Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
29 Nov 2006
by Bill Barnwell & Ian Dembsky
Ian: Welcome once again, Rotoheads, to another edition of Scramble for the Ball. Jersey Watch is officially over, as the 9-2 Baltimore Ravens have officially hit the Over on wins for the season. Thanks Bill, can't wait for my Ed Reed jersey to arrive!
Bill: God, I hate football. The worst part was that the Ravens were my only bet to cover last week. Anyway, yes, Ian won, and he can rejoice. As for an Ed Reed jersey? We'll see what I can find.
Ian: We've talked enough about the Ravens hitting the Over. What better time, though, to look back on our Over/Under predictions before the season and see how teams are doing, and why? Let's start with the lower-half of the AFC. The original article with our predictions can be found here.
Bill: Under, Ian: Under. Current Record: 3-8
Really not much to talk about here. We predicted a poor season, as did most everybody else. They're performing as expected. Eric Moulds has provided a reliable Loser League receiver, but doesn't add much else to the offense. Domanick Davis' loss has certainly hurt. Andre Johnson's terrific season is really the one reason they're making a run at six wins, but it's not likely to happen. Mario Williams is getting better, but the defense is still 31st in DVOA. Looks like the predicted Unders will hold.
Bill: Over, Ian: Under. Current Record: 4-7
I predicted an early record of 2-4 headed into the bye week, followed by Vince Young time, and then a clear Under. I got two out of three right. Who knew how much of an impact Vince Young would have right away? I mean, we all had high expectations, but it's rare for a player to get comfortable with the league this quickly. While the ridiculous comeback win against the Giants can certainly be attributed to plenty of big Giants mistakes, Young's performance was equally impressive.
Bill, meanwhile, was high on the Titans this season, but apparently for the wrong reasons. The Billy Volek-to-David Givens connection hasn't exactly lit the league on fire. The defense is improving, however, and the offensive line has helped Travis Henry resurrect his career. Will the Titans make the Over? It's going to be close. They should put up a good fight at home against Indianapolis this week, but a win there or versus New England in Week 17 remains unlikely. That means winning two out of these three: at Houston, vs. Jacksonville, at Buffalo. It'll be close.
Bill: Under, Ian: Over. Current Record: 5-6
Things were going pretty poorly for the Bills until the last few weeks, when Lee Evans had a breakout game and then they managed to defeat a tough Jaguars team at home. We were thinking Kelly Holcomb would be the starter, but he was demoted before the season started. J.P. Losman has filled in and not embarrassed himself, but he's nowhere close to the Pro Bowl. Willis McGahee was a disappointment early on, scoring only one touchdown before fracturing a rib in Week 9 and missing some time. Is his two-touchdown performance against Jacksonville a sign of things to come? The answer to that question is probably also the answer to whether or not they can make the Over.
Bill: Under, Ian: Under. Current Record: 3-8
Here's a team that's taken a long time to get their act together. And when they finally seem to be on the right track, they get embarrassed at home in a 30-0 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. The defense is indeed improving under Crennel; it's ranked 15th in DVOA right now. But the offense, despite the solid performances of Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, is still floundering, ranked 31st. This team still has a ways to go.
Bill: Under, Ian: Under. Current Record: 6-5
While no one expected the Jets to win a lot of games this season, I was quite convinced that they'd be contending for the first overall pick in next season's NFL Draft. Boy, was I wrong. Chad Pennington performed admirably in his return from shoulder surgery. The Jets even managed to win in New England and pull within one game of first place, before losing the next week and falling two games back. Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles have paired to form one of the more agile wideout duos in the league, and picking up Kevan Barlow has at least helped fill the void left by Curtis Martin in the running game. The Over seems almost certain. About that defense, though...
Bill: Under, Ian: Over. Current Record: 2-9
Well, technically they could still hit the Over. Of course, technically Tampa Bay is still in playoff contention. This is a team that has fallen a long ways from their Super Bowl appearance with Rich Gannon at the helm. I was hoping Aaron Brooks would help lead this team to respectability, but who was I kidding? A shoulder problem turned this team into the Andrew Walter show, which has failed miserably, but it doesn't seem like Brooks would have made much of a difference. Maybe Randy Moss wouldn't be mailing it in if he'd had Brooks launching bombs to him instead of Walter at the bottom of a pile of defensive linemen. That preseason DVOA projection that had Oakland as one of the league's best defenses wasn't so ridiculous after all -- the Raiders are currently ranked ninth in DVOA. It's that pathetic offense that ensures this team is hitting the Under.
Bill: Under, Ian: Over. Current Record: 9-2
The Ravens are who we thought they were! Or, at least who I thought they were. A division leader, and an improbable winning Over bet in only week 12. A win Thursday night in Cincinnati would actually lock up a division title already. A loss would probably just mean it will take a few more weeks to lock things up. An impressive season so far, indeed.
Bill: Under, Ian: Under. Current Record: 6-5
Anyone who traded with a disgruntled Chad Johnson owner about three weeks back is certainly smiling about it. It did take some time for Carson Palmer to regain his confidence in the pocket, but now he's stepping into throws and finding the open man all over the field. Already at six wins, the Bengals are extremely likely to hit at least eight wins with home games against Oakland and Pittsburgh to come. It's the other games that will make things tough: vs. Baltimore, at Indianapolis, at Denver. A push seems likely; the Over is certainly a possibility. A wild card push should have this team firing on all cylinders for the duration of the season.
Now, onto the teams predicted to finish higher in the AFC. The original article can be found here.
Bill: Over, Ian: Over. Current Record: 6-5
Who can figure out Jacksonville? Receivers that look great one week, then drop most everything the next. A dominating defense at home, a porous defense on the road. About the only consistent bright spot has been the running game, with Maurice Jones-Drew providing a great source of energy off the bench, while Fred Taylor is healthy and playing well. Due to the only remaining home games for the Jaguars being against Indianapolis and the Patriots, it looks like they're headed for the Under.
Bill: Over, Ian: Over. Current Record: 5-6
Here's a team that failed to meet expectations. Daunte Culpepper was a complete and utter bust, and who knows if he'll be back starting next season. The offensive line hasn't been much better than last season, when they were horrible. Then again, there is reason for optimism. Following the bye week, when they were 1-6, the team is 4-0 including impressive wins over Chicago and Kansas City. The team also won their last six games last season, so the typical December swoon for the Dolphins is a thing of the past. Will they win four or more games the rest of the way? It seems unlikely with New England and Indianapolis still on the schedule. Who knows though; not many people expected them to have a chance at this point after their awful beginning.
Bill: Over, Ian: Over. Current Record: 9-2
Bill's "mortal lock" has turned out to be pretty much a mortal lock. LaDainian Tomlinson is also pretty much a mortal lock for MVP if he can perform at even a reasonable pace the rest of the way. The defense is much improved, and Philip Rivers has assimilated himself to the game well. The question isn't whether they'll hit the Over, but by how much. This is a team that is a serious Super Bowl contender.
Bill: Under, Ian: Under. Current Record: 7-4
What a luxury it is to have a capable backup quarterback. Not that people expected it, but Damon Huard filled in extremely well for the injured Trent Green and has this team thinking playoffs. While we were expecting age to catch up with most of the roster, they've performed rather well, with Larry Johnson, of course, leading the way. 10 wins is looking well within reach. Playing at Cleveland and at Oakland are certainly winnable games, which means they'd have to pull off one win out of games at San Diego, vs. Baltimore, and vs. Jacksonville. The raucous Kansas City home crowd should help them beat either Baltimore or the Jaguars at home. It didn't seem likely when the season began, but this team is probably headed for the Over.
Bill: Over, Ian: Under. Current Record: 7-4
Denver was cruising along, just like the teams of old, probably headed for another season of 10 wins. Then Mike Shanahan realized something the rest of us had noticed much earlier in the season -- Jake Plummer has not been playing well. The team's been winning, thanks to a stifling defense, and what is still the best home field advantage in football. They just haven't been winning big, and the defense alone isn't good enough to carry them to a Super Bowl. Enter Jay Cutler. Who knows where this is headed. This is what I said in the preview, though: "Mike Shanahan won't hesitate to mess with things and throw Jay Cutler in there, and then Denver can kiss an 11-win season goodbye. I'm taking the Under." Nothing's changed to make me think otherwise.
Bill: Over, Ian: Under. Current Record: 4-7
Hey, look -- a team's already hit the Under! But who would've predicted it would be the Pittsburgh Steelers? Well, here's what I had to say about them before the season: "It seems that every season, one of the two Super Bowl teams from the previous year pretty much falls apart and fails to make the playoffs. This season, this is your team." Of course, I predicted it would be due to the lack of a running game, not the lack of a passing game. Then again, the preview article was written before Roethlisberger's appendectomy and 50 more concussions. He's using his feet to make plays, but often he just ends up getting himself killed. Their defeat this week at the hands of the Ravens was just abysmal; it made the Texans offensive line look like a fortified wall. No need to have Jerome Bettis to help run out the clock when you're already down by 20.
Bill: Over, Ian: Under. Current Record: 8-3
The Patriots were on cruise control until a wake-up call came in the form of back-to-back home losses (which never happens in New England) to the Colts and Jets. Next thing you knew, the Patriots were fighting for the division title, instead of home field advantage in the playoffs. All is right again in Brady's kingdom, however, after a shellacking of the Packers and an impressive home defeat of the Chicago Bears. We've all come to expect big things from Tom Brady, but who knew this New England defense could be this good? Fortunately, the Patriots avoided turning kicking duties to Martin Gramatica, and Stephen Gostkowski has been fairly good, highlighted by his huge 52-yard field goal against the Bears. Laurence Maroney leading the league in kickoff return average is a pleasant surprise, and yet another example of how well-coached this team is. Will they get three wins out of home games versus Detroit and Houston and road games against Miami, Jacksonville, and Tennessee? Almost certainly. Will they get four? Probably. Looks like the Over is in store.
Bill: Under, Ian: Over. Current Record: 10-1
Edgerrin who? It certainly looks like the Colts are headed for the Over. It hasn't been because of their talent on defense, however; they rank only 26th in team defense DVOA. It's that Manning-led offense that's got them once again thinking Super Bowl. Joseph Addai has proven to be the real deal, and thanks to a timeshare with Dominic Rhodes so far looks to avoid the "rookie wall" and be fresh throughout the season. (For those of you wondering why Rhodes still gets carries, that's why.) Reggie Wayne may be catching more touchdowns, but Marvin Harrison still has more total catches, and both remain an important part of the offense. Meanwhile, fresh off my mentioning his prowess in the 1991 edition of Madden football, it's a Ricky Proehl sighting! He's been signed to help fill the void in the slot left by the injured Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark. Don't be surprised when he catches a key touchdown in the playoffs for the Colts this season. Where was I? Oh yeah, Over/Unders. This team is hitting the Over.
Next week, we'll recap the NFC, where the Bears and Saints are pretty much the only certain Overs on the board.
QB: I hope everyone likes the Cleveland Browns, because you're about to see a lot of them. How could anyone say we don't cover the Cleveland Browns? They get all kinds of play in Scramble. Charlie Frye leads the team to slaughter this week, with four interceptions, five rushing yards, and a near-whupping from Braylon Edwards. Who would've bet on Edwards attacking Frye and not Kellen Winslow? Your runner-up? Bruce Gradkowski. I'll never understand why people think that the Buccaneers should let Chris Simms walk away so they can start Gradkowski. It's like the weird cloud that came over Tampa when Shaun King was a starter was blown back overhead; it's some sort of bizarre crummy quarterback El Nino.
RB: I know Ian talked about Kevan Barlow resuscitating the Jets rushing attack above, but he sure didn't do it this week. Eight carries, five yards, zero points. It's as if he was really going for Loser League gold. Sadly, he didn't have the low score of the week. Tied for second were the three-headed hydra of Corey Dillon, Mike Bell, and Travis Henry, who mustered a combined 95 rushing yards on 33 carries, fumbling twice. That looks like an Edgerrin James line.
WR: Remember when Donte' Stallworth was going to be the greatest wide receiver in the history of wide receivers (that means you, everyone from the Week 2 Scramble discussion thread)? Turns out he isn't. He's been a reasonably competent receiver according to DVOA and DPAR, but he's caught 48 percent of the passes thrown to him. This week, he had two catches for nine yards. That's a 0. His teammate Hank Baskett? 20 receiving yards! A solid day! Only problem? He threw an interception to go along with them. Oops. Also a zero. Michael Jenkins? Should be opening up a chain of restaurants with Reggie Williams, Charles Rogers, R. Jay Soward, and Yatil Green in a couple of years; that is, if Green doesn't blow out his knee cutting the ribbon at the opening photo op. Also a zero.
K: No zero, though, could compare with Phil Dawson. Last week, I offered some simple advice: "If your team isn't going to score any touchdowns, you're really behooven to kick a field goal when you get the opportunity." Phil Dawson was not concerned with such frivolities, and when he made his way onto the field in the second quarter, his missed 48-yard attempt earned him Losingest Loser of the Week for Week 12. Hooray, Phil Dawson.
Rarely does it seem appropriate to give the award to three people at the same time, but who else could I possibly give the award to other than the trio of Mathias Kiwanuka, Frank Walker, and Eli Manning? Kiwanuka simply let go of Vince Young and let him run for a first down on fourth-and-10. The game should have been over there. Frank Walker hit Young late out of bounds after a scramble that had come up short on fourth-and-8. The game should have been over there. And Eli Manning threw an interception in his own territory with less than a minute left, allowing the Titans to kick the game-winning field goal in regulation. The Giants had a collapse of epic proportions, and while the coaches and the rest of the players certainly played a part, these three did what it takes to earn them this week's Keep Choppin' Wood Award.
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Bill: (1-2 last week, 23-12-1 overall)
Do not even talk about last week. Forget about the Jaguars gifting the Bills a victory -- if I had actually been around to see the entirety of the Giants' collapse, I may have just quit betting altogether. I've sent CMG away for a while. Let's see what we can do on our own.
Let's get started early. Jay Cutler? In his first start? This doesn't worry me. Jake Plummer's DVOA is all the way down to -4.3%. Not like Cutler can be too miserable. If it were a good defense, I'd be concerned, but Seattle's defense has regressed into mediocrity this season. I predict Cutler looks more comfortable than Matt Hasselbeck and Denver covers.
It's supposed to snow on Saturday in Buffalo. Not really sure how hard yet, but it's Buffalo. A foot is nothing. Is this a system game? For Buffalo, yes. Why San Diego? Because I believe LT will make the tiny Bills defensive line weep.
This is just a bet filled with utter bitter vitriol. The Colts defense may not be very good, but at least they will try and tackle Vince Young as opposed to just watching him run by. If Will Demps was playing the Oregon Trail, he never would've shot a single boar.
Ian: (1-2 last week, 12-20-3 overall)
The Bears are most certainly thinking, "Ah, back to the good old, crappy NFC." A home game against the Vikings is just what the doctor ordered to get Grossman back on track -- Matt Leinart went for over 400 yards against them last week. Minnesota's excellent run defense makes for shaky fantasy plays from Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, but expect Muhsin Muhammad, Bernard Berrian, and the whole passing game to have a big day en route to a thrashing of the Vikings at home.
I'll be honest. Like most people, I expect Dallas to go into New York and kill the Giants. Talk about two teams headed in opposite directions. But if there's anything we've learned to expect this season, it's to expect the unexpected. When trends point strongly for both teams in one direction, I like to go the other way, and this seems like the perfect time.
Time to give some love to the Raiders, whose defense is getting better and better. And the offense is getting better as well. It's addition by subtraction for the offense, that being the subtraction of Andrew Walter. The defense has done a solid job against the Seahawks, Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers the past four weeks. It's nice to see they finally get an opponent at home they can truly dominate.
126 comments, Last at 04 Dec 2006, 6:43pm by Pat