An upset-fueled Week 4 led to new expectations for surprising teams like Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Texas A&M, but poor performances at LSU and Notre Dame led to early-season firings.
30 Sep 2009
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: So, is there a pattern to Scramble and crushing its writers' teams? Last year, it was written by Seattle fans Vince and Ben, and Seattle was annihilated by injuries.
Mike: To be fair, Seattle is getting annihilated by injuries again this year.
Tom: Ian Dembsky is a Bucs fan, and was the original writer of Scramble in 2003 as the Bucs were coming off a Super Bowl win.
Mike: Barnwell's a Giants fan, wasn't he writing it the year they won?
Tom: Yes, but he countered this by originally picking the Giants to finish with the worst record in the league.
Mike: Barnwell knows about the Inverse-Hype theory of team success? Must eliminate him before he passes on any more sacred Steelers fan knowledge...
Tom: I'm not really sure what team Vivek is a fan of.
Mike: It is interesting that Scramble writers are in large part fans of successful teams. Maybe fans of successful teams are just more likely to be active in an exercise to identify which teams are best?
Tom: You mean Scramble? Really?
Mike: True, the column is usually an exercise to figure out which of Tony Dungy and Mo Rocca would win in a cage match.
Tom: And when I started really reading FO, the Titans were 5-11 and going through another 2005 season.
Mike: Wait, they went through two 2005 seasons? We need to see if Fisher has a star-shaped mole on his chest.
Tom: Sorry, another 5-11 season in 2005. I bet Fisher wishes he could travel through time, back to 2008, when he had a return man and a good pass defense.
Mike: I'm more and more convinced that it's becoming increasingly impossible to have adequate pass defense, at least at the end of halves and games. I find it particularly interesting that the no-huddle offenses you normally see in those situations haven't been adopted as the base offense by any team other than the Colts, despite how well they work for most teams who aren't the Eagles.
Tom: Isn't the lesson of the Bills that the no-huddle doesn't solve your basic issues? Remember, they fired Turk Schonert because the no-huddle as their base offense looked like an ever-loving disaster.
Mike: Has it really been any more or less of a disaster without the no-huddle, though?
Tom: Maybe not, but I think it does suggest you need a certain level of offensive competence to consider running the no-huddle.
Mike: Perhaps. It's probably analogous to a defense's switch to the 3-4. It takes time and training and in most cases personnel to make it work properly.
Tom: Or, like Bum Phillips said, just having more good linebackers than defensive linemen.
Mike: I'm going to say that he subconsciously understood that it was the superior defensive scheme and gathered linebackers accordingly, to make this go along more smoothly with my biases.
Mike: I'm happy to report another glorious victory for FO over its foes in the CBS Experts Ridiculous IDP League. The team has performed really well thus far, with two decisive wins and one close loss.
Tom: I take it your opponent didn't have Maurice Jones-Drew, then.
Mike: Thankfully, no. He did have Drew Brees, but the Saints were rather pedestrian this week. The one disappointment for me was Tony Romo. Again. It was a workmanlike performance, but it was also against Carolina. I'm probably going to start giving the nod to Roethlisberger against most opponents from here on out.
Tom: That sounds like it's probably a good idea.
Mike: A key to this early success has been defense. A lot of owners in IDP leagues treat defense as second-class, but having a strong stable of defenders is a huge benefit. Granted, pretty much every defender was taken in the second half of the draft, but I started grabbing defense a bit earlier than others, particularly defensive line, which set me up nicely to get good value in the last rounds.
Tom: And I take it you didn't grab DeMarcus Ware, he of the zero sacks this year.
Mike: Amusingly, my opponent had Ware this week. I suppose it also depends upon your league's scoring rules. The CBS league is pretty liberal, 2 points for passes defensed, 2 points for sacks, 1 point for tackles and .5 points for tackle assists. All but one of my defenders, for instance, outscored T.J. Houshmandzadeh this week, and all but three outscored Chris Cooley. It was a really solid all-around effort by the whole team. I'm taking them all out for hot dogs.
Tom: I'm sure they'll be pleased.
Mike: Which is to say I'm buying a metric crapload of hot dogs and eating them all myself. I may mail pictures of myself eating said hot dogs to the players involved, but that might spark some uncomfortable investigations.
Tom: Contrary to my fears, Trent Edwards didn't end up as the league's top fantasy quarterback this week. He was my opponent in the league where I faced Brees in Week 1 and Schaub in Week 2. I drafted the Jaguars' defense, but they were terrible, so I had a waiver wire decision to make, and I foolishly picked Oakland's DST playing against the Broncos, rather than vice versa. I lost my game by 16.03 points, with the Raiders D giving me 2 points and the Giants D giving my opponent 22.
Mike: That's awful, but it does reinforce my standing policy of ignoring the AFC West whenever possible.
Mike: It really is, although does Sproles have a reputation as a quality receiving threat?
Tom: He'd been a decent fantasy performer the first couple weeks, and he's been getting the catches out of the backfield.
Mike: Fair enough.
Tom: Oh, in the league where I barely lost last week, I lost another close game again, this time by 4 points. Frank Gore cost me -- I was hesitant to start him, but he was active and if he hadn't suffered that injury, I would have had the points I needed.
Mike: That's really rough. There's no good way to account for injuries, unless you had some sort of system where an injured player was subbed out for the top player in that position on your bench. That would create too many headaches to create, however.
Tom: Instead, Gore gave me .4 while Moreno and Benson on the bench put up 15 and 14. With Gore out, I'll be starting Benson this week as he goes against the Browns, I think. I also dropped Rashard "Zero Touches Against the Bengals" Mendenhall to pick up Glen Coffee.
Mike: As sad as it is, dropping Mendenhall looks like a good choice. Despite how awful Parker is, the Steelers appear to be committed to him. Also, anyone against the Browns is a great start, or for that matter anyone against Kansas City.
Tom: Jacobs is my other starting running back, and guess who the Giants are playing? My third fantasy team was my first "blowout" win, 105-75, but it didn't feel like that.
Mike: Why not?
Tom: I was down 75-43 after the noon and 3 p.m. games, with Peyton Manning, Felix Jones and Dallas DST to go, and Dallas put up a fat goose egg last week. Of course, Peyton goes and puts up 31 points, so when Felix picked up about 20 on the first play from scrimmage in Monday Night Football, I pretty much had my game won.
Mike: That's always a nice feeling, although part of the nerve-wracking aspects of fantasy football is the chance that one of your big performers or two can just light things up on any given week, or just lay an egg. The Yahoo! League! Went! Well! Despite a rather sputtering New Orleans offense.
Tom: I had a co-worker this week whose team lost because of Brees's performance.
Mike: It actually wasn't really a spectacular week, everyone just played above-average. No real stand-outs, only a few disappointments. I ended up with a 114; if Colston puts up what I usually expect from him, that means a pretty-good week for this team is around 120 to 125, which will win most games. Ochocinco has been a general disappointment thus far, though. This makes me sad, I thought I had a real steal in him.
Tom: Let us not speak the name of Domenik Hixon.
Mike: Well, he's injured, have to cut him some slack.
Tom: Oh, I know, but the Hixon thing was all about playing the "target roulette wheel," and it seems like Smith and Manningham win that one. I know I shouldn't whine about injuries, but my Tomlinson pick is working out great, as is my Welker pick.
Mike: Yeah. At least things are starting to normalize, however. Teams with good offenses put up good numbers, but they don't break the fantasy game. I imagine a lot of this has to do with the availability of tape. On the other hand, you can't account for injuries. Although I don't think Tomlinson was a good pick even without injuries.
Tom: 10th overall? He'd been fairly healthy most of his career.
Mike: He really seems to be on a steady decline, fantasy-wise, with a steady increase to his high in 2006, and now a steady decrease. It is somewhat interesting that he hasn't simply dropped off, following the modern running back path of a big buildup in production until injury or the curse of 370 cuts them down.
Tom: So, how's that Michael Turner pick working out for everybody else? I see he's been the No. 51 back in Yahoo! thus far, or about 15 slots below where KUBIAK had him.
Bill Barnwell was kind enough to send in this FO staff fantasy football league update:
Bill (3-0) 85, Will (1-2) 83
Yes, I rode Kevin Kolb all the way to 27 points and the early lead as the league's only 3-0 team. Probably would have helped, though, if I'd gotten more than a -2 from Darren McFadden (fumbles count for -2 regardless of whether they're lost or not). Will needed 11 points from Jason Witten and Jonathan Stewart for the win on Monday night, but only got eight.
Vince (2-1) 83, Ian/Al (1-2) 71
The reverse jinx Ian put on his team continues to cost he and Al, as "Scramble Forever" lost despite getting 31 points from Maurice Jones-Drew.
Doug (2-1) 74, Rob (1-2) 55
Lee Evans, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez all looked like they had great matchups for Rob, but they only combined for five points; Doug won handily, but could've had even more if he started the Ravens D (17 points) over the Eagles (6).
Elias (2-1) 101, Vivek (2-1) 60
Vivek was knocked from the undefeated ranks by a fair amount, but starting an inactive Dwayne Bowe and losing Frank Gore early in the Vikings game certainly didn't help. Elias paced the league in points, thanks to 47 points from his running back trio (DeAngelo Williams 7, Pierre Thomas 24, Willis McGahee 16), and 25 from his kicker (Mason Crosby) and defense (Chargers).
Pat (2-1) 95, Sean (1-2) 92
A hard-luck loser again, Sean had the third-highest point total of the week, but couldn't pull out the win. He has 308 points -- 59 more than anyone else in the league -- and is still 1-2. A correction is coming. Had he started Donald Driver (16) or DeSean Jackson (20) over either Calvin Johnson (4) or Vincent Jackson (12), he would've pulled it out.
Tom: It's the Bell+Howell Silver Sonic XL!
Mike: I have such fond memories of Bell+Howell from my academic career, although many of them are amusement at various products not functioning properly. Even so, it's kind of sad that they're now in the domestic spying device business.
Tom: I wonder how recession-proof domestic spying devices are.
Mike: I'd imagine it's a big recession business, actually. Lots of bored unemployed people with nothing better to do than spy on their neighbors.
Tom: I know, people will always care about what their neighbors say about them, but they've done it for thousands of years without the Silver Sonic or similar devices.
Mike: True, but for thousands of years people entertained themselves without Lego.
Tom: Good point. Without football, too.
Mike: Wait, what? There was a world without football?
Tom: Well, in the world before football, people traveled this vast country in covered wagons, shooting buffalo, trading with the natives, and usually dying of dysentery.
(Mike grabs a s'more and gathers 'round the campfire to hear stories about the Dark Ages)
Tom: People can still travel by covered wagons, but even that has become part of our football culture.
Mike: The weird part of this commercial is that it's A-OK with people spying on their neighbors, but seems to assume that they will only use these powers for good. Less good, actually, and more ... banal. Like making sure their friend's new boyfriend is a nice guy?
Tom: Or wearing it to class so they can hear the teacher better, and nobody will notice! Because everyone talks on their cell phone during class. Or "look what nice things other people are saying about you!"
Mike: Apparently Bell+Howell thinks people live in a magical world where everyone doesn't hate you. Maybe something horrible happened to their head of marketing as a child and convinced him that the world is a good place.
Tom: Although people believe that learning more about others leads to greater liking, more information about others leads, on average, to less liking. So the Silver Sonic XL is just a device for justifying our hatred of people.
Mike: Isn't pretty much everything we see used as some justification for our hatred of people? At some point you have to sit back and think that the domestic spying device/bingo assistant/hunting aid is just a domestic spying device/bingo assistant/hunting aid.
Tom: Well, you know, some enhanced hearing devices actually do come out and admit as much. That looks like a deer blind, though the concept would seem to work the same way for other, non-four legged game.
Mike: That one also admits that it turns the user into a superhuman mutant, so it might just be a primer in preparation for the inevitable civil war. This may be the most insidious object created by man ... at least since Simmons's last book.
Mike: As far as I can tell, Simmons is actually an esteemed basketball expert. The problem is that I really couldn't care less about basketball, so everything's a bit skewed. The commercial also opens up with birdwatching, apparently to remind us that at one point, people did actually watch birds.
Tom: Just like George McFly. I'm surprised they didn't pair the Silver Sonic with binoculars or a telescope.
Mike: I imagine they'd really find more commercial success if they just branded it as The Pervatron and were done with it.
Tom: Well, you know, with every product, the first uses are sex and crime, then the other uses emerge later.
Mike: ... I'm trying to figure out how this theory applies to the slinky, but I'm not sure I want to know.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD AWARD: Your Scramble writers swear they aren't trying to make Keep Chopping Wood solely the province of somebody from one of their teams. It's just that when a returner fumbles the ball away twice and hands the other team two prime scoring opportunities that they convert into touchdowns in a game his team loses by seven points, well, it's pretty tough to say anyone else chopped more wood. Sorry, Ryan Mouton, you're it this week.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: The problem with the Martz Award is that, Marvin Lewis excepted, NFL coaches generally have enough of an idea of what they're doing they rarely do something completely crazy or counterproductive. Instead, the Martz Award devolves to foolish conservatism. This week's winner is Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, for several decisions he made against the Patriots. The first came with 7:00 to play in the third quarter. Trailing 16-10, the Falcons faced a fourth-and-5 at the Patriots 38-yard line. Smith had in the second quarter gone for it on fourth-and-3 from the 34-yard line when down 10-3, and it had paid off in a touchdown. Now, he goes conservative, and on the ensuing possession the Pats kick a field goal to go up two scores. After this, Smith goes on to punt thrice more in the fourth quarter, on fourth-and-7 from his own 39 with 13:20 to play, fourth-and-3 from his own 33 with 11:05 to go, and, down 26-10, at fourth-and-4 from his own 31 with 7:02 left and only one timeout remaining. After that final punt, the Falcons would not see the ball again.
COLBERT AWARD: Smith's Martz Award-worthy decisions stand in sharp contrast to the other coach in that game. As fans of teams whose hopes have been crushed by the Patriots, it pains your Scramble writers to praise Bill Belichick, but he is legitimately bolder in his decision-making than most NFL coaches. After Smith punted the ball away the first time, the Patriots gained nine yards on their first three plays. Facing a fourth-and-1 at their own 24, up by six, almost every coach would automatically punt the ball away. Not Bill Belichick, not this day. Sammy Morris picks up two yards to convert, and the drive continues. Later that same drive, Belichick faces pretty much the same decision Smith had faced: fourth-and-3 at the Falcons 37, and unlike Smith, goes for it and converts. The drive eventually stalled out in a field goal, but the Patriots were up two scores due to their coach's boldness and were never in danger of losing after that.
Mike: Fortunately for most coaches and players, the majority of teams safely ignore National Jump to Conclusions Week and its lesser-known cousin, National Why-Isn't-DVOA-Ready-Yet-Its-Been-Literally-Weeks Week. Week 3, however, is when the knives come out. Around the league, coaches are starting to look for convenient scapegoats, fall guys, and agent provocateurs. Kickers are a common target, but no target is more juicy than a quarterback, especially a quarterback who was never "your guy." There is a lot to be said for the judicious application of quarterback-blame. Many quarterbacks are complete meatheads on the Joe Football scale of brain/rock ratio, but the public expects them to be some kind of scheming, inscrutable genius instead of, you know, some guy who memorizes routes and then throws a ball to a specific spot. Although it didn't work so well for Rod Marinelli, it's even easier when your quarterback is easily distracted by Italian confections or nitrate-laden pig fat.
The opposite is true for coaches who have tied their fates to an Official Quarterback of the Future, and regardless of how respectable a job you or your quarterback is doing, it always ends in some sort of tragedy -- like a few assistants losing their heads, or Rodney Harrison paying you a visit -- if the rest of the team fails. Like it or not, the coach and quarterback are lightning rods for all criticism in this league, and when things go south, the coach needs to get creative. Many try valiantly, but when a team is falling apart, even chutzpah and scheming can't save you.
Tom: Unfortunately, Kevin Kolb was not included in the list of possible Loser League picks this year. These guys were, however, and none of them put up 30 points this past weekend.
QB: Curses, curses, curses to Brady Quinn. Six-of-8 for 34 yards and an interception would be a wonderful Loser League performance, if not for that 10-attempt threshold. Instead, it's Derek Anderson who surpasses the 10-attempt barrier for the Browns, and Anderson who puts up a Week 3-worst -2. Narrowly behind him is Byron Leftwich at -1. Funny how the guy with the better Loser League score gets benched.
RB: When last seen in the NFL, Chris Brown was on the Titans, fumbling the ball away in the red zone in a Week 17 must-win game and a must-win playoff game. After a year on IR, Chris Brown is back to his old ways, fumbling the ball away in the red zone for the Texans. Two points for him last week, and -1 for him this week. Larry Johnson's spectacular 19 for 38 and a fumble and Michael Bennett's 8 for 18 leave them in a distant second with one point each.
WR: Santana Moss earned mention in this space the first week, and nearly made it the second week, but put up a league-worst 23 points this week. Instead you had Greg Camarillo, Jerheme Urban, Chansi Stuckey, Joey Galloway, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Donnie Avery, Jason Avant, David Anderson, AND Brad Smith tie at 1 point each. Kind of boring, huh?
K: Mike Nugent: the gift that keeps on giving for FO. He's been a staple since the Jets were foolish enough to spend a second-round pick on him. His draft position's not his fault, but his performance since he's been in the NFL is. Rob Bironas, who the Titans picked up in that same 2005 offseason as a street free agent, didn't put up a 0 this week, or many others.
(Ed. note: Loser standings through Week 3 will be updated sometime Wednesday evening.)
Ten Drink Drunk: I have MJD in one of my leagues and great depth at the RB position, but am thin at WR and could really use a better QB. In terms of general strategy, would it be wise to try to trade MJD after he put up good numbers against the soft Houston run D? He seems to be under performing so far, but maybe this was a legit breakout game rather than a Houston fluke (ala Thomas Jones week 1). What do you guys think?
Mike: I'm not sure what the proper response to this is ... it's either "no" or "very no."
Tom: While my initial thought is "aren't we past National Jump to Conclusions Week," I don't think you dismiss this idea out of hand. Let's say you have a solid stable of running backs, and you could get a great return from a guy like Maurice Jones-Drew, who is a second half of the top 10 back. If you have, say, two other top 20 backs on your roster, then maybe you can trade an MJD if you're weak at wideout.
Mike: For what, though? What receivers would people be willing to get rid of? You'd have to ask for two to get par, and that's pretty much the team's starting lineup. The reader asked about orchestrating a QB + WR deal, also, but lots of players only carry one quarterback, and it's been a pretty awful year for the low-end guys.
Tom: Sure, but maybe you have somebody who went QB/WR early when you drafted a couple of RBs. Maybe they drafted a backup guy, and they're willing to run with him to get the RB upgrade.
Mike: Are they going to give up their early QB, though? You only start one, whereas you usually get two or (often) three RBs, so you really need your quarterback to fire if you want to make a serious play at the title.
Tom: Sure, but let's say that you have MJD, Johnson, Thomas and Julius Jones in a 2 RB league. You don't need all those guys.
Mike: Having all those guys lets you play matchups off your bench, although I suppose you could lose one of them.
Tom: Right. And if you can go from a poor QB to a good one and get a WR upgrade, the trade could make sense.
Mike: But why would you pick MJD out of those four? You're almost certainly not going to get a QB and a WR, or at least a useful and consistent WR, unless you engineer some kind of three-way trade.
Tom: He's the most valuable chip you have to trade.
Mike: A much, much better solution under your hypothetical would be to try making two trades.
Tom: Pick up parts from the guy who gets MJD, and make another deal?
Mike: No, protect MJD. Take the 2 and 4, say. Trade the 4 for WR depth, and the 2 for a quality QB. Unless you are dead certain that the top RB's performance is going to crash, I think it's better to make two trades with players of equal value than trying to get two players of total value equal to your one. I don't think you'll ever get full value in the latter situation.
Tom: I agree that the basic point is that to trade a premium player like MJD, you have to get a premium return, and that's hard. And sounds a lot like pablum.
Mike: It does a bit, but it's true.
Brendan Scolari: So one guy in my league is tired of Portis not producing and is wiling to trade him for what he can get. I offered Leon Washington and he said he'd probably accept, but I told him I wanted to look into Portis's injury situation a bit more.
So I feel like this is a good buy low opportunity, but I'm worried that I may be overvaluing Portis just because he is a big name. He has struggled mightily so far, is hurt, and the Skins are having all sorts of problems. On the other hand Leon has gotten a lot of touches on offense this year but hasn't gotten too much red zone work.
What do you think, is this a good trade or has Portis declined too much for it to be worth it? This is a .5 PPR league with 3 bonus points for 100 yards rushing or receiving, otherwise it's standard scoring.
Tom: The Redskins organization just seems as deeply dysfunctional as it's been in years. And the offensive line is terrible.
Mike: Yeah, there's a chance that things will snap together and Portis will put up good numbers, but I don't feel comfortable predicting either way.
Tom: It feels like it's this kind of time the Redskins inexplicably win five out of six or something. Plus, you're giving up Leon Washington. Sure, it's .5 PPR, but Portis is still RB1 in Washington and I don't think that's about to change. I think you make the deal if you can. Portis, if the Redskins recover, is an auto-start, while Washington feels kind of like a marginal start to me.
Mike: There's really no way to know what the heck is going on with the Redskins, which I suppose isn't all that unusual. That is a good point, however. If you're not comfortable with your team, this is definitely an acceptable risk to take, because Portis does have much greater potential than Washington.
Don't forget to send your fantasy questions to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com! Do it!
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