What’s in a name?
In the NFL, apparently a lot. As a devoted fantasy football player, and even more devoted Bears fan, I have been continually flabbergasted by ESPN’s continued refusal to believe in Cutler’s fantasy football potential. Granted, I own him in one of my leagues and happen to be married to just about the biggest Cutler fan imaginable so I am hardly an impartial audience. But as you’ll see, the numbers are definitely on my side.
When ESPN projected Jay to score only 10 fantasy points in the season opener, it was understandable. After all, he was coming off of a disappointing 2012 season, was running a brand new offense under a new-to-the-NFL head coach, and despite the attention paid to the offensive line in the off-season, lots of questions remained about their ability to provide Cutler with the protection he so obviously lacked in 2012. I was completely willing to accept their low-ish projection and was, in fact, happy and slightly surprised when he came away from the game with a solid 16 points against a genuinely good Bengals defense. I didn’t expect entirely smooth sailing from here on out, but things were looking up for my guy.
But when week 2 rolled around, ESPN projected Cutler to score 10 points. Again. Okay, okay, fine. Maybe the first game was a fluke or the new offense just took people by surprise. He still needed to prove himself to the critics. And he did - Jay scored 17 points against the Vikings, outscoring ESPN’s projection for him by over 50%.
When week 3 came around, I was expecting another low-ball fantasy projection from the “experts” at ESPN, but even still, their 9 points against the Steelers seemed a bit too low. Sure enough, Jay had his lowest yardage totals all season and still scored 11 fantasy points.
Surely after three straight weeks of outscoring their projections, the sage minds at ESPN had to give Jay some credit before the week 4 matchup against the Lions. They did not, with a projection of 11 points. Cutler played what was easily his worst game of the season and still finished with 16 points. Are you noticing a trend?
Okay, even with the undefeated Saints rolling into town, ESPN had to expect that Jay would put up at least 11 points, his lowest total yet. But no. They projected him to score 8 points. 8 POINTS! For crying out loud, Ryan Tannehill had just scored 9 points against the Saints in a game in which he threw three interceptions. How did Jay answer? With 22 points, easily his best total to date. For you math types, that means he outscored their projection by a whopping 275%.
So where does that leave us? With the woeful Giants heading to Chicago this week, ESPN has finally put together a bullish prediction for Cutler, prognosticating a 22 points effort against what is easily the worst defense the Bears have faced all year. Way to go out on a limb. Even still, they can’t help themselves from being jerks to Cutler. In their little blurb on Cutler’s player overview card, they spend the first half of the paragraph talking about Jay’s turnover problems before a game in which they are not even projecting him to turn the ball over. That’s right. The “Jay Cutler – Turnover Machine” stereo-type runs so deep in the ESPN offices that they literally cannot stop themselves from bringing it up.
So in summary, ESPN has projected Cutler to score an average of 9.6 points during his first five games when in reality he has averaged 16.4. That’s right, their dislike of Cutler is so intense that it apparently lowers his value by over a full touchdown.
For comparison’s sake, let’s look at golden boy Tom Brady. It’s obvious that this season has not started out well for Brady, a fact that ESPN only barely acknowledges and usually does so only in terms of blaming his supporting cast. Comments like “His 52-game touchdown streak came to a close last week, but it wasn't all Brady's fault as his receivers dropped four passes, including Julian Edelman's drop in the end zone in the game's final minute,” have been used over and over to apologize for Brady’s low point totals. Despite his mediocre showings and obvious issues, ESPN has projected Brady to score an average of 17.4 points through his first five games. What has he actually scored? 13.2. That’s 3.2 points lower than Cutler has averaged. As if to add insult to injury, ESPN cited Cutler’s great game against the Saints last week as a reason why Brady should bounce back against the Saints this week. Because hell, if Jay Cutler can do it, any old idiot can!
I’m not asking for anybody to name Jay the “elitest of the elite” or anything like that. I’m not even saying that he’s a better QB than Brady in real life (although I don’t think he’s too far behind – but that’s a different discussion altogether). But it’s fantasy football – open your eyes and quit ignoring a breakout fantasy season just because you don’t like a guy’s pouty face and double chin.
Editor's note: Jay Cutler homer-ism is strong in this family. We make no apologies. Except for Jay, of course.