being on the field almost twice as long as the Giants offense, which led to injury, exhaustion, and an inability to stop the Eagles late after the Giants claimed the lead. The Giants are somehow nearly three minutes worse than their average TOP last year, which was 28:08 and 4th worst in the league. Unless the Giants offense can play like they did early in the 4th quarter all game, and put up 50+ points per game, the Giants will continue to lose football games until they get their TOP closer to 30 minutes.

Eli Apple/Penalties – Both teams were atrocious when it came to penalties, but the Giants just edged out the Eagles in terms of crappiness, with 10 penalties for 137 yards (the Eagles had 9 penalties for 103 yards). For once the brunt of this atrocity doesn’t land on the offensive line (although, Ereck Flowers was true to form with back to back penalties on the Giants final drive, leading to 2nd & 18, and an eventual shanked punt that put Philadelphia at their on 38 yard line with 13 seconds to go), but rather on Eli Apple, who was atrocious in coverage while notching two defensive pass interference penalties for 77 yards. In both instances the Eagles would go on to score touchdowns shortly thereafter. And while some, including myself, would argue that one of those calls was bollocks, as the ball was not catchable, the 41 yard DPI against Alshon Jeffrey was so flagrant that you almost have to consider benching him at that point. If there’s any one player responsible for this loss, other than the Eagles kicker (and to be clear, there isn’t), it’s Eli Apple.

Run defense – The Giants defense that is generally phenomenal against the run, led by the league’s best run defender in Damon Harrison, got creamed on Sunday, giving up 193 yards and 2 touchdowns on 39 attempts, with a whopping 4.9 yards per attempt. Put that on exhaustion, or on the fact that it was around 100°F on the field, but no matter who was in the Philly backfield, they managed to run all over the Giants. The Eagles had two runs of 20 yards apiece, and two of their backs, Smallwood and Blount, managed over 50 yards. While the story of defensive exhaustion is somewhat similar to the chicken and the egg, the Giants’ defense can’t help themselves if they allow this sort of action in the run game, or if they can’t sack the quarterback, who himself had 6 rushes for 22 yards while scrambling out of the pocket. While I’d refer critics of this defense to my section on time of possession, there is no doubt that this team needs to do better up front if they’re going to have any success going forward.

Odell Beckham – Odell appears close to full form, but he may have gone too far with a touchdown celebration where he mimed a urinating dog, which led to a ruff unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Beckham would later go on to clarify that this was inspired by President Trump’s referring to NFL players who don’t stand for the National Anthem as “son[s] of bitch[es]” (adjusted to be grammatically correct). The celebration did not sit well with Giants owner John Mara, who has put Odell in the doghouse, saying he’s “very unhappy” and that the Giants “intend to deal with it internally.” We’ll see if Mara’s bark is worse than his bite, but in my opinion, if it takes a day and a confirmatory tweet to figure out why one does a celebration, you may need to find a new celebration.

Darren Sproles – The 34 year old Philly vet and longtime inspiration to short people everywhere managed to break his arm and tear his ACL in a single play. Between the injury itself and his declaration last December that 2017 would be his final year, There’s as good a chance as not that this is the end of his NFL career (and it’s definitely the end of his run as short person ambassador for the NFL; that title firmly belongs with Chicago RB Tarik Cohen), and if it is we want to applaud him on a stellar 12 year career. In the meantime, we hope and pray he has an effective and speedy recovery.

Injuries – Olivier Vernon and Orleans Darkwa both got hurt during the game on Sunday, but neither is reported to be serious, and both should be good to go this week. Additionally, BJ Goodson is expected back at practice tomorrow, so New York should be close to full strength.

NFC East Picture:

The other NFC East teams all had statement wins this week, none more so than Washington’s truly dominant 27-10 win over the Oakland Raiders, who had looked phenomenal up until that game. Dallas rolled over the Cardinals on Monday Night Football 28-17, and the Eagles obviously beat the Giants. This puts New York two games behind everyone else, and a game behind in divisional tiebreakers. All of that combined with a rough schedule (games at Denver and versus Seattle in heading into the bye week, and a back stretch that includes 4 divisional games, a game at Oakland, and a game versus one of the 2 remaining undefeated teams (the Chiefs)) means the Giants are going to need every break to return to contention.

Next Week: The Giants stay on the road and go to Tampa, who is 1-1 after having their Week 1 matchup cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. They convincingly beat Chicago in Week 2 and were convincingly beat by Minnesota in Week 3, so it’s hard to peg where this leaves the Bucs. The good news for the Giants is that the Bucs are more injured than a Tom Coughlin Giants’ roster. Pro Bowlers Brent Grimes and Lavonte David are most likely going to miss the contest, while Pro Bowlers Gerald McCoy and TJ Ward are also questionable for the contest, along with Noah Spence, Kwon Alexander, and Jacquies Smith. Only one team has ever made the playoffs after starting 0-4, the 1992 Chargers, so this game is a must win for the Giants, and, after showing flashes against the Eagles, I think the G-Men notch their first win against this injury riddled Bucs squad.

Prediction – Giants wins 31-21

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – New York Giants Week 2

By Aaron Weiss

Everyone’s favorite New York Giants’ weekly recap is back for the 2017 season (for any masochistic Giants’ fans, John did a great video recap on our Youtube Channel covering the Giants’ week one loss to Dallas). The New York Giants failed to gain any traction in the 2017 season, falling to the Detroit Lions 24-10 on Monday Night Football. Let’s break it down and look ahead to what’s upcoming next week!

The Good:

Aldrick Rosas – We’re going to have to start with baby steps. In an uninspiring game, and season to date, perhaps we’re seeing the birth of the next great Giants kicker? Granted, it’s incredibly early to hand him that title, which currently belongs to Lawrence Tynes, and the kid has only kicked three balls, none longer than 35 yards. But in a league where missed extra points and field goals are becoming more and more frequent, and teams are blowing 2nd round picks on failures at the position (looking at you Tampa Bay), it’s nice to think that Rosas, only 22, could have a successful career racking up points for the G-Men.

Odell Beckham – The Giants’ premier receiver didn’t have a standout day, but coming into the game as a game time decision, he did look somewhat like his old self. Beckham was limited, playing only 60% of offensive snaps in the game and despite the limited showing (and self describing himself at 80% health) he was Eli Manning’s second favorite target on the night. Most importantly, Odell looked like he walked away from the night unscathed, meaning that he should only be better in Week 3.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – The defense played without two key starters, most important of who was shutdown corner Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins. Still, at the ripe old age of 31 DRC played like a quality CB1, racking up a PFF score of 78.3, 3rd best among all Giants, and he wasn’t really exposed in pass coverage. He did miss a few key tackles on blitzes and other plays close to the line of scrimmage, but for a secondary with few veteran leaders, DRC stepped up in a big way.

Eli Manning – Obviously the Giants offense is currently mortifying, and as is the case with all offenses everything does start with the QB. However, if the season ended today Eli would have his best single season completion percentage by 9.2 percentage points. Eli completed 68.8 percent of his passes this week, throwing for 239 yards and 7.5 yards per pass. He also threw a touchdown and an interception, and he had a huge 20+ yard dime of a pass dropped by an untouched Brandon Marshall (more on him in a second). This year’s Eli does not look like the high flying Eli of the past few years that won then OC Ben McAdoo the head coach position, but he does look like 2016’s Alex Smith, who completed 67.1 percent of his passes at 7.2 yards per pass. Maybe at age 36 Eli is no longer the gunslinger he once was, and clearly his statistical success is not enough to carry the offense, but if 2016’s Alex Smith was good enough to make the AFC divisional round (with some help from head coach Andy Reid), then perhaps Eli can do the NFC equivalent with the help of Coach McAdoo and more.

Evan Engram – As much as it was any Giants’ night, it was Engram’s. Engram caught 4 passes on 7 targets for 49 yards and a sweet TD, on a great play call by Coach McAdoo that gave the rookie tight end a free release off the line of scrimmage. Engram continues to look fast and fluid at the TE position, although he still isn’t close to Rhett Ellison’s prowess as a blocker. Engram also had a nice pass from Manning broken up by a hard hit from Darius Slay, and some of Engram’s thunder was stolen by backup TE Jerell Adams, who had a sweet 38 yard catch in relief of Engram (that was the longest reception of the night). Still, Engram is clearly taking advantage of Odell Beckham’s limited presence by developing a good rapport with Eli Manning, something that not everyone else is doing….

The Bad:

Brandon Marshall – After being heralded as the receiving complement to Odell Beckham, Marshall has looked like a shell of himself two games in. Granted, he still is learning his way around the new system, and no one expected him to be WR1 material, which has been his de facto position with Odell limited so far, and he hasn’t been targeted a tremendous amount. All the same, Marshall has caught two passes in two weeks, and after not making his first catch until the final minutes of the week one game, Marshall dropped one perfect 30 yard pass from Eli that would’ve put the Giants in Lions’ territory early in the fourth. Instead the Giants would punt two plays later and give up an 88 yard return for a touchdown. He also had no chance at contesting a jump ball in the end zone. Marshall should see more opportunities when Odell is fully healthy, but right now he looks like he’s behind Odell, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Shane Vereen, and Roger Lewis in Eli’s pecking order.

Time of Possession – The Giants gained more total yards, more 1st downs, an equal number of turnovers, and more yards per play than the Lions, and yet despite these paper stats and the fact that this was a one possession game going into the 4th quarter, the Giants never felt like they were close to competing. This is predominantly due to the time of possession, where Detroit outperformed New York by over 5 and a half minutes. After a whole two games (which granted is a small sample size), the Giants average time of possession is just around 26.5 minutes, which is in the bottom five of the league. This is predominantly due to the Giants’ inability to sustain drives, only having one drive last longer than five minutes, and one drive last longer than 10 plays. Despite admirable efforts by the defense, this team will only go as far as the offense takes them.

The Ugly:

Paul Perkins – I maintain a good amount of faith in the second year running back, leaving a good chunk of blame for the Giants woes in the running game for the offensive line (more on them later), but two games in and Perkins is out there looking like last year’s Rashad Jennings. He was the lead back with seve carries, but only managed 10 yards, for an abysmal 1.4 yards per rush. Both Shane Vereen (6 for 28, plus 3 for 27 as a receiver) and Orleans Darkwa (3 for 17) looked more capable of making something out of nothing than Perkins, which considering the state of the offensive line is something the running backs need to be able to do. This committee should still be led by Perkins for the time being, but unless things start to improve look for Darkwa or even rookie Wayne Gallman to take the reins as the lead back.

Ereck Flowers/The Offensive Line – Had Jerry Reese not had the tremendous signings that triggered a defensive renaissance, the state of the Giants’ offensive line would be an immediate fire-able offense. After an abysmal year in 2016 where the Giants’ offensive line ranked 20th in the league by PFF standards, Reese went out and basically left the line untouched; he signed former San Diego Charger DJ Fluker (which, if you couldn’t cut it on San Diego’s 31st ranked offensive line, you probably can’t cut it anywhere), and he drafted OT Adam Bisnowaty with the Giants’ last pick. Bisnowaty ended up on the practice squad while other UDFA’s made the 53 man roster, but the entire starting line from last year returned, and it still looks awful. The horror show starts with and stars LT Ereck Flowers, who notched a PFF score of 47.3 while being continually wrecked by Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah. His only saving grace was that he was somehow better than Lions LT and penalty connoisseur Greg Robinson. Still, if Jerry Reese won’t put Flowers at RT, which is where he was initially drafted to play and where might still perform best, then he really belongs on the bench.

Meanwhile starting RT Bobby Hart aggravated an ankle injury on the 2nd play of the game, forcing him out and pushing starting LG (and perhaps the Giants’ best O-lineman) Justin Pugh to play at RT. This left Eli’s blind side covered by the aforementioned Ereck Flowers and Brett Jones, and while Manning was remarkably calm for how pressured he was, he was sacked 5 times. While there probably isn’t much that can be done to improve the offensive line this season, Reese will have to make massive changes in the offseason if he wants to retain his job (and he still has it to begin with), and in the interim he will have to pray that Eli continues to be the ironman he’s always been.

Other notes:

Starting MLB BJ Goodson was out, meaning undrafted rookie Calvin Munson was the man in the middle for the night. He played remarkably well, notching 7 tackles and a sack, although he also got beat early on for a long Eric Ebron reception; in fact much of Ebron’s success and Detroit’s leading receiver could well be attributed to Munson.

There were some miscues on special teams, with the aforementioned punt return (which came with a fair share of awful tackling), and a 37 yard shanked punt by Brad Wing. Still, Wing outperformed Lions’ punter Jeff Locke in terms of yards per punt.

Each team had one turnover, with Jason Pierre-Paul forcing a strip sack on Matt Stafford, only for Eli Manning to have a pass tipped for a pick one play later.

Injuries – Other than Bobby Hart, the only Giant injury appeared to be J.T. Thomas, who hurt his groin and missed the second half. Obviously the top 4 injury concerns right now are Odell’s health, Hart’s health, and the statuses of Janoris Jenkins and BJ Goodson, who both sat out the game. All in all not a bad day in terms of health.

NFC East Picture:

Despite being 0-2 New York is only a game and a half out of the division lead, with Dallas getting creamed in Week 2 by Denver (after efficiently handling the Giants in Week 1), Philly getting manhandled by Kansas City, and Washington making up for their Week 1 loss against Philly by beating the Rams. It is too early to count the Giants out, but since 1990 only 12% of teams who started 0-2 went on to make the playoffs. The Giants will need to be strong in divisional matches and win next week to continue to keep the division a close race.

Next Week: The Giants go on the road to face division rival Philadelphia in what is as close to a must win game as possible for a Week 3 matchup. The Philly offense looks solid, albeit not particularly inspired; it’s not any more intimidating than Dallas or Detroit. However, as always the Giants’ chances will boil down to their offensive productivity, and with this offensive line going up against the defensive monsters that are Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Derek Barnett, and Brandon Graham, my first thought isn’t if the Giants win, but rather if Eli Manning makes it out of there alive. I have to admit things look grim, and if the Giants are going to win look for the driving force to be a certain bad boy wide receiver who may be fully healthy come Sunday.

Prediction – Eagles win 24-20

Enunwa To IR – Jets’ Passing Game Needs New Flight Plan

By Alexander C. Lawrence

Jet fans were devastated to learn that New York’s top wide receiver, Quincy Enunwa, will miss the upcoming 2017 season due to neck surgery. It makes the Jets roster look even worse than it already was and may speed up the cheers, or jeers, of “Stink for Sam?” It’s pretty obvious the Jets will miss their top WR since they decided to part ways with Brandon Marshall (NYG) and Eric Decker (TEN) this past offseason. That leaves the Jets with little experience at the WR position.

The big question is who will step up and replace Enunwa in the offense? The simple answer to that is no one. No one possess Enunwa’s combination of experience and talent and expecting one of the young Wideouts to replace him is unreasonable. There are some candidates who may surprise fans this season though.

Robby Anderson is the most likely option to shine, being as most of the rest of the receiving corps is comprised of rookies. His talent level and potential seems to put him at the top of the WR Depth Chart and set him up for a lion’s share of passing targets. Right now, aside from Anderson, the best options Gang Green has are Jalin Marshall and Charone Peake. Jordan Leggett is still getting used to life as the soon-to-be every day tight end going forward. ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen could wind up being nice surprises for the team and believe me there won’t be many bright spots on this team overall.

Robby Anderson doesn’t believe they’ll miss Enunwa too much, but he’ll be eating those words after a few weeks; however it is a big opportunity for Anderson and Co. to make their presence known as to why they should be around for the rebuild long-term. He spent the offseason putting on weight and working out with former teammate Brandon Marshall. It’s time for him to show off his hard work and dedication he put in all offseason.

As for Stewart and Hansen their impact is very much up in the air due to their lack of experience. Hopefully for the Jets at least one will be a quick learner and provide a spark to the offense. Stewart could provide a deep, vertical threat and don’t forget is from Alabama; he was well coached prior to joining the Jets.

Chad Hansen, from California, has always been a good fundamental wide receiver and it was easy for scouts to like him as a complementary receiver in the future, but it looks like he will compete right away for snaps as a number 3 or 4 WR on the depth chart. His route running refinement and excellent hands could even make him a safety valve for whatever Quarterback is at the helm.

Charone Peake says the team may have multiple 1,000 yard WRs on the team in 2017 and, while most people would disagree, credit the man for having confidence despite the loss of Enunwa. That quarterback situation is nothing short of a circus and that doesn’t usually lead to multiple average receivers suddenly breaking-out in and having 1,000 yard seasons. This may be the worst offense in the league; New York would be lucky to see one receiver break the thousand mark, much less several. Peake himself does have upside to be a nice asset in terms of a possession WR this season as the Jets have struggled with dropped passes in the not so distant past.

It will be a tough season, but it will be key for the Jets to find the guys who will produce through the tough season ahead. They will have a solid defense to back them up and keep them in games early on, but wins won’t be an often occurrence in 2017. The expectation should be to see what the Jets have in many of their young, unproven players, especially those at the Wide Receiver position.

2017 Fantasy Football Sleepers

By Alexander C. Lawrence

August is a beautiful month for football fans because football is finally back in our lives! Even if it is only preseason football we still get to watch our teams and see how they project for the regular season. Some people, such as myself, use it to scout potential fantasy football players that are strong sleeper candidates. Here’s my list for some of the best sleepers for the 2017 Fantasy Football season!

Green Bay Packers: RB, Jamaal Williams

Ty Montgomery has moved full time to running back but that doesn’t mean he’ll start. I’m not sold that Montgomery can handle a full work-load. Jamaal Williams, the eager fourth-round pick, will step in and make an immediate impact on that high powered offense. We’re not talking Zeke Elliott, but he could wind up being a very productive RB2. Taking a chance on him isn’t even costly- in most drafts he’ll be a late round pick.

Philadelphia Eagles: TE, Zach Ertz

I know most people may think Ertz isn’t an ideal late round sleeper given the fact that he simply hasn’t lived up to his real life expectations let alone fantasy owner’s, but that may not be as true as you think. Since 2013 Ertz has improved each fantasy season from a positional standpoint. 2013: TE-26, 2014: TE-13, 2015: TE-9 and 2016: TE-6. Have faith in Ertz this year!

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR, Marquise Lee

Lee showed off his WR2 type ability last season and you better believe that if Allen Hurns doesn’t produce early on, Lee can take his #2 WR spot and run with it. Bortles or Henne should get the ball to Lee, who will see a healthy chunk of targets. Lee, drafted as a late round pick, could be a fantasy breakout star in 2017.

New York Jets: TE, Jordan Leggett

The Jets don’t have a clear cut QB just yet, but one thing is clear. Whether it’s Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, or Bryce Petty under center, Jordan Leggett will see a lot of targets just because he is talented and healthy. He can stretch the field for a Jets’ team that is lacking many offensive weapons. Five of the eight first teams the Jets face gave up the most fantasy points to TEs in 2016.  Don’t get me wrong the Jets will be bad, but Leggett will be one of the few bright spots so, for owners who want to take a late-round chance on him, go for it.

Houston Texans: WR, DeAndre Hopkins

He had a down season last year and left fantasy owners with a lot more to be desired, thanks in large part to the Texan’s horrible QB play. Hopkins believes in Tom Savage and I think with Savage, or even Watson, he can get back to his dominant self. He’ll cost a bit, but he’ll be a top 10 Wide Receiver this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB, Doug Martin

It’s no secret Doug Martin wasn’t the same guy last fantasy season, so I very much expect a bounce-back season for him once he serves his 3-game suspension for substance abuse. The team has praised him this offseason and competition with Charles Sims and Jeremy McNichols will bring out the best in him. The potential to be an RB1 again is too great to pass up.

Pittsburgh Steelers: WR, Martavis Bryant

There’s no secret that Bryant’s return should get him on most fantasy owner’s radars because his upside potential is so great. He should get back to being the no. 2 WR for the Steelers and help both himself and Antonio Brown. You can’t double everyone there. He’s a steal and I think a strong candidate for double-digit touchdowns in that Pittsburgh offense.

Detroit Lions: QB, Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford had what most would say was a normal season for the eighth-year QB out of Georgia. At least until you see his low number of TDs in 2016 (24). With the weapons at his arsenal this season that number should surely increase and I highly expect Stafford to be a QB1 this season. Detroit has a proven leader who can help that offense be elite this season.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR, Alshon Jeffery

Jeffery, just like Hopkins, is due for a bounce-back after injuries and a suspension derailed last season. He should thrive under young gun Carson Wentz throwing the ball his way as the clear no. 1 target with Jordan Mathews gone. The change of scenery will not only help him get a big pay day soon, but should improve his fantasy stock as well.

Los Angeles Rams: WR, Sammy Watkins

A lot of experts say Sammy Watkins is on their “Do not draft list” for 2017. I like to think otherwise since he was on IR last year and  seems fully healthy this year and primed to live up to the second-round hype to be a WR1. I believe this is the year we see Watkins haul in 80+ receptions and produce a 1,200+ yard season. It’s a contract year for him so, he has every reason to make sure his body is in the best condition and perform his best. Don’t be shocked if Tampa Bay WR Mike Evans who is currently being drafted 3-4 rounds ahead Watkins is ranked below him at season’s end.

Indianapolis Colts: RB, Marlon Mack

I know a lot of Frank Gore owners will probably hate me for this, but the way I see it is Frank Gore can’t continue to perform this well forever. At age 34, father-time figures to catch-up to him and I think this may be the year it finally happens. Mack excites me and I can’t wait to see how he is used in the Colts offense that will hopefully feature Andrew Luck earlier rather then later in the season. His speed and agility gives them a valuable asset they haven’t had since Joseph Addai.

Good luck, grab your sleepers, avoid the busts, and happy drafting!

Old Faces, New Places

By Jack Drapkin

Inspired by seeing Victor Cruz salsa after scoring his first (preseason) touchdown for the Chicago Bears. I figured it was a good time to take a look at some familiar players donning new jerseys for the first time in their careers.

The criteria for this list was as follows: The player had to have played with only one team in his career previously and needed at least five seasons in the league. He also needed to be notable enough for you to care.

Jamaal Charles

Charles will be in his 9th career season and first outside Kansas City. He’s currently expected to be a part of a three-headed backfield with veteran CJ Anderson and young Devontae Booker. Charles will be looking to prove he still has ‘it’ after spending much of the last two seasons on IR.

Victor Cruz

Cruz will be playing in his first season outside of the Big Apple. In this instance, I think a fresh start is exactly what Cruz needed. After missing much of 2014 and all of 2015 with devasting knee and Achilles injuries, Cruz rebounded to post a respectable 586 receiving yards last year.

Lawrence Timmons

Timmons joining the Dolphins on a 10-million a year salary was shocking for many around the league. With the recent injury to 2nd-round linebacker Raekwon McMillan, Timmon’s role and importance to this team becomes even more significant.

Andrew Whitworth

Embarking on his 11th season, Whitworth will be hoping to solidify a Rams offensive line that has been a weak spot for many years now. A stalwart on the Bengals offensive line and 3x Pro Bowler expect Whitworth to still have a few good seasons left in him, especially with the warm weather in Los Angeles.

David Harris

After 10 seasons with the New York Jets, Harris will play for the rival Patriots in 2017. With over 700 tackles and 35 career sacks, Harris has nothing left to prove but would like to add a Super Bowl ring after all these years in the trenches.

Adrian Peterson

Arguably the greatest running back of his generation, Peterson will hope to have a career resurgence with Drew Brees and the Saints. With nearly 12,000 career rushing yards in his 10 seasons in the league, Peterson has put up some truly impressive numbers. However, after missing significant time in two of the past three seasons Peterson will have to show he still has that burst in his age-32 season.