Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
13 Sep 2006
by Bill Barnwell and Ian Dembsky
Bill: Well, last week's Scramble didn't work out so well. Immediately after the column was uploaded, our server decided to take a nap. But that will happen. Ian's best bets ... struggled. Slightly. My suggestions for Week 1 pickups, well, one didn't play, and the three that did, well, would have been very nice Loser League picks. Oh -- my Loser League team! It out-underperformed Ian's team (whose players he clearly misunderestimated).
Ian: Keep in mind, those of you who would laugh at my prediction of Chad Pennington as Loser League MVP, there are still many, many weeks to go. Oh, and he wasn't exactly starting against an intimidating defense, now was he? If he has a strong game against New England next week, it'll be time to admit that I was mistaken. Of course, it's unlikely anyone will beat out Mike Nugent for the honor anyways.
I'm still staying strong with my predictions for the Ravens' division title (more on this later), the Giants' run to the Super Bowl (stupid penalties cost them, but they outplayed the Colts), and for the Vikings' winning their division as well. Allow me to elaborate on Minnesota for a bit.
I briefly touched on it in the Football Outsiders 2006 Season Predictions, but I'm convinced that the Vikings will win the NFC North. It comes down to two simple things: The running game, led by Chester Taylor and Steve Hutchinson, and the smart, efficient quarterback play of Brad Johnson. The Vikings' defeat of the Redskins was a perfect example of what I expected to happen. They pounded the ball with the run, used the short passing game to help get first downs, and occasionally took advantage of the big-play ability of Troy Williamson (though it'd be nice if he could hang on to a few more of those passes). On defense, the Vikings were able to consistently get pressure from their defensive linemen, which will go a long way toward controlling the defensive side of the field. The Bears seem like the consensus pick for the division title, but I don't believe Rex Grossman will handle the Minnesota defense the way Brad Johnson can: Taking advantage of everything given to him, while giving nothing away.
I suppose I should touch on my beloved Bucs, but I don't know what to say. All I know is that the Patriots once lost 31-0 in Week 1 before winning the Super Bowl that season (you might recall that as the "Lawyer Milloy" game). Mulligan, perhaps?
Some other random things I wanted to touch on from this weekend's games: Apparently Jamie Foxx is a Cowboys fan who "loves what the Redskins are doing." Hate to break it to you Jamie, but that means you're not a Cowboys fan ... New England may have won against Buffalo, but it was far from pretty. Their passing game has a long way to go before they can be considered Super Bowl contenders ... It may be early, but it looks like it's going to be a very long season for Cleveland, Tennessee and Oakland ... Many people were surprised at my last-place ranking for the LaDanian Tomlinson team in the Sheep League Auction Review. One week of football shows it wasn't far off. I'll give you one guess as to which team is in first place ... Perhaps Michael Vick's passing accuracy isn't all that important; certainly not as long as the Falcons can run for 250 yards a game ... Things better turn around in Denver in a hurry ... Deion Branch's signing with the Seahawks may not be as much a blessing as it seems. There are only so many touchdowns to go around in Seattle ... And finally, a message to all you Drew Bledsoe defenders out there: Drew Bledsoe sucks.
Bill: Really, you could leave that note for all defenders of anything -- end zones, shoreline, public, whatever.
Bill: I really wish we had a "Baseball Stars" graphic or something to put up with Mike Nugent's head on someone's body for this. These aren't official totals, so if there are any mistakes in my calculations, don't worry -- the correct ones will show up for the actual contest.
QB: Chris Simms' 0 this week is a wonderful start to the season -- and most weeks, it would carry the (Sun)day for awful quarterback performance. For Week 1, though, everyone has to take a back seat to The Snake. Jake Plummer's -2 is a performance befitting utter, utter atrociousness. I think Plummer might have scored higher if he were operating the Aaron Brooks Glitch offense.
RB: Would you believe Shaun Alexander? A fumble and only 51 yards will do that to you. The NFL MVP rolled a 3 this week. Reuben Droughns, although not fumbling, contributed 27 yards and absolutely nothing else. Well, I said Droughns wouldn't play a big part in the Browns game, and I was half-right. Wali Lundy finishes off our RB set with a 3; while there's no current bonus system in place for Loser League, you should really get points for having a player end a game with multiple receptions and, somehow, negative receiving yards.
WR: Picking wide receivers is really the most subtle nuance of the Loser League -- they need to catch the ball, but only twice. Essentially, anytime you can get a one or zero from a wide receiver in a week, you're going to be doing well. This week had several guys sink to those lows: Roscoe Parrish had a 0 (20 yards receiving, 2 catches, and a fumble), while Corey Bradford, Robert Ferguson, Arnaz Battle, Mark Clayton, and Bryan Gilmore all clocked in with single point games.
K: Football Outsiders was built on three things, folks: DVOA, DPAR, and Mike Nugent jokes. In Week 1, Mike Nugent was his own punch line. Mike Nugent's -4 may be, from what I can tell, up there with the all-time awful Loser League weekly performances.
Intro Music: I know this isn't quantifiable, but if you somehow selected Pink for your Loser League team, you win. If you, alternately, don't know who Pink is or what I'm talking about, you win ... in life.
Ian: For those of you that read our AFC Over/Under predictions, I asserted that the Ravens' hitting the over on eight wins was my favorite wager on the board. Bill was not inclined to agree, and thus we ended up wagering an Ed Reed jersey vs a Giants jersey on the outcome. I was planning on keeping a running feature on how things were going in this regard, but given how things started off for Baltimore, I'm definitely doing it now.
This week, Baltimore went in and simply dismantled my beloved Bucs, 27-0. About the only thing to take solace in is that no one got injured. From the Ravens' standpoint, Jamal Lewis looked strong in his second season back from a prison sentence, Steve McNair completed almost 63 percent of his passes in a place where quarterbacks rarely complete 50 percent, and the defense showed that it's as strong as ever. It's only Week 1, but the road to nine wins is paved quite smoothly at the moment ...
Next week: At home versus Oakland. If you're matched up against Baltimore's fantasy defense this week, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Bill: Why, you ask, do I bring up Frisman Jackson? Well, in last year's post-Week 1 Scramble, Vivek Ramgopal described him as "the player every fantasy owner will be trying to pick up, then trade to you for Tiki Barber next week." Vivek was right; in hindsight, my decision to trade Tiki for a package of Frisman Jackson, an Ultimate Frisbee, and a package of Furbies from Don West was ill-advised. Frisman had 24 catches all season and didn't make it out of camp this year. Now then, I may have deservedly lost some credibility when it comes to Week 1 Mirages after last week's column. That being said, it's much easier to pick a loser than it is a winner. This year's Frisman Jackson is Tennessee's Bobby Wade -- 76 yards in Week 1 -- who's been, according to DVOA, the worst wide receiver in professional football over the last two years. If you have him on your team and receive even a cursory offer, it behooves you to accept it. I don't even care if you are getting Frisman Jackson in return. You are behooven.*
Bill: We still haven't picked a name for the Mortal Ultra Lock Best Bet yet. Please continue to send in suggestions, preferably not ones involving recently deceased European criminals. Thanks!
Bill (2-1 last week)
Always good to get the season off to a winning start. I'm going to keep it going in Miami, where the Dolphins' poor performance last week was a representation of the great team they were up against more than their own mediocrity. On the other hand, the Bills' performance against the Patriots was simple to analyze: when the Patriots linemen had been secretly replaced by Jean-Claude Van Damme and other clones as such, the Bills looked great. Once the terrorist threat was averted and the Patriots' linemen returned to active duty, the Bills looked rather impotent. Dolphins get back on track here.
I'm sure many successful bettors bet against a team one week and then back them the next week! I am not one of them, but I still like Atlanta here. This year's book is down on Tampa Bay after years of being rosy about their chances, and while they won't be as bad as they were last week, that may just be because it's hard for them to be any worse. Atlanta by a touchdown, at least.
Ian loves the Giants' chances this year. I, even as a Giants fan, am skeptical. This week, though, the Giants are going to be playing an Eagles team that they match up well against -- the Giants' weakness (pass defense) is mirrored by the Eagles' (pass offense). Giants will keep it within a figgie here.
Ian (1-2 last week)
Sigh ... An ugly start to the season of Best Bets. Fortunately, I feel much better about this week's picks than last week's.
New Orleans' win at Cleveland last week was a very nice one, but how much of it was good play by the Saints, and how much of it was poor play by Cleveland? I'm definitely leaning toward more of the latter. I fully expect Green Bay, after getting demolished at home by Chicago, to rebound against the Saints in a big way. If you're dying to start Brett Favre for old times' sake, this is the week to do it.
I don't get it. Carolina gets walloped at home while their offense looks clueless without Steve Smith. Meanwhile, Minnesota goes on the road and defeats a solid Redskins team in primetime. And now the Vikings are underdogs at home? If Steve Smith comes back and plays, I may regret this one, but word is he's out at least another week. Look for the Vikings to repeat last week's performance -- methodical yet effective offense, and strong defensive play.
Indy knows they were lucky to come away with a victory against the Giants. They were out-muscled up front and were not effective on offense as they used to be. They'll be out to prove this week that not only can they win, but they can win big like people expect them to. How convenient, then, that the Texans are coming to town.
Todd S.: Michael Jenkins is still available in two of the leagues I'm in. Do I pick him up, or stick with Roddy White?
Bill: Is "both" an acceptable answer? At this point, it's hard to say whether Jenkins is the #1 receiver in Atlanta as of yet -- mainly because there's only been one week of data and one game's worth of plays. Keep in mind that Atlanta was rushing the ball for most of the second half with a double-digit lead -- that may be the case against Tampa Bay this week as well, which may still not provide enough information as to how valuable Roddy White may or may not be this season. Without being able to give a straight yes-or-no answer with any sort of authority, my advice would be to watch the Atlanta game this week, if at all possible. See how the offense employs White and Jenkins, the types of routes they're running on pass plays, whose side of the field Michael Vick's focusing his tiny passing cone on, etc. That may be the only way to determine who your best bet is at Atlanta WR for the rest of the season.
Alex B.: Hey guys. Long time listener, first time caller.
I could use some sit/start advice this week. I have to start three of the following WRs in a league with a scoring system too complicated to explain: Santana Moss, Darrell Jackson, Drew Bennett, Reggie Brown, Troy Williamson, Michael Jenkins, Deion Branch. Right now, I have Moss, Jackson, and Bennett in the lineup. After watching San Diego destroy Oakland, I'm worried that the Titans won't be able to do anything against the Chargers. Jenkins and Williamson both had good Week 1 performances, but neither has that great of a matchup. I don't want to start Brown against the Giants unless I really have to.
Ian: The first choice is easy. Santana Moss has too much big-play ability to sit on any given week. He can take a screen pass and turn it into a dozen fantasy points in the blink of an eye. Darrell Jackson is certainly your best option at WR2; a home matchup against Arizona should provide plenty of offense and fantasy points for all players involved. The third choice is certainly the toughest one. I'd stay away from Reggie Brown; the Eagles have too many better weapons available in the passing game. Deion Branch isn't start-worthy quite yet because it will take him some time to acclimate himself to his new team -- I envision him as having only spot duty on offense this weekend. Michael Jenkins also seems a risky play this week. Tampa Bay may have gotten demolished by Baltimore, but they kept the Ravens wideouts in check. I expect the Falcons to lean heavily on the run next week, with the occasional deep ball. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell if the occasional deep ball will be headed toward Jenkins, Roddy White, or even Alge Crumpler, who's been known to run a deep seam route now and then. Jenkins is as likely to put up a dozen fantasy points as he is to put up two.
That narrows it down to what I believe is the real decision: Drew Bennett or Troy Williamson. Williamson looked both great and terrible Monday night, making some nice big plays while dropping some easy catches. Drew Bennett is the clear #1 option in the Titans passing game, though as you point out, they're in for a tough matchup at San Diego this week, who completely shut down Randy Moss and the Raiders. Watching the Minnesota offense, I think Troy Williamson is emerging as a weekly fantasy starter. Their offensive philosophy seems to have become run, run, run, run, short pass to Wiggins, run, run, bomb to Williamson, repeat. The fact that he was targeted with several deep passes during Monday night's game means that it is a trend likely to continue, and he should be good for one big play a week. With a third wide receiver, that's all you really need. I'd go with Santana Moss, Darrell Jackson and Troy Williamson.
Ian: Perhaps the toughest part of the off-season is waiting to see which players will take home the coveted Keep Choppin' Wood awards next year, for giving their best to help their team perform its worst. There were several noteworthy performances this week, including J.P. Losman for his un-awareness in the end zone, Jake Plummer for his best efforts to start a quarterback controversy in Denver, Sean Taylor for two huge personal fouls late in the game (although the hit out-of-bounds was ticky-tack), Aaron Brooks for basically falling asleep in the pocket, and Drew Bledsoe for being, well, Drew Bledsoe. As much as it kills me to say so, however, this week's award clearly belongs to none other than Chris Simms of Tampa Bay. It's one thing to throw for only 133 yards in a home opener while leading your team to zero points. It's another to throw three interceptions in the process, one of which was returned for a touchdown. It was a truly monumental effort to help the Bucs start out 0-1, and for that I present him with the Week 1 Keep Choppin' Wood award.
*Note: Not an actual word.
126 comments, Last at 17 Sep 2006, 6:22pm by Ralph