The FO crew previews three games in the final week of the season with critical playoff implications: Bengals-Steelers, Lions-Packers, and Panthers-Falcons.
18 Sep 2003
by Al Bogdan and Ian Dembsky
Welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where we discuss all things football. We'll have commentary on the latest NFL stories, as well as our Best Bets of the week and updates to our Survivor League (check the Scramble archives for full details). Al's a long-time Giants fan originally from Long Island, and Ian is a long-time Tampa Bay fan originally from Jersey, and we're both NFL and fantasy sports addicts. Feel free to email us with any thoughts at scramble @ footballoutsiders.com.
Al: I'm trying to figure out who had the least enjoyable football experience this weekend. Was it me, staying up until 1 AM watching the Giants blow a game to Dallas thanks to the second out of bounds kickoff of the game? Or was it you, watching Tampa's extra point attempt blocked with 0:00 on the clock?
The Giants, at least, have some excuse for their overall poor performance last night. Jim Fassel made some, let's just call them "interesting" moves to fix the weaknesses of the right side of the O-Line. Instead of just replacing Ian Allen at right tackle, the Giants put regular center Chris Bober out of position at RT and inserted rookie Wayne Lucier at center. Fassel turned a weakness at one O-Line spot and turned it into two.
That still doesn't excuse Matt Bryant kicking the ball out of bounds with 11 seconds left on the clock, or the Giants D allowing Quincy Carter to complete a 26 yard pass to put the Cowboys into FG range at the end of regulation.
Tampa, on the other hand, has no excuses for losing that game. They kept digging themselves into holes with 17 penalties for 168 yards. The officials were a little flag-happy, but that doesn't excuse the multiple legitimate personal fouls the Bucs committed. Even if a few of the regular penalty calls were borderline, you can't average 10 yards per penalty and expect to dominate a game. There's also no excuse for allowing three blocked kicks, including the blocked extra point. This is the second week in a row that I've seen something that I've never seen before in a Tampa game. Week 1 had the incredible Jurevicius catch. Week 2 had the first end of regulation blocked extra point I've ever seen. The weird thing was that everyone knew that the block was coming. Carolina didn't look as down as they should normally have looked after allowing a TD with 0:00 left on the clock to possibly cost them the game.
I'm putting the over/under on the number of times you threw your hat at the TV on Sunday at 25. There are still a few seats left on the Carolina bandwagon if you want to hop on. You better hurry, though, space is filling quickly.
Ian: Well, you get the under, but not by much. My god, that was awful. 2 blocked field goals? A blocked extra point?!? 3 kicks blocked in the same game -- I wonder if that ever has happened in the NFL before; it's rare enough to see any kick blocked. I don't really want to talk about it, but unfortunately the Bucs do have a weakness, and it was exploited by Carolina -- Teams can generally pound the ball up the middle on them. That's why I'm 2-0 in Best Bets and you're 0-2.
I found the Giants loss to Dallas a bit ironic. So they have the ball in field goal range with a chance to win it -- and they line up for the kick with 14 seconds left. 14 seconds?? Even a botched field goal attempt could have been retried in about 5 seconds. Any other team in the league lets the clock run down more, but not the Giants... Why? Because of their loss to the 49ers in the playoffs last season. They're thinking "No way we'll let *that* happen to us again", and they didn't, only they left the Cowboys with more time than they should have had. There were a number of factors contributing to the silliness there, but no doubt that was one of them.
Two weeks into the season, it's time for an edition of Oasis or Mirage. We'll look at surprises in the league, and discuss whether it's gonna continue, or it's just a Mirage. Counting down from five to one...
5. What's going on in Cleveland? Many people, including me, thought they were really gonna be strong this season. Fresh off a surprising playoff berth, William Green looked like the real deal and Kelly Holcombe was tearing it up. Well, apparently defenses have figured out Kelly rather quickly. With him being totally ineffective, William Green hasn't found any daylight to run with the ball. Verdict: Oasis
Al: I was more surprised that the Giants didn't take another shot at the end zone. Tiki was gaining a decent amount of yardage when they were trying to just run out the clock up the middle. I thought they'd give him another run to see if he could break one for a TD.
"Oasis or Mirage" sounds like the name of a bad soap opera, but I'll play along.
I'm surprised to see Cleveland's struggles so far. They've played two pretty good defenses in Baltimore and Indianapolis. I have no idea what happened to their running defense between Week 1 and Week 2. One week they hold Edgerrin James to only 67 yards, the next week they give up more rushing yards to one person than anyone has ever given up in the history of the NFL. Verdict: Mirage
4. Your first place Carolina Panthers are no surprise. They'll be on the cover of Sports Illustrated within a month. Stephen Davis could lead the NFC in rushing. 142 yards against the Bucs? That's unreal. Jake Delhomme isn't going to win Carolina too many games, but he's not going to cost them anything either. This team reminds me a lot of the Baltimore Ravens the year they won the Super Bowl. I still think the Bucs will win the division, but Carolina will be right behind them. Verdict: Oasis
Ian: I was thinking the exact same thing about the Ravens. Always good to think about the Ravens, since I won $1,000 off of them winning the Super Bowl ($200 at 5-1 early in the playoffs). I may have to make a similar bet on Carolina this year -- they really are playing strong. Let's not forget they were the #2 defense behind Tampa last season. Stephen Davis was the perfect fit for that team; great defenses love consistent, run the clock and pound the ball offenses. Outcomes like this one won't be rare for the Panthers this season. Verdict: Oasis
3. I predicted that Oakland would win another division title, as their offense really didn't lose anything and Bill Romanowski will hire an assassin to take out Priest Holmes soon enough anyways (god, I hate that guy). But a loss to the Titans and a squeaked-out victory against the lowly Bengals has to have them wondering -- What's up? No doubt the loss of Jerry Porter has hurt the team, since Tim Brown's wheels came off early last year and Jerry Rice can't really beat double-coverage anymore. Verdict: Oasis.
Al: Oakland will come back as long as they don't lose anyone else significant to injuries. Losing Jerry Porter is a big hit, but Oakland should still have enough weapons to make up for him. I've been hearing a lot of buzz about rookie TE Teyo Johnson. If he can step in and be another receiving threat in the next few weeks, the Raiders will be a contender again. Verdict: Mirage
2. Even with the Panthers' success, the most surprising division leader has to be the Redskins. I don't buy them as a contender just yet. Beating the Jets this year isn't that big of an accomplishment. I thought the Falcons would struggle without Vick, so that win didn't show me too much. I don't think the Betts/Canidate combo will be as effective once the Redskins start playing some of the better run defenses in the league, like the Giants this Sunday. Verdict: Mirage.
Ian: I'm actually about ready to reserve a seat on the Redskins bandwagon. I'm a big fan of a strong linebacking core, and this team sure has it. LaVar Arrington's performance against the Jets was phenomenal, and Jeremiah Trotter and Jesse Armstead are great players. Patrick Ramsey is actually looking very good, and Candidate and Betts make a pretty decent RBBC (running-back-by-committee). It's about they realize they should ditch Bruce Smith though -- it's nice to have a veteran chasing a record, but not when it creates a weak spot on your defense. Verdict: Oasis
1. Who else would be at #1 but Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles. What's happened to them? They seemed like a sure division champ before the season; now they're looking up at everyone including Dallas. Losing to Tampa at home is nothing to be ashamed of, but getting plastered at home by the Patriots? The fans in Philly are ruthless; I think they were booing during player introductions. Now the Eagles have a bye week to feel bad, then a road game at Buffalo, then a crucial home game vs. the 'Skins. The way their offensive line has been playing, I wouldn't be surprised to see them 0-4 after 5 weeks of the season. Verdict: Oasis
Al: Back in July, some football savant wrote "Philly had a pretty crappy off-season". That's right, it was me. This is what happens when you leave $10 million+ in salary cap space unused and you lose half of your secondary to injury. You give up 255 yards and 3 TDs to a QB that could only manage to throw for 123 yards with 4 INTs the week before. New England was allowed to run their dump passes to perfection. I expect more of the same from Eagles' opponents until Philly can get their secondary in order. Verdict: Oasis
Now it's time for the Scramble for the Ball fantasy mailbag. Since this is our first edition we don't have any actual questions from readers, so we'll just make some up ourselves. Email us at scramble @ footballoutsiders.com and we'll answer your actual questions in next week's column. Or we'll make up some questions again and just say they're from actual readers.
Here's my question for you Ian:
After 2 weeks, the top 10 list of fantasy WRs is pretty surprising. Which of the top 10 do you expect to still be there at the end of the year?
Ian: Great question. Anquan Boldin rocketed to the top of Most Added/Dropped lists everywhere after his record-setting week 1 performance. Week 2 saw him cool down to the tune of 8 catches for 62 yds; though that's hardly a terrible performance. Unfortunately for him, his lack of productivity was probably due largely to the injury to Jeff Blake. I don't know if Randy Moss would be all that good with Josh McCown at the helm. I predict he'll have a decent season, but even if Blake returns he's not really worth having on a fantasy roster.
I predicted Chris Chambers would have a good year, and so far he's been great. Did you see his one-handed touchdown catch in the back of the endzone? That was flat-out amazing. Derrius Thompson isn't doing much to draw Fiedler's attention, and teams are always gonna have to gang up on Ricky carrying the ball. He should be a solid starter throughout the season.
Laveraneus Coles sure jumped ship at the right time, eh? He could have been catching passes from Vinny "I suck" Testaverde (373 yards passing last week doesn't make up for 5 years of ruining my youth with his performance in Tampa. The U.S. could have avoided a war by just sending him into Iraq to overthrow the government). Now he's in Steve Spurrier's offense with a juiced up Patrick Ramsey throwing him bullets. I don't see any reason for this to change; he should remain a top wideout for the rest of the season.
As far as the others -- Ward, Holt, Moulds, Burress and Toomer are of course going to remain top wideouts, though a Maddox injury could be a huge fantasy buzzkill for a lot of players. Torry Holt seems to have taken the reins from Isaac Bruce as the go to guy; I see him being a top 2 or 3 wideout this season. Darrell Jackson suffers from an offense with too many other guys that scores touchdowns, though he's a solid #2 guy. Tai Streets should also be a solid #2 for the same reason, except without as many touchdowns to go around.
Here's a question for you Al:
What's the deal with tight ends this year? Tony Gonzalez: 26 yds, 0 td. Jeremy Shockey: 44 yds, 1 td. Todd Heap: 62 yds, 0 td. Alge Crumpler: 148 yds, 2 td. Is it really Crumpler or no fantasy points from your tight end, or do you see some or all of the top players rebounding?
Al: Heap and Gonzo are explainable and should rebound. Tony G. has been battling knee and ankle injuries the first two weeks. If he can get healthy, Gonzalez should be fine. Heap has a new, rookie QB slinging passes his way. Considering Boller has only thrown for 230 yards, 62 of those going to Heap is a pretty good percentage. With a few more weeks of experience under Boller's belt, Heap's numbers should be back to normal.
I'm starting to think that maybe Aaron's ratings were right about Shockey. I've been watching him more closely these first two games and he has dropped a number of passes that he should have caught, most notably the TD pass on Monday night. Collins seemed to be going a lot to Ike Hilliard on third down against the Cowboys. A healthy Hilliard, combined with the increased attention that the NY media will be putting on Shockey's drops could lead to a few less passes going to the tight end. If you get a good offer for him, I wouldn't hesitate to deal Jeremy. I wouldn't dump Shockey for Shockmain Davis, but he's not untouchable.
Next question. Who will be the best fantasy QB, RB and WR in Week 3?
Ian: Well, at wide receiver you've got to believe Randy Moss is in for a huge week. Last week at home against Chicago he was a non-factor. That's not the kind of thing Daunte is gonna let happen for two straight weeks. Remember also that Anquan Boldin had his breakout game against the hapless Detroit defense and you've got to imagine Randy's gonna be calling for the ball.
At the quarterback position, I look for Doug Johnson to be a great play vs. Tampa. Oh wait, that's for the Loser League... Peyton Manning should be great at home vs. Jacksonville and Daunte could have a field day against the Lions in Detroit. For my play of the week though, I love Brett Favre to tear up the Arizona secondary. With a loss to Minnesota, Green Bay is now playing catch-up in the division and they're not gonna take this game likely. Favre'll probably want to get Antonio Freeman the ball in the endzone for old-times' sake, and he's probably aware that Bubba Franks has yet to taste the goal line as well. Ahman Green could "vulture" some of Brett's touchdowns, but against Arizona there should be plenty to go around.
Obviously Priest Holmes is the number one running back play, so instead I'll propose more of a sleeper play -- Antowain Smith of the Pats. The Jets have great pass-rushers, and the Pats offensive line can be shaky at times, so the Jets will probably be very aggressive on defense. I look for the Pats to try and slow down the outside rush by trying to pound the rock with Antowain, and they should win by a lot anyways so killing clock in the second half will be a priority.
What do you think?
Al: At QB, I'm going with Marc Bulger. I think St. Louis will be behind early so Martz will yet again abandon the run and tell Bulger to throw the ball all over the field. My RB of the week is Moe Williams. I see the Vikings grabbing the lead in the first half and running all over Detroit's horrific run defense. Emmitt Smith averaged 5 yards per carry against them. Moss is an obvious WR pick, so I'll take a bit of a sleeper here. Baltimore couldn't stop the pass in week 1. I think their success in containing Cleveland's passing attack in week 2 had more to do with Kelly Holcombe than anything Baltimore's secondary did on the field. I think Drew Brees will have a nice game against the Ravens. With David Boston out, Brees' primary target becomes second-year WR Eric Parker. 2 TDs and 150 yards for Parker. Onto the best bets.
Al: Last week you killed me yet again, with another perfect record. I only hit on my best bet. I've spotted you a 12-5 lead after two weeks (3 points for best bet, 2 for pretty good, 1 for hunch). It's not insurmountable, but I definitely need to start getting some of these correct.
Best Bet: Minnesota -3.5 over Detroit: I guess the odds makers haven't caught on yet that the Vikings are legitimate or they're putting too much value on the Lions' week 1 home win over the Cardinals. Detroit was embarrassed last week by Green Bay, who the Vikings easily handled in week 1. The Vikings are the class of the NFC North. I'm just glad Vegas hasn't figured that out yet.
Pretty Good Bet: NYTD Blue +2.5 over Washington: Like I said earlier, I don't think the Redskins are a 2-0 team to be afraid of. If Luke Petitgout is back on the left side of the offensive line, I like Kerry Collins' chances of finding the end zone a couple of times. We'll get a chance to see what the Redskins can do when their running game is shut down.
Just a Hunch: Jacksonville +8 over Indianapolis: This is a true hunch. I have no other reason only that I don't like the Colts giving up 8 points to anyone, even at home. Maybe luck will finally turn the Jaguars' way this week.
Ian: It sure is nice to be perfect with my picks, so I'll enjoy it while it lasts -- which is probably only up until this weekend. But there's no way you're catching up ' I think the Red Sox will make the playoffs first.
Best Bet: Tampa Bay -4 over Atlanta: Funny how my best bet would be against my beloved Bucs last week and with them this week. Why? Because Atlanta doesn't scare me one bit. I knew Carolina's defense was for real, but Atlanta got torn apart last week by Patrick Ramsey. Brad Johnson should be back to his usual self; 250 and 2 TDs. So should Tampa.
Pretty Good Bet: Green Bay -7.5 over Arizona: As I said before, the Pack realize they're playing catch-up to Minnesota and can't afford any losses. Arizona is lead by either a gimpy Jeff Blake or a gimp in Josh McCown. The Pack should destroy the Cardinals regardless.
Just a Hunch: Cleveland +7 over San Francisco: I liked Cleveland at the beginning of the year, and although they got run over by Jamal Lewis last week I still think they've got some fight in them. The 49ers just fired their kicker cause he missed one 42 yard field goal, making him 6 for 7 on the season... and brought in Owen Pochman, who's 0-2 in his career! Illogical moves like that will backfire. Pochman missing a field goal or two should allow Cleveland to cover here, especially if Tim Couch is brought in to start the second half.
Al: Uh, the Red Sox are a virtual lock to make the postseason. I'll be even or ahead of you by week 6.
Kerry Collins' nice performance on Monday night saved my Michael Vick/Jimmy Smith team from elimination. If that team can hang on until week 5, they'll be a force to be reckoned with. Ian5 -- The RockHammers were knocked out this week, behind Koren Robinson's suspension, Jerry Porter's injury and a bad day from Mike Alstott. Gaining immunity was Ian6 - Dick Hatch, riding Seattle's win over Arizona and another big game from Alge Crumpler.
Ian: The Sox are only 2 1/2 games ahead of the Wild Card race, no way they're a "virtual lock". They thrive on teasing fans before choking at the last minute...
Al: Mariners still have 6 games against the A's. No way they catch Boston.