Fantasy scoring is down and likely to stay that way

Michael Salfino

If you’re disappointed in the scoring of your fantasy teams and your Sundays seem a lot more boring, you are not alone.

The biggest early season trend in 2017 is a lack of offense. Through two weeks teams are averaging just 1.93 offensive touchdowns per game. Last season it was 2.40, as it also was (2.36) from 2014-to-2016. This is no rounding error. The result is 19.6% less touchdowns. And early season rustiness doesn’t seem to be an explanation since last year though two weeks, teams averaged 2.31 offensive touchdowns per game.

The San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals don’t have a touchdown yet. The Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants have one each. There are 11 teams that haven’t registered a rushing TD yet. And only 11 teams have scored more than four offensive touchdowns: Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans (all with five), Detroit Lions (6) New England Patriots (7), Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders (8) and the Kansas City Chiefs (9).

People wanted me to put Alex Smith and the Chiefs in the Bad Quarterback/Bad Offense box and I admit I was at least looking at the fence if not quite on it. Smith’s days were supposedly numbered two weeks ago, we were told. But the Pat Mahomes era is going to have to wait, apparently.

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The question is whether this is a trend or some random variance that we’re noticing only because it’s the first two weeks. If this was October, this thinking goes, no one would care. But have you watched football this year? It’s not been easy.

Let’s forget about touchdowns and dig deeper with per-play stats. The NFL is averaging 3.9 yards per rush. It has not been lower for a full season this century; last year it was 4.2. The streak of ever more efficient passing is taking a beating, too, with passer rating backsliding to 2013 levels, according to Pro-Football-Reference. But even that is deceptive as 12 quarterbacks have ratings under 80. That’s double the number in any of the last three seasons. Twice as many rotten QBs is a major culprit here. While Marcus Mariota, Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott are likely to rebound, do you feel the same way about Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer? I don’t.

But we may have a slew of different (and even worse) QBs soon given that NFL teams have apparently forgotten how to pass block. Sacks have jumped to 7.2% of pass attempts. Last year, it was 5.8%. Sounds again like a minor thing but that’s seven or eight sacks per team over a full season and thus seven or eight less touchdown opportunities as sacks are almost always drive killers.

Sack rate hasn’t been this high since 2000. And remember, teams throw short to eliminate sacks. A generation ago, teams traded sacks for downfield shots. But now we get the worst of both worlds. It’s really tough to score when your average pass length is under eight yards and you’re taking sacks. I’m looking at you Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning and Tyrod Taylor.

Is there any good news? The Chargers, Packers, Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints should have about a touchdown more each based on their yards per play (down to 5.2 from 5.5 last year). But the Cardinals played the Indianapolis Colts, which almost has to be tossed. The Minnesota Vikings are also underachieving but that’s mostly due to losing Sam Bradford last week (half their games) — and that doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon.

Now add the Vikings into the dumpster fire of quarterback problems crushing the offenses of the Colts, Bengals, 49ers, Giants, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s 11 teams that either have to fix the game’s most important position in the guts of the season or fix the way these quarterbacks are being protected. Either is a huge lift at this juncture. The only bright spot is that the Rams, Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles seem destined to be at least okay at quarterback this year — and maybe better.

Bottom line: I will be surprised if we revert to the scoring we’re used to as fantasy owners. What this means for your teams is that the upper echelon players in professional offenses with capable quarterbacks are more valuable than ever. And it also means that pure volume of things like attempts, targets, rushes is worth significantly less than in recent seasons.

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