Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. Does anyone in the NFC South have any pass rushers? Well, the Bucs might, but they still need more players to catch the ball.
09 Dec 2009
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: The playoffs are nearly upon us! Don't talk about them, or the Coors Brewing Company will come for you in your sleep.
Tom: Do we really believe New England isn't going to win the AFC East? I admit I haven't seen much of them since the Colts game, but I still refuse to believe the Dolphins are any good.
Mike: Well, even aside from the Dolphins being any good, the Patriots' remaining schedule is pretty laughable, aside from Jacksonville.
Tom: Miami has at Jacksonville, at Tennessee, vs. Houston and vs. Pittsburgh, compared to New England with vs. Carolina, at Buffalo, vs. Jacksonville and at Houston.
Mike: Right. Miami has a harder schedule, and is already down a game.
Tom: Playoff odds for New England at 85.1 percent sounds about right. The Jets have a 3.7 percent chance, but I like them even less. At Tampa Bay, vs. Atlanta, at Indianapolis, vs. Cincinnati. That looks surprisingly easy, considering Indianapolis and Cincinnati may both have playoff position locked up.
Mike: Lord, the AFC is a mess, though. NFL.com's "playoffs picture" has Baltimore, Miami, the Jets, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Houston all "in the hunt." Will a nine-win team make it in the AFC, though? I can't imagine New York will win all three of Atlanta, Indy and Cincinnati, even if the latter two sit their offensive starters.
Tom: The Jets are 6-6, I think they could win out. Atlanta is really injured. Then again, even 10 wins may not get them in, considering they're two games behind Denver and one game behind Jacksonville.
Mike: Sanchez is also injured, mind, and yes, they're in a hole.
Tom: Jacksonville bothers me. This team isn't really good enough to be 7-5, yet here they are, and I think they're going to grab that last wild card spot.
Mike: I think Miami is better than them, Indianapolis will be playing for home field advantage, and New England will be playing to seal up the division. While they have a gimme win in Cleveland, the rest of their remaining schedule may be the toughest of any of the wild card hopefuls.
Tom: I've thought since the New England game that the Thursday game at Jacksonville will be the Colts' first loss. It's not like the Jags have to travel to the west coast, which seems to be their absolute kryptonite.
Mike: I don't know what to make of the Titans, mostly because I'm holding off on any real evaluation of Young until teams have more tape on the new, improved version.
Tom: The Titans? They'll finish no better than 8-8, but have a good shot at getting to that point. They're an average team that looked like a worse one because of two really bad halves.
Mike: Probably true. Really, I think we can write Houston and Tennessee off.
Tom: Yup, 5-7, too many teams to leapfrog.
Mike: I can't see any of these 6-6 teams pulling the trigger, though. Maybe Miami sneaking into the AFC East crown if New England collapses.
Tom: Jacksonville and Denver, then?
Mike: Yeah, I'm not high on either of them, but I can't bring myself to pick anyone behind them.
Tom: I'm very disappointed by Denver not totally sucking this year, but we'll save that for another column. I still think Jacksonville gets to 10 wins. The NFC has three pretty-much-clinched divisions between Arizona, Minnesota, and New Orleans. Green Bay is the only serious wild card contender in any of those divisions, so it's just sorting out the NFC East of 8-4 Philadelphia and Dallas and the 7-5 Giants.
Mike: Yeah. Green Bay is a great team that keeps shooting itself in the foot, which is really hard from a prediction standpoint. You see them winning out, but you also see them going on a tear of penalty-riddled disasters.
Tom: At Chicago, at Pittsburgh, vs. Seattle and at Arizona. Not the most favorable schedule, but manageable, especially if Arizona is locked in by Week 17.
Mike: And they could easily lose to any of them.
Tom: Except maybe Seattle. I've been high on this Packers team all year, and I don't feel like backing off now.
Mike: Considering the key competitors are the incredibly-injured Falcons and the wildly inconsistent Giants, I'm not sure there's much of a reason to do so.
Tom: Atlanta is 6-6. It's the Cowboys and whether they can win a game in December.
Mike: Well, also keep in mind that the Eagles still have games against Dallas and the Giants. Dallas also plays New Orleans, probably before they've clinched home field advantage.
Tom: And vs. San Diego.
Mike: I don't think all three NFC East teams are seriously in the hunt. I'm just not sure which one to axe.
Tom: So, if Philadelphia wins the NFC East, who's the sixth seed in the NFC? I'm going to go with the Giants. Their upcoming schedule is: vs. Philadelphia, at Washington, vs. Carolina and at Minnesota.
Mike: Yeah, they have an easier schedule. Minnesota will be resting starters Week 17. Of course, that's assuming that Philadelphia wins. The Giants very well may win, and I think that if they do, Dallas is going to be the second wild card.
Tom: Philadelphia-Dallas in Week 17 may be the deciding game if the Giants win this week.
Mike: Probably will be one of the most important games, playoffs-wise, of the season.
Tom: Aside from, of course, Jets-Jaguars.
Mike: So, the current working theory is:
1. Indianapolis Colts
2. San Diego Chargers
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. New England Patriots
5. Denver Broncos
6. Jacksonville Jaguars
1. New Orleans Saints
2. Minnesota Vikings
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. Philadelphia Eagles
5. Green Bay Packers
6. New York Giants
Flame away, ye wild and sinewy races. Flame away in your pretentious Levi's!
Mike: So, apparently I set my Yahoo! league playoff to eight teams, rather than six. So I was never in any real danger of missing the playoffs, despite my goofy two-loss-five-win-five-loss-one-win streakiness. On the other hand, I had the highest point total in the league last week, even with a big fat zero from Steve Slaton, so I'm feeling really good about the possibility of another streak.
Tom: Woo, commissioner screwups. As the voiceover man said, "the ancient gods were petty and cruel."
Mike: This also means I get middle-seed matchups, despite my third-best point total in the league. Hopefully Slaton will come back and Jackson can stay (relatively) healthy.
Tom: Except that Slaton went on IR right after you said that. I'm the sixth seed going against the third seed in my league where the playoffs start this week. I outscored him on the year, yet he still finished three games ahead of me.
Mike: Petty and cruel, indeed. Fantasy playoffs get kind of crazy, so I went out and grabbed some depth in Devin Thomas and Jerome Harrison. They're long shots, I know, but I think the extra options will make sure I don't have an injury disaster in a big game.
Tom: Yahoo! projects me to win this match by 28 points, which is heartening.
Mike: Projections are evil. Do not be hypnotized by their subtle machinations, lest you be hit on the head by a duck-shaped training toilet.
Tom: Oh, I'm not, but it does sort of validate my opinion that my team is pretty good. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to knock off the league's only undefeated team this week. I did win my titanic No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the other league where I'm doing well, though I'm still in second place, points-wise. This all happened despite starting Sidney Rice over Wes Welker, too.
Mike: Wide receivers are really the worst. If I win the Yahoo! league again I'm going to add PPR for next year. I got a taste of it in the CBS league, and I really like it as a way to control for receiver randomness.
Tom: Well, I was going to go with Welker in the flex to go with Ochocinco, but Rice had put up a couple 20-point games on my bench, plus Arizona had struggled against opposing No. 1 receivers, as Bill noted in last week's Fantasy Matchup column, available on ESPN Insider. Anyway, Welker and Kevin Smith each put up 16 points on my bench and Peyton rest fodder Alex Smith outscored Peyton himself this week.
Mike: Nobody could predict the absolute beat-down the Cardinals visited upon the Vikings this week. NBC certainly didn't.
Tom: I guess they figured that Carolina would be a better matchup for the Vikings, since that game wasn't flexed out. You know what else people didn't predict? San Diego and Pittsburgh's defenses both sucking this week.
Mike: San Diego's defense isn't entirely surprising, they haven't looked great all year. Pittsburgh is in the throes of a death spiral.
Tom: Fantasy defense is all about matchups. San Diego played Cleveland and Pittsburgh played Oakland. Those seemed like good plays, and both fizzled out.
Mike: True enough.
Tom: Pittsburgh was just one of my underachievers in the league where I'm terrible. Moreno put up 20 and Jacobs 23 on my bench while Gore put up 4 and Benson 12. Pittsburgh contributed 3 points. Garrett Hartley came back for the Saints, while I ended up starting John Carney.
Mike: Moreno is actually my usual RB/WR flex at this point. I think he's proven himself good enough for that.
Tom: I thought the hugely-consistent Gore would be a good play and went with Benson's matchup against Detroit over Moreno against the Chiefs
Mike: Can't really criticize you for those choices, it's the kind of risk you just can't avoid in fantasy.
Tom: That league's been frustrating all year, but I mostly mentally checked out a couple weeks ago. I still set my lineup, but I'm not emotionally invested.
Mike: I'm in the same situation with the CBS league, although the playoff bracket came out yesterday and it was a huge downer.
Tom: But ... you picked up Mewelde Moore!
Mike: Represent! It's just disappointing to miss the playoffs in a league where I was recently on top. Then again, there's not much you can do when facing the number of injuries my team took, late in the season.
Tom: Hey, you were screwed by the injury bug, just like a real NFL team! Where "almost like a real NFL team" means "the Atlanta Falcons."
Mike: How dare you sully the name of fantasy football by comparing it to real football!
Tom: Have you ever finished over .500 in consecutive seasons?
Mike: ... I don't like where these questions are going.
Tom: I'm assuming you've never been flipped-off by one of your key fantasy players.
Mike: I will say unequivocally that I've never had my fans cheer for an opposing fantasy quar -- wait ...
Tom: I guess you're still too busy to hate.
Mike: So, playoffs start next week! Segue!
Tom: I don't think you're supposed to actually say it.
by Bill Barnwell
Apparently, I was confused about the FO fantasy league playoff system, which makes next week a lot less exciting.
It appeared that we were going to basically have what amounted to two play-in games, with the top four teams in each division taking on each other, but instead of the top two teams in each division making it to the playoffs, the top four teams in the league make it to the playoffs. I also didn't figure this out until I'd written a whole list of possible playoff scenarios and what each team needed to do to make it in. So yes, I am dumb.
Here's this week's results, and then we'll cover each team's playoff chances and matchup for the final week of the regular season.
Bill (9-4) 115, Mike (3-10) 73
Will (8-5) 118, Ian/Al (8-5) 93
On the other hand, with the chance to essentially clinch a playoff berth, Ian and Al choked with a loss to third-place Will, who had seven players score 12 points or more. Scramble Forever got only one point from Mike Sims-Walker while leaving 26 points on their bench in the form of Robert Meachem.
Aaron (7-6) 84, Vince (5-8) 81
(Meanwhile, on the other side of the league ...)
Elias (9-4) 94, Sean (5-8) 77
Elias clinched the top seed in the Virgil Parks Division with a win over Sean, who is 5-8 despite having the most points of any team in his division. Elias had four players over 15 points, while Sean only had one, Calvin Johnson.
Vivek (6-7) 86, Doug (5-8) 68
Vivek improved his pride a bit by beating Doug, who had 42 of his 68 points come from Drew Brees and the Eagles defense. Sidney Rice, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Steve Breaston, and Heath Miller combined for -- yes -- 13 points. Vivek only got 16 points from the Chris Johnson/Frank Gore combo, and the Falcons D chipped in with a -2, but 20 points from new starter Alex Smith gave Vivek the win. His two quarterbacks are Smith and Matt Cassel -- imagine thinking they'd be worthwhile players on a fantasy roster in 2009 before the 2008 season began.
Rob (7-6) 88, Pat (6-7) 79
In a game that the players had to treat like a playoff game, Pat's slide down the standings continued thanks to a combined eight points from Dallas Clark, Nick Folk, and the Steelers D. He even had three players at 15 points. Rob got 27 from Tony Romo.
So now, here's how the league standings go, each team's opposition next week, and what they'll need to do to make the playoffs. The top four teams in the league qualify for the playoffs, and the tiebreaker is points scored.
Elias (9-4, 1177 fantasy points) vs. Rob (7-6)
Has already clinched a playoff berth. Would be the No. 1 seed with a win over Rob.
Bill (9-4, 1037 fantasy points) vs. Ian/Al (8-5)
I've clinched a playoff berth, although I could fall to the No. 4 seed, as I have the fewest amount of fantasy points. If I win and Elias loses, I'm the No. 1 seed; if Elias wins, I can do no better than No. 2.
Ian/Al (8-5, 1219 fantasy points) vs. Bill (9-4)
The league leaders in points scored, they're likely to win any tiebreaker barring a dramatic collapse this week to the tune of 20 or 30 total points, accompanied by a monster game. If they win and Elias loses, they're the No. 1 seed. A win by them accompanied by an Elias win makes them the No. 2 seed. If they lose and Aaron beats Will while outscoring Ian/Al by 87 or more points, Will's No. 3, Aaron's No. 4, and they're out of the playoffs. The same thing could happen if Rob wins, but he'd need to score a ridiculous 161 points more than Ian/Al to make the playoffs.
Will (8-5, 1179 fantasy points) vs. Aaron (7-6)
Will has the most to play for, as he could realistically end up in any spot, including out of the playoffs. If he wins over Aaron, he's guaranteed a playoff spot, but the position is up for grabs. If all three of the teams above lose (or even if Ian/Al win) and Will ends up with more fantasy points than any of them, he's the No. 1 seed. If he finishes second in fantasy points, he's second; if he wins and Ian/Al lose, he's guaranteed third, or if he wins and Ian/Al win, but he outscores them by 41 points.
If he loses, chaos could break out -- it all depends on tiebreakers. I'll get to them in a second.
Aaron (7-6, 1133 fantasy points) vs. Will (8-5)
Aaron needs to win to get in. If he beats Will by 47 points or more, he's in as the No. 4 seed. Combine that with a total that exceeds Ian/Al's Week 14 points by the unlikely total of 87 or more, and he's the No. 3 seed. If he loses, Will is assured the No. 4 seed.
Rob (7-6, 1059 fantasy points) vs. Elias (9-4)
Rob would need a miracle to get in. He's playing Elias, who's the division leader in the Virgil Parks Division. To make the playoffs, he needs to beat Elias. He also needs Aaron to beat Will, as he has no realistic hope of catching up with Ian/Al in the tiebreakers (he trails them by 160 points, and no one's scored more than 140 or so this year in a single game).
If all that happens, he still needs to outscore Will by 120 points, and outscore Aaron by 74 points. A miracle might not even be enough.
Mike: Sadly, due to space and time restraints, there will be no commercial this week. However! The playoffs this year will be especially memorable, because we are assembling an all-star list of bizarre and awful commercials, most of which the majority of our readers have never seen. Also, I hear there will be football games.
Keep Chopping Wood: Kick 'em when they're up, or kick 'em when they're down. If Shaun Suisham could kick a 23-yard field goal through the uprights, the New Orleans Saints probably wouldn't be undefeated, and he'd probably still have an NFL job. Go, go, Graham Gano.
Mike Martz Award: We like to award NFL coaches for boldness, but there's an often thin line between boldness and, well, insanity. Gary Kubiak can tell you about that. Seeing his team down 23-12 in the fourth quarter, absolutely needing two scores to have any chance to win the game, he (or coordinator Kyle Shanahan) reached into the bag of tricks and called a pass play. The first pass attempt of running back Chris Brown's NFL career. Shockingly, the play resulted in an interception, and the Texans went on to lose the game.
Colbert Award: We bypassed him the week everybody else was talking about it, but we're going to honor Bill Belichick for actually making two reasonably bold decisions this week, going for it on fourth-and-1 from the 6 and on fourth-and-3 from the Dolphins' 39, where more teams should go for it and too often don't. Both failed, the latter because it was wiped out by penalty, but it's the thought that counts.
Kicker: Miss two field goals, and you're the king of the Loser League, right? You'd think so, but this week it just didn't work out for Nick Folk or Connor Barth. Sadly for these fine Losers, Jason Hanson didn't do much of anything to make up for his one missed field goal, leaving him with -1 points on the week.
Wide Receiver: An incredibly dull category this week, and none of our candidates really imploded in true Loser League fashion. Instead, we are treated to workmanlike bad games by Johnny Knox, Chris Chambers, Derrick Mason, Mike Wallace and Malcolm Kelly, who all had enough catches to beat the penalty, but not enough yardage to garner more than 1 point.
Running Back: A Tale of Two Losers. Marion Barber gained his position the traditional Loser League way: get a bunch of carries that go nowhere, do something stupid (in this case, a fumble) that wipes out most of your hard-earned points. Darren McFadden managed a still-awful 2.7 yards per carry on his paltry nine attempts, but wiped out any small gains he had with an astounding -13 receiving yards. Both arrived safely in the land of 1 point.
Quarterback: While Joe Flacco may have Unleashed the Dragon on his way to three interceptions, the flip-side of this was some significant number of yards and a touchdown. Denver didn't have to play the role of St. George to keep Matt Cassel to 1 point, but Cassel certainly helped them out with two interceptions and fewer than 100 passing yards.
Tom: Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Miami, Cedric Benson at Minnesota and Brandon Jacobs vs. Philadelphia. That really answers that; don't start a running back against the Vikings if you have an alternative, end of question. That's somewhat of an overstatement -- I'd start Benson over, say, Javon Ringer.
Mike: Don't let the Arizona game fool you. Minnesota is still a really, really good football team with a very scary defense.
Tom: Finley is at Chicago and Davis is at Oakland. Oakland has done surprisingly well against tight ends, for fifth in DVOA.
Mike: The Raiders aren't so horrible that anyone playing them is an automatic start, anyway. Not like Kansas City or Cleveland.
Tom: They're overperforming their Pythagorean Wins by 2.0 games at this point, they've scored 17-plus points in only three of their 12 games and they've held only three teams under 17 points -- two of them Kansas City and the third "why the hell doesn't Andy Reid run the ball?"
Mike: Cleveland has no rushing touchdowns by a running back, and St. Louis has one more game with 17-plus points than Oakland. This is also somewhat misleading, since Oakland's strength (such as it is) is defense. I'm not saying they're good, but they're not as bad as Kansas City, St. Louis, Tampa Bay or Cleveland. They're respectably bad.
Tom: Unfortunately, his other option is Jermichael Finley against the Bears, and while the Bears may mostly suck, Lance Briggs is still awesome and the Bears are ranked fourth against passes to tight ends.
Mike: Agreed, the strength of the Bears defense, even when riddled with injuries, is its linebacking corps. When they're not being sent in on stupid, poorly-designed blitzes, they do a great job in coverage.
Tom: Davis seems like he'll get more targets than Finley, so I'd go with him. Green Bay has too many targets.
Nick: I have a dilemma this week. I'm in the playoffs, and my spot is locked, while my opponent is fighting for a playoff spot. I won't see him before the championship game, but I think he has a worse team than his competition for a playoff spot, so I'd prefer to see him make the playoffs. Cash rewards for top playoff finishers, and top regular season scorers, but nothing on the line for just making the playoffs. I won't make roster moves to do it, but is it OK for me to play my bench players and tank?
Mike: That's more of an ethical question than anything else. It feels a lot like the guy from last week, trying to manipulate a third party's game to his advantage.
Tom: Oh, it's definitely a variant on the same theme, except this time it is for personal advantage, as opposed to pique. I don't really have any problem with tanking in this case.
Mike: Really? I do. Imagine what would happen if an NFL team did this. A coach with no history of sitting starters just benched everyone to help another team get into the playoffs because they hoped for a more favorable matchup. Of course, the scale is different, but it's still similar.
Tom: It's not quite the same, but Indianapolis did really lay down for the Titans in Week 17 of 2007. You do risk the chance of blowback from the other teams, and per a follow-up from the questioner, this is a fantasy league with pretty much the same people year after year. He'd definitely risk suffering reputational loss.
Mike: Loss and reputation and also friends, as this move will piss off everyone. Your opponent will be angry that you're not taking him seriously, the other guy will be angry that you're trying to screw him out of the playoffs, and everyone else will probably be angry by association.
Tom: I'd think your opponent would be happy about it, since you're just benefiting him. You've been listening to too many NFL players play the ridiculous "disrespect" card.
Mike: It's not at all a question of "disrespect." What would be the point of playing a game of chess if your opponent just moved his king to the middle of the board? Or showing up for a game of hockey without a stick? There's no point. Unless you're so completely obsessed with winning that nothing else matters, there's no enjoyment to be gained out of winning a non-game.
Tom: I really don't get it; this is still a game since you can't bench everybody. That's just a function of roster sizes.
Mike: Would you be proud of beating a 12-year-old at Jeopardy!? Would you enjoy it?
Tom: "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women." Jeopardy! is a bad example -- I'm playing against the answers, not the other people.
Mike: Not true. The 12-year-old will give questions. They'll all be wrong, and it won't be a real competition, but there is that small potential that he might get all of them right and win, albeit remote. There is no point in competition when your opponent has no real chance of winning.
Tom: Yes, but the opponent still has a chance of winning.
Mike: Not a serious one, he's playing all his backups. Nor is this even really competition, since he's actively trying to lose. It's only a "game" in the sense that numbers are compared and a winner is declared.
Tom: If I wanted to do poorly this week, I'd have played Jacobs and Moreno instead of Gore and Benson, and actually done better in the process.
Mike: Two players out of what's probably around a nine-player roster, not entertaining the fact that there might be third-tier guys on the bench behind those backups.
Tom: Winning this week is meaningless for this guy, so play the strategy that best maximizes the long-term chances of winning.
Mike: I don't think Conan would be satisfied hearing the lamentations of the 12-year-old women.
Tom: I don't understand the source of your objection. Does he owe a duty to the other players, or the purity of fantasy football?
Mike: It's not a duty, it's the entire idea of competition, and a person's motivation for engaging in that competition.
Tom: The reasons are to have fun and/or win. The former does matter -- winning this week isn't important to him. Tanking facilitates the latter in the long view.
Mike: If it were all about maximizing long-term chances of winning, Indianapolis should pick five guys and tell them to go out next week and try to break the knees of Knowshon Moreno, Brandon Marshall, Kyle Orton and Champ Bailey. They will all be suspended maybe four games, but will be around for the playoffs and the loss of their opponent's best players will substantially aid in possible postseason scenarios.
Tom: I don't think that's a proper comparison at all. One thing is that the punishment for tanking really isn't that great. What are teams going to do, try to beat you? They do that already. The Colts in that example are in a very real kind of security dilemma.
Mike: You also asked why the proposed winner would be angry, not why there's a moral imperative to not tank. And even if we go that route, I don't think the latter is unequivocally true, otherwise NFL teams would be playing Pop Warner kids. It's to win against a team of similar skill. That's why we seek out good fantasy leagues, and try to educate ourselves. That way we can compete with people of equal or higher skill, and gain satisfaction when we succeed.
Tom: I'm sensing we'll never reach agreement here.
Mike: Honestly, I don't think many would agree with you.
Tom: Yes, well, that's never stopped me before. Or do I need to remind you that Polamalu's interception against the Colts was properly overturned under the (admittedly terrible) rule in place at the time?
Mike: Do shut up now.
Apparently we're now experts on the ethics of fantasy football, so you may as well send your metaphysical queries to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com
54 comments, Last at 17 Oct 2011, 5:54pm by DEIRDRECHANEY