There have been several dominant offensive franchises in the fantasy era. Peyton Manning posted video-game numbers with two teams. Brett Favre went off in Green Bay, then handed the baton to Aaron Rodgers. Tom Brady’s been a standard for two decades, and things really went crazy when Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski showed up. If you commonly invested in these offenses, you’d be happy more often than not.
But it’s interesting to note how often pinball scoring in the last two decades has run through the Saints, the Rams, and the Chiefs. When you write the history of the arcade era, those teams are commonly linked. And in 2018, they’re at the front of the line again.
The Rams and Chiefs are on the marquee this week, of course, finally getting to their circled Week 11 showdown. Originally slated for Mexico, the game will now be played in Los Angeles — a move necessitated by worrisome conditions at Estadio Azteca. If the current over/under of 64 holds, it will be the highest in NFL history.
But here’s the funny thing about NFL totals — they almost always seem to include someone in that Rams, Chiefs, Saints trio. Including the Monday showdown, this is the seventh straight 60-plus total that’s featured at least one of those teams.
Fantasy owners remember the classic offenses by heart. Priest Holmes drove you to fantasy titles, and I don’t know any Larry Johnson owner who didn’t win in 2005. The Greatest Show on Turf broke the game in 1999 and 2001 (and for half of 2000; go look at the silliness that team posted before Kurt Warner got hurt). The Sean Payton Saints have led the NFL in total yards six different times — 2006, 2008, 2009, 20011, 2014 and 2016 (Dick Vermeil remembers these teams fondly, maybe over a glass of wine; he coached the Rams and the Chiefs when both teams went bonkers).
The 2018 story is far from finished, but fantasy owners will look back fondly on the Chiefs, Rams, and Saints. I’m not saying you can’t win a league without investments in these teams, but it’s an uphill climb. Consider the season-to-date ranking of their primary players:
Patrick Mahomes is the QB1, and probably the MVP frontrunner at this point. The Alex Smith era feels like it was 20 years ago. Kareem Hunt is RB4 in the Yahoo’s default half-point PPR scoring. Tyreek Hill is WR1 and Travis Kelce is TE2. This might be the best fantasy four-man core of all time. It hasn’t been the best of times for Sammy Watkins, but WR29 is still a useful season.
Jared Goff took a step up last year, and it’s continued — he’s currently QB3 in Yahoo’s standard scoring. Todd Gurley sits at RB1, and we know the best running back is almost always the most important fantasy commodity. Robert Woods (WR9) and Brandin Cooks (WR10) have beaten their ADPs. Cooper Kupp (WE18) would have, too, if not for two unfortunate injuries, the second one a season-ender. Josh Reynolds, you’re the next man up.
New Orleans Saints
Is this finally the Drew Brees MVP season? It’s amazing he’s never won one (I’ll forever insist he was robbed in 2009). Brees is the QB6 in fantasy this year (he’s thrown one pick; the Bucs, meanwhile, have 19), making beautiful music with Michael Thomas (WR3) and Alvin Kamara (RB2). Mark Ingram has two strong games and three ordinary ones since returning in Week 5 (somehow, Brees, Thomas, and Kamara all went outside the first round in their respective draft classes).
Narrow usage trees have played into the fantasy friendliness of these teams. The Saints offense is mostly routed through its Big 3. The Chiefs like to focus on their Fab 4. The Rams, at least when Kupp was healthy, offered a Fab 5. The Rams don’t complicate things with a lot of tight-end production, and they also use three wideouts more than any other team. After Thomas, the busiest New Orleans wideout has all of 12 catches. There was some silly panicking when Hunt had a quiet opening game, but he spiked 13 times over the next seven weeks. Andy Reid funnels production to his main guys.
There are endless ways to frame how much fun these teams are. If you look at the “MVP Players” list — the collection of players who are most commonly owned on the Top 500 Yahoo teams — you see Mahomes at 2, Gurley at 3, Hill at 6 and Kamara at 9. A whopping 15 of the Top 50 intersect with these three clubs. While some of that is reflective of good owner habits (we love kickers and defenses when they’re favored) and not necessarily on-board production, it’s still a testament to how the Saints, Rams, and Chiefs keep lighting up the scoreboard.
Designer coaches are a part of the story, too. Reid and Payton are very close to finishing off Hall of Fame resumes (though Reid probably needs another deep playoff run to cement things). And if teams could redraft all the head coaches from scratch tomorrow, Sean McVay would probably go first — a statement about his intelligence, drive, and age. The NFL wanted to create a game where offense would dominate and dictate. It’s become a playground for the offensive geniuses.
Who’s been the best fantasy team this year? I have to give the Chiefs an edge, with its combination of dominant production spread over each of the four main positions. A ridiculous four Chiefs are in the Top 9 in Value-Based scoring, which weighs production against what’s commonly available from a baseline player (hat tip, Joe Bryant). Not even the 2013 Broncos carnival can match that (though Denver did have a silly five players in the Top 24; make it a five-man question and they rule the day). If Kansas City keeps the pedal to the floor, this likely goes down as the best fantasy-team season of all time.
Big asterisk in a strike season, but the 1982 Chargers had No. 2, 6, 8, and 10 in VBD. That’s what the Chiefs are up against. Bolts also loaded several years in front of that. Wes Chandler was absurd in 1982.
MVP in 1982? MARK FREAKING MOSELEY.
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) November 14, 2018
Who’s going to win Monday? I’m still ruminating over the side, but keep one thing in mind — the last 20 times an NFL game has seen an over/under of 58.5 or higher, the over has cashed 16 times. Maybe that trend could be your friend.
Get your popcorn ready. And maybe bring a calculator, too.