Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley
With the regular season over, it's time to look back at months and months of losing. Before we announce the winner of Part II of our Loser League contest (covering Weeks 10 through 17), let's look at the biggest losers of Week 17:
QB: Ben Roethlisberger finished the game against the Browns with one interception and one head/neck injury. He scored a 3.
RB: Larry Johnson had just 18 yards rushing, 0 yards receiving, and a 1.
WR: Two veterans scored a 0: Roy Williams (4 yards) and Isaac Bruce (8 yards).
K: What a miserable week for kickers! Rian Lindell (who was kicking in a vortex in Buffalo), Phil Dawson, and Rob Bironas each missed their only kick and scored a -2. Yet none was the biggest loser of the week -- that honor goes to Matt Prater, who kicked two extra points and missed one, finishing with a -3.
Now, the biggest losers of the second half of the season:
QB: The Rams won no games in the second half of the season, so it's fitting that their quarterback takes snaps for the All-Loser team. Marc Bulger finished with an 83.
RB: Kind of shocking to see Ronnie Brown's name here. But he hasn't scored 10 or more points since Week 10. He finished with just 58.
WR: Brandon Stokley runs away from the field here. Aside from a 10-point outburst in Week 13, he never scored more than 4 in any week, and finished with just 27.
K: Jacksonville's Josh Scobee scored a mere 24 to "lead" all kickers. He was only 5-of-9 on field goals over the second half of the season.
With that rigamarole taken care of, it's time to announce our winner: Alec Breckenridge of Libertyville, Illinois, owner of the Purple Pulchritude, who scored a mere 286 points. Congratulations Alec! You sure know your losers!
(Ed. Note: We need to matchup some database information to get our "both halves" winner, so we'll have that announcement next week.)
It's also time for our annual playoff fantasy draft. Our fantasy scoring is as follows:
Each player drafts a quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker, and a defense. You get the fantasy points for your guys, but if they go out (either for injury or because their team loses) you do not get to replace them.
The participants, in their original drafting order, as determined using the "RAND" function in Excel:
We used a serpentine draft, so the draft order switched every round. Also, to save time, everyone made two picks at a time in Rounds 8 and 9.
As always, we welcome our readers to compile their own "Best of the Rest" teams in the comments, and we'll track the best one in the next few weeks of Scramble for the Ball.
Ned Macey: DeAngelo Williams, RB, CAR
Bill Barnwell: Michael Turner, RB, ATL
Aaron Schatz: Brian Westbrook, RB, PHI
Vince Verhei: Chris Johnson, RB, TEN
Doug Farrar: Peyton Manning, QB, IND
Jason Beattie: Brandon Jacobs, RB, NYG
Jason Beattie: Steve Smith, WR, CAR
Doug Farrar: Le'Ron McClain, RB, BAL
Vince Verhei: Eli Manning, QB, NYG
Aaron Schatz: Roddy White, WR, ATL
Bill Barnwell: Reggie Wayne, WR, IND
Ned Macey: Joseph Addai, RB, IND
Ned Macey: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, ARI
Bill Barnwell: Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN
Aaron Schatz: Donovan McNabb, QB, PHI
Vince Verhei: Anquan Boldin, WR, ARI
Doug Farrar: Derrick Ward, RB, NYG
Jason Beattie: Mushin Muhammad, WR, CAR
Jason Beattie: Domenik Hixon, WR, NYG
Doug Farrar: Vincent Jackson, WR, SD
Vince Verhei: LenDale White, RB, TEN
Aaron Schatz: Derrick Mason, WR, BAL
Bill Barnwell: Kurt Warner, QB, ARI
Ned Macey: Hines Ward, WR, PIT
Ned Macey: Dallas Clark, TE, IND
Bill Barnwell: DeSean Jackson, WR, PHI
Aaron Schatz: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, SD
Vince Verhei: Justin Gage, WR, TEN
Doug Farrar: Anthony Gonzalez, WR, IND
Jason Beattie: Philip Rivers, QB, SD
Jason Beattie: Kevin "Who's the" Boss, TE, NYG
Doug Farrar: Antonio Gates, TE, SD
Vince Verhei: Amani Toomer, WR, NYG
Aaron Schatz: Santonio Holmes, WR, PIT
Bill Barnwell: Bo Scaife, TE, TEN
Ned Macey: Bernard Berrian, WR, MIN
Ned Macey: Pittsburgh defense
Bill Barnwell: Baltimore defense
Aaron Schatz: Tennessee defense
Vince Verhei: John Carney, K, NYG
Doug Farrar: Carolina defense
Jason Beattie: John Kasey, K, CAR
Jason Beattie: Philadelphia defense; Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR
Doug Farrar: David Akers, K, PHI; Michael Jenkins, WR, ATL
Vince Verhei: New York Giants defense; Heath Miller, TE, PIT
Aaron Schatz: Rob Bironas, K, TEN; Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, MIN
Bill Barnwell: Marvin Harrison, WR, IND; Neil Rackers, K, ARI
Ned Macey: Adam Vinatieri, K, IND; Jake Delhomme, QB, CAR
|Final FO Playoff Fantasy Rosters|
|QB||Jake Delhomme, CAR||Kurt Warner, ARI||Donovan McNabb, PHI||Eli Manning, NYG||Peyton Manning, IND||Philip Rivers, SD|
|RB||DeAngelo Williams, CAR||Michael Turner, ATL||Brian Westbrook, PHI||Chris Johnson, TEN||Le'Ron McClain, BAL||Brandon Jacobs, NYG|
|RB||Joseph Addai, IND||Adrian Peterson, MIN||LaDainian Tomlinson, SD||LenDale White, TEN||Derick Ward, NYG||Jonathan Stewart, CAR|
|WR||Larry Fitzgerald, ARI||Reggie Wayne, IND||Roddy White, ATL||Anquan Boldin, ARI||Vincent Jackson, SD||Steve Smith, CAR|
|WR||Hines Ward, PIT||DeSean Jackson, PHI||Derrick Mason, BAL||Justin Gage, TEN||Anthony Gonzalez, IND||Muhsin Muhammad, CAR|
|WR||Bernard Berrian, MIN||Marvin Harrison, IND||Santonio Holmes, PIT||Amani Toomer, NYG||Michael Jenkins, ATL||Domenik Hixon, NYG|
|TE||Dallas Clark, IND||Bo Scaife, TEN||Visanthe Shiancoe, MIN||Heath Miller, PIT||Antonio Gates, SD||Kevin Boss, NYG|
|K||Adam Vinatieri, IND||Neil Rackers, ARI||Rob Bironas, K, TEN||John Carney, K, NYG||David Akers, PHI||John Kasay, CAR|
Ned Macey: The playoffs seemed particularly balanced to me this year. The only team I'm very confident will win its first game is Carolina, so I went with Williams and waited on Delhomme, which allowed me to get better receivers and Clark. Addai was a reach based on regular season fantasy numbers, but he looked healthy against Tennessee. I thought Fitzgerald was the last stud receiver, and I think Arizona wins one, or at worst, loses a shootout. So, I probably need a Colts-Carolina Super Bowl to win. I'm not sure I like those odds.
Bill Barnwell: I wish I could say I had a strategy for picking my team. I've tried them in previous years and have always been miserable in this competition despite being our "fantasy guy." My picks were mostly "Hey, he's still available? His team might make it to the Super Bowl!" The only way to win this thing is to pick the guys who last the longest, and no one has any idea who's making it to the Super Bowl. In other words, you might as well call my team "Crapshoot."
Aaron Schatz: I don't think I've ever seen so many players from fifth and sixth seeds chosen in the five years we've been doing this online. I originally decided that I should put my money where my mouth is and ride the Eagles. They at least should get two games, and I was planning to take Akers too but didn't get him. Eventually, I realized how many reasonable running back picks there are, between the fact that lots of teams have a good shot at this year's championship and the fact that most of those teams use a committee, so I think I may have jumped on Westbrook a little bit early. It's amazing -- Willie Parker and Ronnie Brown are still out there for "Best of the Rest" teams, and Norwood and Sproles make interesting picks if you believe in the Falcons or Chargers. On that point -- I believe in the Falcons over the Cardinals, whose defense has collapsed, so Roddy White should be a sweet pick. I think Colts-Chargers is the closest game in the first week and if the Chargers win, L.T. should be worth a ton for two games. My other AFC picks show how I have no idea who will win, although it won't be the Dolphins. Visanthe Shiancoe is Eagles insurance; he could be the top tight end of the playoffs if the Vikings upset Philadelphia.
Vince Verhei: Early on, I was thrilled to get my top running back, then my top quarterback, then my No. 2 wide receiver. I was uncomfortable going Titans-Titans at running back, but at the time I picked White, there were no other good options at runner or receiver. When the draft was done, I realized I was almost entirely reliant on the Giants and Titans, and that if either of those teams misses the Super Bowl, I'm probably screwed.
Doug Farrar: Manning and McClain were my no-brainers; outstanding players playing their best at the right time. Manning has been way past en fuego for half a season, and it’s a lot of fun watching McClain -- all 6 feet, 250 pounds of him -- running behind Lorenzo Neal and an unbalanced offensive line. Ouch! Ward strikes me as the NFL player most due a few touchdowns right now, especially depending on the health of Brandon Jacobs. Jackson and Gonzalez are my DYAR buddies (Jackson is especially underrated), while Jenkins was the late-round filler. Beyond that, my draft was based on two simple principles: Go with the hot hand, and stay the hell away from the Cardinals.
Jason Beattie: As the resident slacker cartoonist, I have the best gig in this draft, because the bar is set pretty low for me. With my first two picks, I snagged Jacobs as the best remaining running back (presuming he's actually healthy) and Steve Smith as the top wide receiver, figuring the pickings would already be lousy when it got back to me twelve picks later. Then based on those picks, I decided to build my team primarily around Carolina and the Giants. In retrospect, I suppose I should have taken more than one AFC player ... so, now I'm a reluctant Chargers fan. But at least I'm not putting any faith in Arizona like some of these so-called "experts."
Before the season began, Vince and Ben picked Over/Under win totals for every team in the AFC and NFC. How'd they do? Poorly! Let it be known that both men finished below .500 in knowing which teams would be good and which would not. By a single pick Vince "wins" the contest with Ben -- which is actually even less impressive than winning the AFC West. At least Ben matched 16 Over picks with 16 Unders; Vince picked more Unders than Overs, which fits his cynical, pessimistic nature. The real lesson from this table: If Ben thinks you're going to struggle, expect to contend for the playoffs into December.
Down 3-0 deep in New England territory, the Bills faced a third down just before halftime. A Fred Jackson run left them in great position to kick a game-tying field goal, and with 22 seconds, there should have been plenty of time to get the kicking unit on the field and ready to go. Instead, Bills center Duke Preston decided that would be a good time to pick a fight with the Patriots. The scuffle prevented the refs from even spotting the ball, let alone for the Bills to get set up, as the last seconds of the half ticked away, the Patriots skipped into the locker room, leaving the gobsmacked Buffalo team looking at each other, trying to figure out what had just happened. Duke Preston, this KCW's for you.
Usually this award is given to the coach who shows the most courage by eschewing a punt and electing to go for it. This week, we're honoring a coach who elected to kick early. The Patriots faced a third-and-8 at their own 41, up 13-0 with 5:16 left in the fourth quarter. Rather try to pick up a first down in the season's most ridiculous wind conditions, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called for a quick kick. Matt Cassel's third-down punt caught the Bills completely off guard and rolled to a stop 57 yards later at the Buffalo 2, effectively ending the game.
The playoffs are ready to go, and before you know it the NFL season will be over, and with it your daily football fix here at FO. Where will you turn for your daily sports fix? We humbly recommend Vinny V's Sports Report, Vince's new blog focusing on the NFL and Seattle sports, or whatever else crosses his mind. It's also the home of Vince's *ahem* semi-regular podcasts. We're scheduled this Saturday to record a show with FO buddy Bill Barnwell discussing the Wild Card games, so be sure to check it out!