A Super Bowl berth could be decided by the Patriots' ability to contain Le'Veon Bell -- and by Pittsburgh's ability to avoid their usual defensive breakdowns against New England.
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: So, it seems that the Steelers may not be the worst team in the league!
Tom: Pfft. You're writing about the Bears, not the Steelers. They've given up 40-plus in their last two games against actual NFL teams (sorry Julia). This Steelers success is probably bad for your mental health, anyway.
Mike: Actually, she's decided to put her full support behind Cincinnati at this point. The enemy of her enemy is apparently her friend.
Tom: Ruh-roh, they're playing each other this weekend, and it's on TV.
Mike: We could actually go over to our friend, the Ravens fan's house to watch it. It would be the first time we actually found a Bengals fan to join in our little divisional football party. Well, as close to a Bengals fan as we're going to get.
Tom: I feel that you should have some sort of small spousal wager on the outcome of the game, like dishes for a week or something.
Mike: We're both too terrified of the prospect of having to do more dishes to every take that wager. We really, really need a dishwasher. Anyway, the Bears, as you said, are kind of a mess. I feel bad for Jay Cutler.
Tom: Why, just because he has no offensive line, his running back's gone into a severe sophomore slump (see offensive line, lack of, above)?
Mike: They can move the ball well enough down the field, but the red zone is a mess. The running game is completely non-existent, and their only consistent red zone threat is Greg Olsen because their other options are all skinny, burny, returner-type receivers and/or Devin Hester. The real question (and one that may appear in FOA 2010) is whether Chicago will have the opportunity or ability to use the remaining years of Cutler's peak to rebuild the rest of the team into a championship squad.
Tom: Cutler is put in a position where he has to score every drive to win the game. I was actually heartened by the local fans this week, who seemed to realize that it wasn't Cutler's fault the defense gave up four touchdowns and a last-minute field goal in the first half to put the Bears behind 31-7.
Mike: I think we give regular football fans less credit than we should. We choose aspects of the game to obsess over, just like them. We simply prefer to focus on measurable things, rather than intangibles. For a lot of people, however, those unquantifiable things are where the magic is. It doesn't make them simple or dense or oafish or poor fans, just fans with different priorities. As loath as I am to say it, they may very well enjoy the game more than we do.
Tom: Oh, sure, I don't mind sitting back and enjoying the magic, but attributing wins and losses solely to the quarterback is like valuing batting average and RBIs over OBP and slugging in baseball. I really don't get it.
Mike: I don't think anybody really believes it, though. It gets press not because everyone agrees with it, but because it's a fun narrative, a kind of prism to view the game as a whole through; the league as 32 ships, each run by its own T.J. Hooker. Most people understand that's really not how any sport works -- wait, basketball. Most people understand that's not how any team sport works, but they can use the narrative to frame things like smack-talk and gives you any number of irrational debates. We at FO shun and avoid the irrational debates because they are just that: series of analytically-useless, incendiary "arguments" that will never be resolved to the satisfaction of anyone. Most fans aren't looking for resolution, however. They're looking for a chance to show how much they care about their team.
Tom: We do share a lot. I'm sitting there, yelling at the screen, exulting when the Titans make big plays and cursing when they screw up. I only go so far, though, and I just don't get that sort of meta-narrative you describe. Maybe it's a personality flaw on my part.
Mike: I wouldn't say it's a flaw or a credit. It's just different. There are fortunately insane and irrational areas where FO and more "standard" fans can still agree, though, like gambling. If you put up a book on which player Rodney Harrison would next use to further demolish credulity by calling "dirty."
Tom: Brett Favre, obviously. The man got called for a low block this year. That's the same thing Bobby Wade did, that ended Harrison's 2006 season. And Wade's play was legal!
Mike: I don't know, Brett Favre Brett Favre Brett Favre may be too high-profile. Harrison likes to target seemingly random players, those who don't have cushy media attention with which to fire back. Julian Peterson, maybe? Wait, only offensive players are dirty ...
Tom: If you say so.
Mike: Hey, I'm only going by the guidance of esteemed and NBC-approved studio commentator Rodney Harrison.
Tom: There's a reason I keep my eye on the late afternoon games until the last one is over. Then I hit "mute" when the studio guys are on.
Mike: That's kind of a shame, the rest of the crew is pretty good. Dungy in particular is great, even though he talks like he just got back from that unpleasantness with our cousins to the south with some interesting ideas about a game called foot-ball.
Mike: So, I'm left with another disappointing loss in my Yahoo! league. I should have known better than to start a running back against Pittsburgh, much less a second-tier back like Moreno.
Tom: Yes, that was foolish. On the other hand, if Monday Night Football were only 59 minutes long ...
Tom: Sorry to say, I think I would've gone with Moats, although I haven't had to experience the disappointment of a Slaton owner.
Mike: That probably would've been wise, but Moats is kind of a disaster, too. And I would've been starting both Moats and Slaton, which isn't a great option. Really, though, the culprits were Colston and Kaeding, with four and three points, respectively.
Tom: Colston did have a bad week. "Thankfully," I had him in one of the two leagues where I faced Warner and Fitz.
Mike: I suppose there's some solace in bad performances by players in games where you get crushed, anyway.
Tom: I fell from first to third in the one good league, but this is the second time I've finished 30-plus points below what Yahoo! tells me I should expect from my team that week. I have a pretty good team, I think, but just shockingly prone to random moments of badness.
Mike: That's why my No. 1 rule of fantasy football is consistent production.
Mike: That's my fault, really. I gave you that bit of advice.
Tom: I think you also told me to start Tomlinson instead of Mendenhall.
Mike: No. Dear God, no. I would never start Tomlinson.
Tom: I was happy when he fell to me with the 10th pick, but apparently he is, indeed, toast. The really bad thing is that of the nine players not on bye, Jones was the only one with a receiving or rushing touchdown. You almost have to try to accomplish something like that. Wes Welker, Ochocinco, Mendenhall, Julius Jones, Felix Jones, Tony Scheffler, LaDainian Tomlinson and Nate Burleson.
Mike: A tremendous effort, yes. The Cleveland Browns of the fantasy world.
Tom: And, of course, Peyton had only one passing touchdown. This is a fine week to have a terrible game, however. I'm still 20 points up on the fourth-place team and could be back in first place with a good week.
Mike: Yeah, there's plenty of season left, especially if you're near the top.
Tom: I'm still pretty much eliminated in one league. Three games out, ninth place out of 10, top four teams make the playoffs. Of course, I've outscored one of the teams three games ahead of me by 50 points.
Mike: I have an interesting dilemma this week, Moreno at Washington or Choice at Green Bay. Choice is better, but a No. 2 back against a better defense. Moreno is a huge risk against anyone, however.
Tom: No. 3 running back, maybe. I feel like Washington is so screwed up right now. Plus, they just gave up a bunch of yards to Michael Turner.
Mike: True. I'm still on top of the CBS league, at least record-wise. I'm the only 7-2 team in the league, although I'm third in points, and left a lot on the bench this week. Once again, I started Romo over Roethlisberger. I should know better by now. I also left A.J. Hawk and Terrell Suggs on the bench. Hawk is problematic because he and Aaron Kampman bounce back and forth between having better days (although they are both solid IDP starters). I have no idea about Suggs, I must've just forgotten to set him in.
Mike: Slaton is on a bye, and my backup in CBS is sadly Jerome Harrison.
Tom: Baltimore's rush defense this year hasn't resulted in auto-sits, at least.
Mike: True, but he's a bad No. 2 back on a bad team.
Mike: He's taken, actually.
Tom: Wow, that's some loyalty for ya.
Mike: None of these are more attractive than Harrison, which is really, really sad.
Tom: Mewelde Moore is a No. 2 back on a good team and will get some work as a third-down back.
Mike: Yeah, I suppose. I can't believe I finally have good waiver position and I'm wasting it on Mewelde Moore. It hurts. Right in the dignity.
Tom: I have my own issues with one of my teams. Granted, I'm practically eliminated, but I feel like I could still go on a run. I went too light on wide receiver, though, so I've been scrambling all year after Anthony Gonzalez got hurt.
Mike: Gonzalez has been a disaster for everyone. He wo'nt be back until the playoffs in most leagues, so you can't even shop him off.
Tom: I did at least finally, eventually, drop Titans tight end Jared Cook. The league has18-player rosters, so keeping a project tight end and hoping he'd turn into something didn't hurt me that much. At least now I have one less really marginal wideout to have to vaguely consider starting each week.
Mike: Peace of mind is always nice.
by Bill Barnwell
Pat (6-3) 101, Me (6-3) 61
Who got stomped this week? Oh, that would be me. I made the FO league's first and only trade on Thursday, acquiring Kurt Warner and the Cardinals defense for Brett Favre and the Colts defense. The Cardinals D went straight into the lineup, but because of a superstition against making changes to the starting lineup Sunday morning, when the trade was processed and completed, I kept Warner on the bench so I could play Donovan McNabb. Ugh. Pat used Michael Turner and the Steelers D to come within three points of my final score.
Mike (3-6) 87, Rob (4-5) 64
Tanier wins! And it came despite having Brian Westbrook in the lineup. Mike kept in Chris Chambers, who scored two late touchdowns to pick up 19 points, while Jay Cutler scored 25. Rob got a combined 18 points from his five running backs and wide receivers.
Ian/Al (6-3) 113, Vivek (4-5) 94
In a Scramble grudge match, Ian and Al moved into a tie for first place in their division thanks to 22 points from the Seahawks defense and 50 points out of their running back trio of Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, and Maurice Jones-Drew. Vivek stuck with the Packers defense and got a -4, losing despite accruing 48 points out of his running back combination of Chris Johnson and Frank Gore. He's lost four in a row.
Aaron (4-5) 88, Doug (3-6) 79
Doug held a 78-72 lead heading into this matchup on Sunday night, with Heath Miller going up against Aaron's Hines' Ward. It came down to the final score, and when Ward bounded into the end zone instead of Miller, Aaron got the W.
Elias (6-3) 108, Vince (5-4) 77
Vince went through his bye week clearout this week, with six players on his roster on bye. Meanwhile, Elias got double digits out of six players, including 25 from DeAngelo Williams. It's a good week when you can bench Greg Olsen (25 points himself) and not care.
Will (4-5) 95, Sean (3-6) 70
Will's WR combination of Larry Fitzgerald and Miles Austin is going to be scary down the stretch. They had 34 points on Sunday, and that came on only ten combined catches. Sean could only pick up a combined three points from four spots thanks to poor days by LaDainian Tomlinson, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Shockey, and the 49ers' defense, which held court at the bottom of the barrel with a lofty -3.
Tom: Your tank, too, can be full for a mere $59.
Mike: I want to see this machine they have devised to materialize the loyalty of its owners.
Tom: If you're all brawn, how can you be all brains?
Mike: It's like light beer, man. It's all things to all people.
Tom: If you say so. Also, is it better to achieve of overachieve? For instance, Carson Palmer has achieved. He was a No. 1 overall pick who's been a pretty good quarterback. Carson Palmer has been much less of an overachiever than Charlie Frye. Dodge is therefore telling us they're more like Frye than Palmer.
Mike: Overachieve has always bothered me as a term. It seems like a petty way to separate people based on random and arbitrary standards. Also, unlike every other truck commercial, they have no accolades or statistics to dangle in front of us.
Tom: Thou liest! They have the accolades of their industry, they tell us that.
Mike: Oh, right. Like all those wealthy and powerful friends that I know, whose names I refuse to divulge.
Tom: That's what they carry in their full payload, along with the loyalty of their owners.
Mike: That is actually a big advantage the Ram has over other trucks. Unlike the competition, the Ram can carry a full payload. The F-150, for instance, explodes if you fully load the bed. The best you can do is two-thirds full.
Tom: It seems like a sort of existential crisis of the sort for which people are prescribed xanax.
Mike: That could explain the writing.
Tom: Eh. I blame acid.
Mike: That's what you blame everything on. For the last time, cats can't take acid. It just doesn't work.
Tom: I told you, it was an experiment. My roomate in college changed my screen saver to "I love kittens," so I added "... in my soup." I'm not a cat person. If I had a cat, I probably would've looked around for a Melmacian to give it to.
Mike: OK, then ... Sadly, we probably won't learn to respect pet-eating cultures until the space elves finally arrive and take over.
Tom: They mention a couple times that their tank is full. What kind of tank, and why would it not be full? Gas tank, sure, you just pay to fill it up.
Mike: This is (bad) poetry, so it must be a metaphor. It can't be a metaphor for sales, from what I gather the Ram is clearly not controlling 100 percent of the market.
Tom: I wonder if they're having some, uh, "performance" issues.
Mike: That's how it's going to be, eating kittens to Truck Erectile Dysfunction. Aren't you glad, dear readers, that you frequent such a respectable and upstanding site? Anyway, I imagine a full tank is more likely signifying a "going" problem.
Tom: So they need some truck avodart to go with the truck xanax.
Mike: Must keep up appearances. The other trucks are going bass fishing, after all, and there is nothing less manly than going to the bathroom during a seven-hour fishing session. This commercial is just so weird compared to other truck commercials. You look around the industry and see hard-edged commercials: Dennis Leary, Howie Long, etc. Dodge goes with ... metaphor and apostrophe.
Tom: They do talk about carrying livelihoods.
Mike: Pfft, my Honda Fit carries livelihoods.
Tom: Yes, but does it "deliver the goods without fail?" That really sounds like an express warranty to me.
Mike: Probably too vague for UCC protection, however. Although it would be interesting to see someone sue Dodge for the failure of his Ram to deliver a shipment of drunk co-eds unto him.
Tom: I was thinking more indemnification against maintenance and repair costs.
Mike: That would be a pretty bold statement to make. After all, Ram, unlike other trucks, can carry a full payload. A truly Sisyphean feat. I'm just wondering what planet this youtube commenter lives on. "It's about time someone focused on trucks!" Do you not watch any television on Sunday? Even non-football programming is saturated with truck commercials!
Tom: That's not even the best comment. "Great copywriting on this new Dodge Ram? spot. It's reflective of the times...a bit sober yet confident about what the future will bring. Good stuff! If anyone has the sixty second spot I saw last night during the world series, please post."
Mike: Copywriting? What?
Tom: At least it's not a Hemi commercial. I feel like we have to give Dodge credit for that.
Mike: That's damning with very faint praise, ike thanking your mugger for stabbing you in the shoulder instead of the stomach. Sure, it hurts a lot less, but you're still out a lot of money and stuck with something that's actively trying to kill you.
Tom: It's also not "Ram It" by the Rammers. Also killing people is bad, it can cost you money. I can't deny I'd be worried about the existential burdens of my truck if I bought a Ram.
Mike: Only costs you money if you send emails to each other, like "Hey guys, look at these numbers, that conclusively show that our product is actively killing people, but as unanimously agreed by a full quorum at our last meeting, we will continue to do nothing about it because killing people is making us giant piles of money." You're laughing, but this pretty much exactly happens all the time.
Tom: "Unsafe at any speed? Then it's just like the yacht I bought with all the money I made! Aren't you jealous of me, Mr. Guy in Chase Sapphire commercial?"
Keep Chopping Wood: When you're a bad team, playing on the road, it's important to try to play well. Or, if you can't play well, at least not make stupid mistakes. So, Albert Haynesworth, if the Falcons line up and Matt Ryan is going hut-hut and fourth-and-1 from the 8, don't jump offsides. Touchdown, Falcons, after the ensuing first-and-goal. So, Reed Doughty, if Michael Koenen is punting on fourth-and-4, don't jump offside. Matt Ryan did throw an interception after the drive continued, but when you give a team enough bites at the apple, it's tough to win. That's the 2009 Washington Redskins: team of wood choppers.
Mike Martz Award: The hardest challenges to win in the NFL, it seems, are those that require the reviewer to overturn a marginal call using unclear reviews and entailing the replacement of a particularly subjective judgment with a different particularly subjective judgment. Like, for instance, challenging a spot. In the middle of a pile, or looking at forward progress, it's difficult to overturn the call on the field. So, what did Andy Reid do? Use not just one, but both his challenges trying to get a more favorable spot, after plays outside the 40-yard line. Coaches, let this be a lesson to you -- don't challenge spots if you can avoid it.
Colbert Award: The Tennessee Titans faced a fourth-and-1 at the 49ers two-yard line with 7:18 to go in the game. Trailing in the fourth quarter and with only a 1-6 record, they elected to go for it. Fine. The playcall? With Vince Young in, something that used his mobility seemed sensible. The actual call? Something virtually unheard of in the NFL: straight college option. Young made the pitch, Chris Johnson took it in, and the Titans went on get the win. Kudos to offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger for reaching into his bag of tricks for an unconventional winner.
It's the halfway point for the Loser League, and we are happy to announce the first-half winner! Winston Justice Security Systems, come on down! WJSS combined some mightily mediocre talent for Loser League domination:
Quarterback: Jake Delhomme, JaMarcus Russell
Running Back: Cedric Benson, Larry Johnson, Julius Jones
Wide Receiver: Greg Camarillo, Steve Smith, Antwaan Randle-El
Kicker: Steven Hauschka, Ryan Succop
All the final scores can be found here.
This week was a rather disappointing week for the Loser League, as most players actually did pretty well.
Kicker: Hauschka comes through for our losers once again with -1 points. The Ravens really could have used that field goal he missed in their tough loss to Cincinnati, but as with many other Hauschka weeks, it simply was not meant to be. Baltimore has shown surprising loyalty to this guy.
Running Back: DeAngelo Williams may have had a huge game, but for some reason Jonathan Stewart couldn't capture any of the magic. While Stewart managed to put up 24 rushing yards and 14 receiving yards, all this hard work was undone by his fumble. He ended up with 1 measly point on the week.
Wide Receiver: Sometimes a player does pretty much nothing in a game, but barely manages to sneak past the threshold and avoid that penalty. This week Jabar Gaffney wasn't particularly bad or particularly good. He, in fact, didn't particularly do anything, but he did have two receptions for a whopping six yards. Two receptions gets him past the penalty, and yardage below 10 yards gets him 0 points.
Quarterback: This was actually a good week for men playing the quarterback position in the National Football League. While both of their teams lost (and they certainly looked less than impressive), Kyle Orton and Joe Flacco sat at the top of this week's losers with a painfully high total of 5 points. Orton had more yardage, Flacco had fewer interceptions, but the result is still the same.
Of course, now that the first half of the season is over, we can move on to the much-anticipated second half of the season, and with it Loser League 2009: Part Deux. A friendly blue box to your left has been added to help you join in the festivities, or you can just click here. To give you just the boost you might need, your Scramble writers will graciously provide you, our dear readers, with a few tips for how to be as bad at Loser League as we are!
Mike: I'm going with the equivalent of Cleveland QB here. Quinn is the starter, but that might change, and only one of your quarterbacks' points go toward your team total. One of Quinn or Anderson will start, and that man will put up truly awful Loser League points.
Tom: Things have crystalized a bit, so we have a clear playing field. Kerry Collins is done and Vince Young is the starter, barring injury. I agree that Cleveland QB is a great option here, provided Mangini doesn't get so frustrated he turns to Brett Ratliff.
Tom: Kansas City's Larry Johnson is gone, so maybe Jamaal Charles, whom CBS this week compared to Chris Johnson. You could try taking advantage of Josh McDaniels' love of Correll Buckhalter. As a form of risk management, one thing I like to do is take a bad No. 1 to go with two part-time guys who may get the penalty -- Thomas Jones was my first-half choice, but Julius Jones would've been a better one.
Mike: I disagree. Jones is actually a productive fantasy back some weeks, and that's death. If you're looking for bad starters, Knowshon Moreno has some good potential, but may be a bit too risky. Tim Hightower is getting eaten up by Beanie Wells, but he's still getting enough carries to avoid the penalty, and Arizona is usually playing a team with good enough defense to bottle him up. LaDainian Tomlinson is still somehow getting paid to play football for The Norv, so it might be worth it to take advantage of that. Two of these three will probably suck enough to get you good (lack of) points on a week-to-week basis.
Mike: Wide Receiver is pretty much random. Anyone with enough targets to avoid the penalty is good enough to potential ruin your game. I think that Nate Washington is a good option, as he is a clear No. 1 receiver on a team with an atrocious quarterback. Braylon Edwards should also get some consideration, since the halcyon days of Sanchezmania have passed us by.
Tom: This is such a crapshoot it's difficult to give advice -- ideally you have a team that throws a lot but is bad at passing, which is what made Randle-El one of your first half stars and Santana Moss an occasional very effective play. As part of my continuing efforts to rip on Denver, I'll also point out Jabar Gaffney here.
Mike: Nothing has really changed, kicker-wise. Any kicker on a team with a bad offense will do, although some kickers, like Steve Hauschka, are good plays because they're in the middle of just plain awful years.
Good luck with all of your losing!
Socctty: My running backs in a 1 PPR, 2 RB (w/ a WR/RB to add) league are as follows: SJax, RBush, FJones, JStewart, JFargas. Not exactly great pickings; I'd really love to get a #2 RB I can plug in and feel comfortable with. I'm looking at Ladell Betts, Run DMC, and Tashard Choice as waiver pick-ups instead of Justin Fargas. Is Kolby Smith worth a try?
Tom: I know McFadden is back, but Fargas has been getting the carries lately for the Raiders. I really think he's worth a start this week.
Mike: Choice really isn't a better option than Fargas, although I think Betts should get the nod over Fargas now that Portis is out.
Tom: I think that of the guys on the waiver wire, Betts is the best. It's all about the No. 1 back, and he has an RB1 on his roster in Steven Jackson. Bush and Felix are better in PPR leagues, but it's all about the touches.
Mike: Bush won't produce anything, and Dallas has stopped throwing to running backs as part of their game plan.
Tom: Bell and Thomas will get the rushing touchdowns first. I still think Fargas this week, though, because of the Kansas City matchup, and I don't think Washington will run as effectively as Pittsburgh did.
Socctty: Hey, while I'm at it... which WRs should I start (pick two)? Hester @SF, Burleson @ARI, Bowe @Oak? My immediate thoughts are with pleasant surprises Hester and Burleson, and Bowe has fallen out of favor with me. But Bowe put up 5 grabs for 56 yards and a TD against OAK in Week 2.
Mike: Chicago's offense is actually fairly functional, but Olsen is clearly the red zone target.
Tom: Yeah, Hester doesn't have much to make him attractive down there. I know Burleson was a disappointment for me in the first Arizona matchup, but I think he's the most attractive of those three.
Mike: Yeah. Oakland is also awful, so even Kansas City should be able to get decent points. Burleson and Bowe, then.
Fontes of Wayne: I went into the MNF game up 3 points, with Moreno and Scheffler still to go, and my opponent only had Jeff Reed. Three hours later, I had lost by one point. Should I just quit now, or should I dump my entire team to waivers first?
Tom: Sceffler was my bye-week fill-in and he had that one glorious catch.
Mike: Likewise. I'm pleased to say that Pittsburgh's defense has recovered. Anyway, here's the plan: You figure out which of the bottom-feeders has potential, then give them completely farcical sweetheart trades. Pump up the cupcakes and try to wreck everyone ahead of you in the standings, then sit back and watch the league collapse.
Tom: And hope you don't have a power-mad commissioner who may veto your trades. In high school, I played fantasy baseball one year and the commissioner vetoed a trade between the second-place team and the last-place team that he and only he didn't think was fair. I'm sure that him having the first-place team had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Mike: Commish vetoes are a disaster, unless you can trust your commissioner to only use his power in cases like the one outlined above.
Tom: I'd probably be a bad commish, just because I'd let through any ridiculous trades because they amused me.
Mike: That's Tom, mad with power.
Have a burning question? Consult your local truck commercial for useful courses of treatment. Otherwise, send them to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com