Cleveland Browns finally see sense with Hue Jackson, New Orleans Saints find balance

Jay Asser 29/10/2018
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Thirty six losses later, Hue Jackson’s rope has finally run out.

The Cleveland Browns fired the head coach on Monday, as well as offensive coordinator Todd Haley, following a 2-5-1 start to the season.

There were reports that the relationship between Jackson and Haley had turned into a power struggle, but the Browns decided to let go of both coaches in an attempt to get a fresh start for a team that was going nowhere under their leadership.

While Haley’s stint in Cleveland was a short one after he joined the franchise this past offseason following five years in Pittsburgh, Jackson had umpteen chances to right the ship in Cleveland.

Even after the Browns went 1-15 in Jackson’s first season at the helm, he was retained. Cleveland showed even more unfounded faith in Jackson following a winless 0-16 campaign last year.

But after drafting quarterback Baker Mayfield first overall and adding veterans like wide receiver Jarvis Landry through free agency, the Browns were done being so patient this season – especially with newly-hired general manager John Dorsey not having handpicked Jackson.

There are almost no positives to take away from Jackson’s time with the franchise – his 3-36-1 record is the worst head-coaching mark for one team in NFL history, while his .205 winning percentage is second-worst among all coaches with at least 40 games, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Senior offensive assistant Al Saunders, former head coach of the Chargers, will reportedly take over as interim coach, but the appointment will likely only be until Dorsey can select a candidate he likes.

This is the hard reset the Browns desperately needed, but unfortunately they’ve lost valuable time in waiting until now to finally pull the trigger.

Here are more takeaways from this weekend.

DREW WHO?

Look out, the New Orleans Saints are now winning games in which Drew Brees is a non-factor.

Normally the head of the snake, Brees was nothing more than a game manager on Sunday, and yet the Saints still earned their sixth straight win – and that too by double digits (30-20) over fellow NFC contenders Minnesota.

At the beginning of the season, the thought of New Orleans beating anyone with Brees throwing for only 120 yards would have been unfathomable. But after being a major weakness in the early going, the Saints defence has rounded into shape and given the team the kind of balance that was expected coming into the year.

The secondary is by no means completely fixed, but they’re at least making plays now, as they did on Sunday when they forced two critical turnovers to change the complexion of the game.

With Mark Ingram back, the backfield is also doing more of the heavy-lifting now, which was essential to the Saints’ success last season.

It’s a good thing New Orleans are beginning to play their best football because a potential NFC Championship Game preview is on the way with the Los Angeles Rams coming to town this week.

Speaking of the Rams…

KING GOFFREY

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The NFC leaders have made it a habit of winning pretty this season, but Sunday’s close call against the Green Bay Packers was anything but.

It took a late fumble on a kick-off to keep Aaron Rodgers from attempting a game-winning drive, but the real reason the Rams stayed undefeated was Jared Goff, who was the best quarterback in the game.

It wasn’t Goff’s best performance of the season, but it was arguably the most impressive as he led the team back from a 10-point deficit to out-duel the future Hall of Famer on the other side.

At 24, Goff has already established himself as one of the best players at his position, and someone who won’t just be along for the ride if the Rams win the Super Bowl, but at the front steering the ship.

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Buffalo Bills are in one of the most hopeless situations in the NFL

Jay Asser 28/10/2018
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Less than a year removed from being a playoff team, the Buffalo Bills have crashed to the bottom of the NFL hierarchy this season.

When the Bills, who sit at 2-5, meet the New England Patriots on Monday night in a familiar AFC East clash, the gulf between the two teams will be as wide as it has ever been.

Buffalo are lacking talent across the board, but their problems start – as they usually do for most struggling teams – at the quarterback position, where they’ve not found their short-term answer, or potentially their future solution.

Josh Allen is supposed to be the latter. The Bills traded up in this year’s draft to select the talented but raw prospect, who was taken seventh overall after Buffalo gave up the 12th overall pick along with two second rounders (53 and 56).

It appeared as if the Bills would take it slow with the 22-year-old and allow him to learn as a back-up in his rookie year, but that plan was quickly thrown out the window after Nathan Peterman’s abysmal performance in the opener.

Allen was thrown into the fire in his second game as a pro, and while he’s shown flashes of promise – mainly in the shock defeat of the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3 – he’s also proven to be a bit of a project and someone with plenty of flaws in his game.

His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2-5 and passer rating of 61.8 don’t scream ‘franchise quarterback’, but considering the draft capital Buffalo spent on him, Allen will be given time to develop.

That time has been cut short this year with Allen currently sidelined by a right elbow sprain, forcing the Bills to turn to veteran Derek Anderson, who has been no better than the rookie or Peterman so far.

In his first game under centre last week, Anderson threw three interceptions for a passer rating of 39.8 in a 37-5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. His life will get no easier on Monday when he goes up against Tom Brady and the surging Patriots, who can pile on to Buffalo’s misery.

New England have scored at least 38 points in four straight games, but they likely won’t need anything close to that to beat the Bills, who are fielding one of the worst offences in recent memory.

Buffalo rank second-to-last in yards per game (234.0), last in yards per play (3.9), third-to-last in giveaways (16), second-to-last in third-down conversion rate (27.4 per cent), and last in scoring (11.6 points per game).

The ground game continues to be the focal point of their attack, but after three consecutive seasons or ranking in the top six in rushing yards, the Bills have been mediocre at best running the ball this year. Their 3.9 yards per carry places them 28th in the league, while their 104.6 yards per game slots them 19th.

LeSean McCoy finally appears to be fading after years of mileage on his legs, with the 30-yard-old running back managing just 244 yards on 3.9 yards per carry so far. He’s been rumoured to be on the trading block with the Bills going nowhere this year, but he apparently won’t be moved ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, according to reports.

Buffalo’s defence under defensive-minded head coach Sean McDermott has been the team’s best unit, ranking fourth in the league in yards allowed per game (320.9) and 16th in points surrendered (25.0), but it hasn’t been good enough to completely mask the shortcomings on the other side of the ball.

As such, the Bills are on their way to grabbing one of the top picks in next year’s draft, as well as a full rebuild.

There’s little reason for optimism right now, but in the NFL, things always get worse before they get better.

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Raheem Mostert, Tre'Quan Smith and other fantasy NFL sleepers for Week 8

Jay Asser 28/10/2018
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Here are five players worth picking off your bench or waiver wire and inserting into your starting lineup.

RAHEEM MOSTERT

A golden opportunity awaits the San Francisco 49ers’ unheralded running back if starter Matt Breida is sidelined with an ankle injury this week against the Arizona Cardinals.

Mostert has really come on in the past two weeks, totaling 146 rushing yards on 19 carries, along with 19 receiving yards on four catches.

It appears the 49ers would be more likely to ride him, and not Alfred Morris, if Breida can’t go against a Cardinals defence that is allowing the most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season.

TRE’QUAN SMITH

If you want to take the kind of deep shot that would make Drew Brees proud, roll with the guy who’s quickly becoming his number two wideout.

Smith has seemingly surpassed Cameron Meredith in the New Orleans Saints offence and could be leaned on this week with top target Michael Thomas potentially having his hands full against Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

There are a lot of mouths to feed in New Orleans, but also plenty of opportunities.

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BAKER MAYFIELD

You could do a lot worse than Mayfield as a streamer at quarterback this week, with the Cleveland Browns rookie coming off his best fantasy performance of the season.

Facing the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are surrendering the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, Mayfield should have the benefit of a positive game script as the Browns are expected to be chasing points.

Plus, there’s always the chance Mayfield adds points with his legs, like he did last week with 43 rushing yards.

JALEN RICHARD

Despite barely any chances to run the ball, Richard continues to hold value in PPR leagues thanks to what he can do as a receiver.

The Oakland Raiders scat-back has at least six catches in three of the past four weeks, and with Marshawn Lynch now on the injured reserve, Richard should see the field even more.

Doug Martin is expected to lead the backfield on early downs, but if Oakland are trailing and need to throw, that will favour Richard.

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VANCE MCDONALD

The Pittsburgh Steelers tight end hits that sweet spot of players who’ve produced fairly well this season, yet are still available in many leagues.

McDonald isn’t just worth streaming this week – he’s probably worth a roster spot on your team considering how volatile the tight end position has been this year and bye weeks.

As for right now, McDonald could thrive against the Cleveland Browns, who have given up four touchdowns to tight ends so far.

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