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?
01 Sep 2010
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: So, I was listening to an interview this week with college football guru Phil Steele, and he mentioned one of the reasons he was high on Notre Dame for the umpty-umph straight year was Brian Kelly, who had outperformed his projections six straight seasons. In FO's predicting world, it'd be kind of like Andy Reid going off to coach the Cowboys.
Mike: Your analogy suffers from the fact that Dallas has actually won something within recent memory.
Tom: Hey, Notre Dame finally won a bowl game a couple years ago.
Mike: I'm sure it's one of the big ones, like the Jack-in-the-Box Carbo-Fun Bucket Bowl.
Tom: The Hawaii Bowl. It's in Hawaii, so it's a lot of fun.
Mike: I suppose that is nice.
Tom: Anyway, Football Outsiders Almanac 2010's low projection for the Cowboys has, I think, been fairly well-chronicled. And, for me at least, it's for pretty reasonable reasons.
Mike: I agree mostly, except for Mike Tanier's joke about one-note comic blog fodder. We have LOTS of notes here in Scramble, Mr. Tanier! At least three.
Tom: Unamusing football jokes, unamusing nerd jokes, and unamusing geek jokes?
Mike: That about sums it up, yes. We would try to branch out but unamusing nerd jokes just take so much effort.
Tom: Oh, some of our commenters last week asked that we talk more about the actual football teams on the field, so I'd just like to point out the Cowboys' excellent health in recent seasons, especially on the offensive line, is already starting to return more to normal.
Mike: And I will remind them that they aren't our real dad! And also that the Cowboys are another entry into the "Wow, everyone's secondary is awful" proto-column.
Tom: To which I will add the "I don't understand why this team will be better than it was last year" proto-column note. Granted, they did win more than 10 games last season.
Mike: To which I -- OK, I think we've gone a bit too meta.
Tom: I deny that there is necessarily any such thing.
Mike: Comparing this year to last by win total is a dangerous game. Their schedule is easier this season, if I recall, so they could very well improve and have fewer wins.
Tom: FOA has them projected for the 12th-strongest schedule, and they were about that last year. By which I mean they were 14th.
Mike: Last year they got to play the AFC West. QED.
Tom: FOA is down on the AFC South. Not quite last year's AFC West, but still none too fierce as far as opposing divisions go.
Mike: Fair enough.
Tom: I think FOA may be underrating the AFC South a bit, so the schedule could be harder than that projected 12th. So, suck it, Cowboy fans, under.
Mike: Even aside from that, one big factor is that teams now know about Miles Austin. They have tape, and they have the benefit of working against a weakened offensive line, so look for less offensive productivity, continued decline in the pass defense, and the under.
Tom: Let's just not mention that I picked the Giants to go to the Super Bowl last year. I will instead say I don't feel like I have a good handle on this year's version.
Mike: I don't think they're much of an enigma. New York fell flat down the stretch last year, but it is still a well constructed team.
Tom: See, that's what I'm starting to doubt. I thought they were a well constructed team when they won the Super Bowl and in 2008. Last year, though, I thought maybe they got exposed a little.
Mike: True, but they were exposed in some part due to injury.
Tom: On defense, I can see that. On offense, I'm not so sure, and I'm less optimistic the defense will be nearly as good as it was in 2008.
Mike: I don't think the defense will be as good, no. I also think that Eli Manning is steadily improving. They don't have to be the 2008 Giants to be a good Giants team.
Tom: This is true. They also have an easier slate of opponents than do the Cowboys, 19th as opposed to 12th, though the absolute difference isn't very large. Looking at the schedule, I can easily see them as a 10-win team.
Mike: And while we can't forget how 2009 ended for New York, we also shouldn't overlook how well it started. I see a pretty clear over.
Tom: I'm much less confident than you are, but over for me as well.
Mike: Hooo boy.
Tom: No kidding.
Mike: Not to take a soapbox or anything, but now that Donovan McNabb is gone, shame on you, Philadelphia. Seriously. Lots of cities and teams would kill for the success that you complained so viciously about.
Tom: See, e.g, Chicago, which tried for a while to convince us Rex Grossman was a good NFL starting quarterback.
Mike: Yeah, seriously. It's hard for me to not look at this year's Eagles team through the prism of the city's treatment of McNabb.
Tom: What about the prism of the treatment of McNabb?
Mike: I just have the intractable feeling that after years of ignoring great talent and disparaging significant success, the team is going to "get theirs," when that talent, flawed as it may be, is gone.
Tom: See, the problem with the McNabb hate is, McNabb was a very good quarterback. Not great, not horrible, very good.
Mike: They're taking a set of wide receivers much more suited to a Giants-style offense and handing the keys over to someone without the arm or the talent at breaking down defenses to make it work.
Mike: I'm not convinced that the transition will be at all smooth.
Tom: On the field, or off the field?
Mike: On the field. Off the field is an entirely separate issue, as years of success have given Philly fans a certain expectation, but I don't think it will affect this team that much. Philadelphia is the rare defense where I'm not completely terrified of their secondary, at least, so that's a plus. The defense may even be pretty good, if some of the young talent up front works out.
Tom: I feel like that should make me make another Joe Banner crack about how that means they're clearly the best team in the league again. The scary thing is, they hit the touchstones for "why might they be better than they were last year." They drafted Graham to rush the passer and Allen to play safety, and Sims at linebacker, who's less exciting than shiny rookies but has more experience.
Mike: I do think Asante Samuel is due for a drop-off, just because of the way he plays. At some point instinct and canny won't be enough, and he kind of makes the (again, pretty good) secondary tick.
Tom: I think you just hate that style of cornerback and therefore just predict bad things for them whenever possible. He's not Nnamdi Asomugha or Darrelle Revis, but he wasn't in 2008 or 2007 or 2006 either.
Mike: I will admit, I do not like that style of cornerback play, but he wasn't Asomugha or Revis in those years because he's getting older.
Tom: He's 29, or the same age as Asomugha.
Mike: I'm trying to explain that the way he plays cornerback is not as conducive to aging, because it's a lot of guesswork that can burn you if you can't recover quickly. Considering the work he's done on his more fundamental cornerbacking leading up to this year, I think on some level he himself agrees with me.
Tom: And I'm saying that I kind of see your point but don't really agree with you.
Mike: The solution is to be wrong less often, but that only gets you so far. I'm also not saying that he'll have a bad year, just that he's going to start declining, which is a negative for what appears to be a rather stalwart defense because he looms large in their game plan.
Tom: I think you're overrating his role in their game plan.
Mike: As far as where they fall against the line, I really have no idea.
Tom: I'm cautiously optimistic. Kevin Kolb is an interesting test case for what a collegiate spread guy can be if you train him the right way.
Mike: See, I'm expecting the Kolb experiment to be a disaster. I think the defense will be good enough to push them over .500, though. Over.
Tom: Cautious optimism equals over for me as well.
Tom: Or, do you really believe in FOA?
Mike: You know, maybe McNabb was the magic beans in FO's Philadelphia predictions, and that in three or four years, the system will be purged?
Tom: Hm, maybe.
Mike: So much to say about the Redskins.
Tom: They underachieved by 1.8 Pythagorean Wins last season. They upgraded at quarterback and at both offensive tackle positions. They joined the "let's play a 3-4 for no good reason" trend.
Mike: Well, there are great reasons to play 3-4. They just don't make you instantly good at it.
Tom: There are great reasons to play 4-3, and there are great reasons to play 3-4. Just play that scheme for one of those reasons. Bob Slowik, who's the C.C. Brown of defensive coordinators is involved. Granted, he's only the defensive backs coach.
Mike: Yeah, if there's anything the NFL teaches us, it's that coaches are promoted past their competence, so being a bad coordinator doesn't mean you're a bad position coach.
Tom: Slowik's coaching bio includes the fact that he was defensive coordinator for the 1999 Browns, and while he coached in Denver, Champ Bailey and John Lynch made the Pro Bowl three straight seasons.
Mike: Really, personnel should be given a mulligan for time spent in Cleveland.
Tom: He did at least leave Cleveland after one year. I mean, it took LeBron seven to do that.
Mike: "My resume has three championship games, four winning seasons and a year with the Browns." ... "We'll just ignore that last bit."
Tom: Like the Eagles, the Redskins are a team I can look at and say, "Here's why they can and should be better in 2010." That is enough for me to say over.
Mike: They are absolutely better than they were in 2009. They're still kind of a mess, with a load of new coaches and another predictable free-agent buffet. New systems, new faces, another useless transition. It's worked out well in the past, but I just don't see it here. Under.
Mike: Mwahahaha. So, I was listening to WSCR the other day. The guy on was very, very down on the Bears.
Tom: It wasn't me. I have no connection to sports radio.
Mike: He wasn't buying into all the changes they made over the offseason, and the Bears did, indeed, completely retool their entire front office and coaching staff. To some degree, he's right. He said that he didn't believe in magic systems, but rather it was personnel that determined how good a team was, particularly on the lines, which is really, really great stuff for sports radio. Seriously, I wish I could remember who the guy was so I could give him a cookie. He overlooks, of course, the fact that Mike Martz is actually magic.
Tom: He is? Is this like David Copperfield magic, or Penn and Teller magic?
Mike: Like bizarro-Nikola Tesla magic. The ability to teleport an offense +32.9% DVOA just with his presence.
Tom: Now what is your evidence for this magic, or is it beyond evidence because it's magic?
Mike: A magic reporter does not reveal the magician's secrets! (Buy FOA 2010, buy it now!) But the main thing is that the Martz system works. It works well, and it works amazingly. The downside is that your quarterback is brain-dead within three years.
Tom: His sad devotion to that ancient arcana hasn't helped him conjure up a Hall of Fame left tackle in his prime and the rest of an effective-enough offensive line, if the evidence from the preseason is to be believed.
Mike: Martz's turnaround in San Francisco, with a quarterback controversy and a gigantic personality clash with Samurai Mike, was nearly as impressive as the Rams you are referencing. It just wasn't noticed, because instead of going to bad to tremendous like the Rams, the 49ers went from catastrophically bad to just plain old bad. But even beyond that, Chicago made all the right moves. They were having serious issues getting pressure with their front four, so they grab the best pass-rushing lineman available. The offensive line is porous, they bring in a line coach in Mike Tice, who has some considerable credentials. The biggest question is whether Jay Cutler and Johnny Knox plus Devin Aromashodu can pull off the Martz system. I don't even see Devin Hester as a factor.
Tom: Hester :: Az-Zahir Hakim. Nice, but not that necessary. Anyway, the Bears plan sounds like the Jaguars plan: Let's address some of our weaknesses and hope that's enough to compensate for the others. We've already seen the answer as to how that works is "Well, kind of, but not really." Martz's most valuable contribution will be if he can actually teach Cutler the arcane art of playing quarterback. That would be of great benefit to Chicago's next general manager and head coach, which he is hoping will be, but will probably not be, Mike Martz.
Mike: I think you greatly understate the immediate impact Martz's CV implies he'll have. This is another enthusiastic over for me.
Tom: If I were wagering money, I'd take the under, but I'm not, so I'm going to do the statistically unintelligent thing and say push.
Tom: Or, "I hate reasonable whole number lines."
Mike: As always.
Tom: I'm actually very curious to see how the Lions do this year.
Mike: I'm worried they're in the process of ruining Matthew Stafford.
Tom: I actually (gasp) like what I've seen out of the Lions this preseason, including particularly Stafford. He's lost the deer in headlights look. Yes, preseason, easy to overreact, blah blah blah.
Mike: That's really the root of my worry. Even with the deer in headlights, he showed flashes of talent last year, but he's been thrown to the lions on a really bad team.
Tom: That's so funny I forgot to kill myself.
Mike: Pun so very not intended, although it was worth it for the awesome early-90s call-back. Anyway, starting out as a rookie and playing through your first few years can really wreck promising quarterbacks. I'm not saying they should bench him per se. There really is no other option, and honestly, who is he going to learn from? But I think he has the potential to be a quality starter when the massive rebuilding plan comes to fruition.
Tom: I'm still not sold he'll be accurate enough.
Mike: But he might not make it to that point.
Tom: I think you're being unduly pessimistic. The problem is our customary concerns about the secondary. Namely, that it's pretty much Louis Delmas and a bunch of junk.
Mike: Well, there are concerns all over the place. The only passable unit on the team is the linebacking corps, and that just lost Larry Foote.
Tom: Larry Foote's OK. He's not anything special.
Mike: He's an above-replacement linebacker, and the Lions sorely need above-replacement anything.
Tom: Well, sure. I'm just not sure he's any better than, say, DeAndre Levy. And Levy will still be playing when the Lions have a real secondary. Should be playing. Could be playing.
Mike: Possibly. Levy is all right, but I think more veterans would do a world of good for the defense. Then again, it's rebuilding, so that's just how it works. Like I said, the linebackers are still passable. The Lions will be good someday. Just not for a while. Under.
Tom: I think you're selling them a little short. I'd feel better at 4.5, but I'll go over.
Mike: We've talked about teams which are the same, but marginally better than last year's version. Green Bay is pretty much the same, but marginally worse.
Tom: They were first in the league in Pythagorean Wins and second in DVOA. Unless they turn into the first half of season 2007 Patriots, there is no place to go but down for them. Except in the postseason.
Mike: True. I actually don't think Green Bay's secondary will fail them. I think their front seven may.
Tom: I'm not completely sold, either, but I don't see a reason to think they'll be worse beyond Johnny Jolly's drug-related suspension.
Mike: That is a downside, but the linebacking corps was never really good. The good defense of last year was built largely around great play from the secondary and insanely, uncharacteristically great line play. They will not get nearly so great a performance this year, and that means trouble for the linebackers, who are probably the weakest link on the chain.
Tom: Yet, you think the secondary will be fine. Does that mean continued great play, or just good?
Mike: Just good. I probably should have been more specific. The main difference is that I expected the secondary to be pretty good last year. There was absolutely nothing to predict the way the defensive line performed.
Tom: Hmm, so instead of the second best defense, they'll have, what, the fifth? Eighth?
Tom: Fine, but with that offense, they can win 11 games again and, depending on other results, win the division.
Mike: I see the NFC North as either the most or the second-most difficult division in 2010, which is unfortunate for the Packers. It's a close call, but I don't think they can make it to 10. Under.
Tom: Bah, 11 wins, over.
Mike: I've actually been impressed with the restraint of Favrus, warlord of the cold north.
Tom: I was hoping not to turn this into another referendum on Brett Favre.
Mike: Usually he spends all his time in the mode of Henry VIII, giving conflicting orders to his vassals, destroying hopes on a whim, and confusing the rest of the world. This year, he merely held a great feast and only cried a little.
Tom: I'm going to avoid talking about him, and talk about how the Vikings are an old team whose offensive line didn't play well at all at the end of last season. Worse, maybe the youngest and most promising part of the team is the group of wide receivers, and their two good young wideouts, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, are on the injury list.
Mike: Rice's injury is far, far more serious.
Tom: Rice's injury actually in some sense concerns me less. He'll have surgery, rehab, and come back. Harvin, on the other hand, is potentially questionable indefinitely.
Mike: That's true, but I think they'd be a bit more reserved with him if they thought his ankle was a real problem. As far as I can tell, he's pretty much practiced normally. Rice, on the other hand, is out for the first half of the season. So they're not only losing his productivity, but also shifting more and better coverage on to Harvin and company. I can see a bum ankle cutting off a bit of his edge against better coverage, in that case.
Tom: I was actually thinking a little longer-term in my comfort level with Rice. The first half of this year, I think they will have trouble without him. They have four road games in the first eight weeks: Saints, Jets, Packers, Patriots. Ouch.
Mike: Zing. What do you mean, long-term?
Tom: The last quarter of this season, the postseason, and future seasons.
Mike: I'm just confused as to the point you're making.
Tom: Sidney Rice's injury will definitely hurt them for the first half of 2010. He'll be fine going forward. Harvin may be in and out of the lineup for the next three seasons.
Mike: Okay. I disagree, but I can see it.
Tom: The obvious answer is to rely a lot on Adrian Peterson, but that aforementioned offensive line bothers me a lot (though not enough to prevent me from drafting him).
Mike: Well, the other thing is that Lord Farvus will have his entire war band assembled for the meaty second half of the season.
Tom: Even with the entire war band assembled, it's too easy for me to see them starting 2-5 with those four road games, plus home dates against Miami and Dallas.
Mike: This is true.
Tom: Given that, and the age on defense, I think they're in for a fall. Under.
Mike: Unless the chief has uncovered a Mace of Opposing Quarterback Kneecapping +5, I'm sadly inclined to agree on this likewise tough call. Under.
Tom: I have team, plus there's staff league.
Mike: I haven't drafted yet.
Tom: Er, I have one team.
Mike: ME HAVE TEAM. TEAM GOOD. WIN MANY GAME.
Tom: Darn straight. This is another season of 1941 Orange Bowl Loser, which won the league championship last season.
1941 ORANGE BOWL LOSER
QB: Kevin Kolb, PHI (8-79), Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (13-122)
RB: Adrian Peterson, MIN (1-2), Ronnie Brown, MIA (3-22), Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG (6-59), Jerome Harrison, CLE (7-62), Marion Barber, DAL (10-99)
WR: Reggie Wayne, IND (2-19), Steve Smith, CAR (4-39), Steve Smith, NYG (5-42), Santana Moss, WAS (9-82), Mike Williams, TB (12-119)
TE: Zach Miller, OAK (11-102)
K: Jeff Reed, PIT (14-139)
DST: Dolphins (15-142)
Mike: Both Steve Smiths! Interesting.
Mike: Eh, that decision could go either way.
Tom: I was hoping Matt Forte or Arian Foster would fall to me in the sixth round, but they went in the three picks before me, so I was kind of stuck with Bradshaw. Jerome Harrison I now regret, just because the latest tea leaves I've seen have Montario Hardesty ahead of him. Clinton Portis and Mike Wallace went later that same round.
Mike: You didn't take Wallace? And you're still on staff? What kind of photos of Aaron do you have?
Tom: I already had Wayne and the Steve Smiths. In a 2 RB/2 WR/1 flex league, I thought I needed an running back more.
Mike: Yeah, but when you're talking about Portis/Harrison/Wallace, you're really playing matchups with your flex. PPR?
Mike: Hm. Still ...
Mike: I like the late-round Roethlisberger pick.
Tom: The rules actually underemphasize quarterbacks a little bit. It's one point per 50 yards, plus six points for touchdowns.
Mike: Honestly, that probably makes Roethlisberger comparatively more valuable.
Tom: That's what I'm hoping.
Mike: Last year, the FO Staff League ended up with a weird "counter-KUBIAK" team when one person didn't show up for the draft and his team was auto-picked based on the ESPN rankings. We liked the idea so much that this year, we did it on purpose, specifically setting up a "control team" that would be picked based on ESPN rankings as a counter to all the FO staffers picking based on FO principles. The rules are generally basic fantasy rules, with 2 RB, 2 WR, and a Flex starter each week.
BETTER CALL SAUL (Rob Weintraub)
QB: Tom Brady, NE (2-24), Carson Palmer, CIN (10-120)
RB: Chris Johnson, TEN (1-1), Michael Bush, OAK (6-72), Felix Jones, DAL (7-73), Tim Hightower, ARI (11-121), Bernard Scott, CIN (14-168)
WR: Miles Austin, DAL (3-25), Donald Driver, GB (5-49), Dez Bryant, DAL (8-96), Devin Aromashodu, CHI (9-97), Dexter McCluster, KC (13-145), Demaryius Thomas (16-192)
TE: Dallas Clark, IND (4-48)
K: Mason Crosby, GB (15-169)
DST: Cowboys (12-144)
Tom: Like last season, Rob ended up with the first pick.
Mike: Wow. That is a really nice team.
Tom: He has one running back. He drafted Johnson, then didn't address the position until taking Bush and Jones at the bottom of the 6th and top of the 7th rounds.
Mike: He has two starters; clear starters with the majority of carries.
Tom: Yes, but I have to think Hightower doesn't remain a clear starter for the entire season.
Mike: Possible. Also possible he just got really good value.
Tom: We'll see. I think he needs one of his speculative wideouts to pan out, and then shift him for another running back.
Mike: Entirely possible. I could also see him just doing well with three wideouts and a great running back plus one, with the rest of his team being what it is.
TRIPLE ASIAN FLU (Doug Farrar)
QB: Joe Flacco, BAL (6-71), Chad Henne, MIA (12-143)
RB: Ray Rice, BAL (1-2), Pierre Thomas, NO (2-23), C.J. Spiller, BUF (7-74)
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, ARI (3-26), Hakeem Nicks, NYG (4-47), Bernard Berrian, MIN (8-95), Louis Murphy, OAK (11-122), Julian Edelman, NE (14-167)
TE: Visanthe Shiancoe, MIN (5-50), Zach Miller, OAK (9-98), John Carlson, SEA (13-146)
K: Matt Prater (15-170)
DST: Packers (10-119), Colts (16-191)
Mike: Why does Doug have three tight ends? For a minute I thought that he just had fewer picks.
Tom: I have no idea.
Mike: Maybe he has grand schemes of trading Miller for a mid-range wide receiver?
Mike: I agree with you on both points. He waited a long time for a quarterback, also. Heck, he took a tight end before his quarterback. He probably got good value out of Flacco, it's true. But he could have picked up Romo instead of Shiancoe.
Tom: He took Shiancoe in the fifth round, as the first tight end off the board. Romo went later in the fifth round.
Tom: I'm deeply skeptical he's right about Shiancoe truly being that valuable. Tight ends don't normally have that many touchdowns two years in a row.
MALICE AFORETHOUGHT (Will Carroll)
QB: Jay Cutler, CHI (9-99), Mark Sanchez, NYJ (14-166)
RB: Adrian Peterson, MIN (1-3), Ryan Grant, GB (2-22), Reggie Bush, NO (7-75), Thomas Jones, KC (8-94)
WR: Calvin Johnson, DET (3-27), Anquan Boldin, BAL (4-46), Michael Crabtree, SF (5-51), Santonio Holmes, NYJ (10-118), Legedu Naanee, SD (12-142), Devin Thomas, WAS (15-171)
TE: Brent Celek, PHI (6-70), Fred Davis, WAS (16-190)
K: Nate Kaeding, SD (13-147)
DST: Ravens (11-123)
Tom: Will wasn't able to make it to the draft himself, but he sent Jay Clemons of Sports Illustrated to draft in his place.
Mike: I think Cutler in round nine was great, but that's based on my optimism for the Bears.
Tom: I don't quite see the logic of picking a couple marginal wideouts like Holmes and Thomas. I'm just not sold they'll be very valuable. My guess was Holmes goes undrafted, so 10th round was much too early.
Mike: I actually think this is the worst of the running back corps we've seen thus far.
Tom: You do?
Mike: Yeah, it's very ho-hum.
Tom: Peterson and Grant are both very solid as RB1 and RB2. I think Thomas Jones will also get more carries than Charles owners would like.
Mike: Wait. For some reason I thought that was the other Adrian Peterson. Never mind. Good running backs.
Tom: I'm not sold on his wide receiver depth, because I'm not sure any of Johnson, Boldin, or Crabtree will be consistent, let alone a combination of them.
Mike: Consistency is key, but these are bench players we're talking about, and he'll have the luxury of playing matchups.
Tom: Oh, you're about to see the "playing matchups" team. When we get to Mr. Schatz's team, that is.
Mike: So yeah, good team unless Chicago does end up sucking.
Tom: Vince Verhei is actually up next, and he missed the draft but set his autodraft order based on KUBIAK to compensate for that.
TEAM VERHEI (Vince Verhei)
QB: Philip Rivers, SD (3-28), Donovan McNabb, WAS (6-69), David Garrard, JAC (8-93)
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, PIT (1-4), Ricky Williams, MIA (4-45), Joseph Addai, IND (5-52), Jerome Harrison, CLE (7-76), Correll Buckhalter, DEN (12-141)
WR: DeSean Jackson, PHI (2-21), Braylon Edwards, NYJ (9-100), Robert Meachem, NO (10-117), Devery Henderson, NO (11-124)
TE: Kevin Boss, NYG (15-172), Jeremy Shockey, NO (16-189)
K: Rob Bironas, TEN (14-165)
DST: Vikings (13-148)
Tom: That's how you end up a very good fantasy quarterback, plus two guys KUBIAK loves, plus three New Orleans Saints pass-catchers. But, yes, Mendenhall went fourth in the Staff League.
Mike: This is actually fairly neat. We'll have two control teams: the KUBIAK control and the standard fantasy control.
Tom: Yup. We're also doing waivers in an interesting way. Rather than the unlimited add/drop and waiver rule I did in my three leagues last year, this time we have a budget. We have a player acquisition budget of 100 to use for waiver pickups. The only tiebreaking comes in if two teams bid the same amount.
Mike: It's a good system.
Tom: See, I like my pastimes less complicated. We should be competing on ability to choose the right football players, and not throwing in this element of game theory.
Mike: I would think that you would be happy to have something that brings fantasy more toward actual football.
Tom: I thought about setting up a league where you got 1.5 points for a touchdown and -5 for an interception, but decided that probably wouldn't be very much fun to play.
Mike: It is true that you generally hate fun.
Tom: Vince has some undesirable concentration at wideout. He also has one top-tier fantasy quarterback in Rivers, and two guys KUBIAK is very high on in McNabb and Garrard. I think that's duplication of effort.
Mike: Yeah, that is really a problem with auto-draft. Well, he can always trade, so it may be, but if he can get good value at receiver or running back down the road for McNabb, then the picks were worth it.
Tom: Eh, just show up to your fantasy draft in the first place and avoid the whole problem.
Tom: I have no life. Why should anyone else?
EQUIPO DEL JEFE (Aaron Schatz)
QB: Matt Schaub, HOU (4-44)
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC (1-5), Matt Forte, CHI (2-20), Jamaal Charles, KC (3-29), Chester Taylor, CHI (10-116), Willis McGahee, BAL (12-140), Jason Snelling, ATL (15-173), Rashad Jennings, JAC (16-188)
WR: Santana Moss, WAS (6-68), Vincent Jackson, SD (7-77), T.J. Houshmandzadeh, SEA (8-92), Lee Evans, BUF (9-101), Kenny Britt, TEN (11-125)
TE: Antonio Gates, SD (5-53)
K: Adam Vinatieri, IND (14-164)
DST: Steelers (13-149)
Tom: Matchups? I got your "playing wide receiver matchups" right here.
Mike: Holy smokes, yes.
Tom: He decided about halfway through the draft that he was just going to commit to that strategy. The upside is, he has strong performers at every other position.
Mike: He has no backup quarterback. That's a really big weakness.
Tom: Yup, especially since FO has harped on Matt Schaub's injury issues.
Mike: I see a trade in Messrs. Verhei and Schatz's future.
Tom: That's certainly possible. I know Aaron was hoping to grab Ben Roethlisberger as a late-round pick, but he didn't get the chance.
Mike: Canny but risky play. And Aaron may have some good running back value to throw into that trade, too. He probably has the best depth there that we've seen thus far.
Tom: The one downside of this team is you'll have to spend a lot of time finding and making the right decisions at wideout. I prefer a much less burdensome team, especially in a league with no money involved. He certainly does have the best depth at running back, though. Charles to me is a questionable RB1 or even RB2, but an excellent RB3.
Mike: Playing matchups is also more risky, but it is also part of the fun of fantasy.
SCRAMBLE FOREVER (Ian Dembsky and Al Bogdan)
QB: Aaron Rodgers, GB (2-19), Matt Cassel, KC (12-139)
RB: Arian Foster, HOU (4-43), Jahvid Best, DET (6-67), Cadillac Williams, TB (7-78), Darren McFadden, OAK (8-91), Steve Slaton, HOU (10-115), Kareem Huggins, TB (13-150)
WR: Andre Johnson, HOU (1-6), Greg Jennings, GB (3-30), Terrell Owens, CIN (9-102), Mike Williams, TB (11-126), Sidney Rice, MIN (14-163)
TE: Jermichael Finley, GB (5-54)
K: Sebastian Janikowski, OAK (16-187)
DST: Cardinals (15-174)
Tom: Pre-empting his inevitable comment, Mr. Dembsky, who won last year, believes he once again has the league's best team.
Mike: Ian could have been the ESPN auto-draft and he still would think he had the best team.
Tom: I must say, I don't remember seeing another team that drafted two handcuff running backs.
Mike: In his defense, of all the teams to handcuff, I'd say the Texans are the best.
Tom: See, and here I was thinking the Buccaneers were a great team to grab both Cadillac and Huggins. A Cadillac injury is almost certainly inevitable, and with Ward's release (after the draft), Huggins will almost certainly be his replacement.
Mike: True, I just see less general upside with a running back in Tampa, whereas with Houston you're locking in a decent fantasy rushing attack.
Tom: Fair enough. My problem with Slaton is I'm not sure he'll end up as the Texans' backup running back.
Mike: I'm not particularly worried about that, but I can see the concern. Our stats abhorred him last year, although he was a decent fantasy back.
Tom: Well, a lot of Slaton's negative DVOA value came from fumbling problems. On a per-carry basis, he fumbled something like 50 percent more often than Peterson did in the regular season.
Mike: Didn't we have some similar thoughts on last year's version of Scramble Forever?
Tom: Not really.
Mike: I must have misremembered. Regardless, he's well set at other positions.
Tom: Last year Ian and Al lucked into Cedric Benson in the sixth round. They'll need one of their running backs to emerge like that again.
Mike: He got good value out of his picks.
(Ed. Note: And let it be proclaimed throughout the land that the new Tampa Bay backup running back shall be known on this website as "Lotso Huggins Back," the backup running back who smells like strawberries. As opposed to Ricky Williams, the backup running back who smells like something entirely different.)
THAT'S GREAT HUSTLE (Sean McCormick)
QB: Peyton Manning, IND (2-18), Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (10-114)
RB: Steven Jackson, STL (1-7), Cedric Benson, CIN (3-31), LaDainian Tomlinson, NYJ (7-79), Donald Brown, IND (8-90), Tashard Choice, DAL (13-151)
WR: Dwayne Bowe, KC (4-42), Jeremy Maclin, PHI (5-55), Pierre Garcon, IND (6-66), Derrick Mason, BAL (9-103), Early Doucet, ARI (15-175)
TE: Owen Daniels, HOU (11-127), Dustin Keller, NYJ (14-162)
K: Jeff Reed, PIT (16-186)
DST: 49ers (12-138)
Mike: We're both pessimistic about Benson, and world plus dog is pessimistic about Tomlinson, and Jackson is hardly a sure bet. This could be a disaster.
Tom: I actually hate his wide receivers more than I hate his running backs.
Mike: I don't know, I find them generally inoffensive. Not the greatest, and definitely not enough to make up for the running backs.
Tom: Bowe's okay. Maclin I think plays a lesser role in the offense than he did last year. Ditto Garcon and Mason. Doucet has Anderson or Leinart or Skelton throwing him the football and is the third option behind Fitzgerald and Breaston.
Mike: I think both Garcon and Mason will get plenty of touches. More confident in Garcon than Mason, but I don't think they're necessarily bad.
Tom: I'm very skeptical, especially when it comes to consistent production. I had Garcon last year, and half the time I started him, Collie was the flavor of the week.
Mike: Once bitten, twice shy. Regardless, this does seem like the weakest team.
Tom: Sorry, Sean, we think your team kind of sucks.
REMAIN IN MATT LIGHT (Bill Barnwell)
QB: Tony Romo, DAL (5-56), Eli Manning, NYG (9-104)
RB: Michael Turner, ATL (1-8), LeSean McCoy, PHI (3-32), Clinton Portis, WAS (6-65), Leon Washington, SEA (10-113), Toby Gerhart (14-161)
WR: Roddy White, ATL (2-17), Hines Ward, PIT (4-41), Malcom Floyd, SD (8-89), Anthony Gonzalez, IND (11-128), Jabar Gaffney, DEN (12-137), Devin Hester, CHI (13-152)
TE: Jason Witten, DAL (7-80)
K: Garrett Hartley, NO (16-185)
DST: Giants (15-176)
Mike: Turner's still alive?
Tom: Shockingly, Turner did not make it to the autodrafted team.
Mike: That is actually really surprising.
Tom: Well, after the top four plus Mendenhall plus Andre Johnson, what do you do? I'm not sure you take the second wideout. Unless you take a quarterback, you're taking one of the more flawed running backs.
Mike: Peyton Manning.
Tom: Well, I think it depends on where you think there's quarterback value. I think you can get a perfectly adequate quarterback in the middle rounds. And if you can get a running back who, while not great, will still get the majority of the carries and the vast majority of the goal-line work, you take him. (Foreshadowing alert!)
Mike: I see what you did there. I suppose I can see the reasoning, but the problem is that you're spending an early pick on a risk.
Tom: Well, Bill Barnwell is a fantasy football expert, and we're just fantasy football columnists, so who are we to question him?
Mike: Remember that I'll be spending this season making fun of both of you.
Tom: By the end of the year, I'll wish I had made the 1.5 points for TD/-5 for interceptions, QB/RB/2WR/TE/11 IDP league.
Mike: Probably true regardless of how you do in your leagues. I like the Gonzalez pick. And while I can't support Witten, he probably reacted to an expected run on tight ends and got a good player.
Tom: I have no confidence in the non-Clark/Wayne Colts wideouts. It'll be Peyton Manning's Dial-A-Receiver, and where the ball goes, nobody knows!
Mike: Fair enough.
PHANATIC CODEBREAKERS (Mike Tanier)
QB: Brett Favre, MIN (6-64), Kyle Orton, DEN (11-129), Matthew Stafford, DET (15-177)
RB: Frank Gore, SF (1-9), Beanie Wells, ARI (2-16), Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG (7-81), Darren Sproles, SD (9-105), Laurence Maroney, NE (10-112)
WR: Brandon Marshall, MIA (3-33), Wes Welker, NE (4-40), Chad Ochocinco, CIN (5-57), Josh Cribbs, CLE (16-184)
TE: Chris Cooley, WAS (8-88), Greg Olsen, CHI (13-153)
K: David Akers, PHI (12-136)
DST: Bengals (14-160)
Mike: Well, we know Gore is going to get approximately seven billion carries this season.
Tom: Until he falls apart for a game or two, or the 49ers offensive line fails to improve to the point where Singletary has to abandon his preferred running game and try to win instead.
Mike: That will be an amusing moment, if only because part of me thinks he won't abandon it.
Tom: Well, until Gore does break down, he should indeed get a lot of carries. One thing Mike mentioned is he doesn't really use KUBIAK much for this draft. I think that's probably smart, because everybody else except Team CBORG is at least looking at it. On the other hand, if you completely ignore it, you end up with some weird picks. Like Turner, Brandon Marshall was another guy I was sure would end up on the autodrafted team. People seem to be assuming he'll have roughly similar statistics.
Mike: Eh, I think the benefit of getting players that the other teams just don't believe in outweighs the weirdness of your picks. I think Mike made a good choice, there. Some amount of weirdness must also be attributed to Tanier himself, who just doesn't like fantasy football that much.
Tom: Hm, actually maybe I'm completely off. Last season, Denver attempted 558 passes. Miami actually attempted 545. I was thinking last year was more like 2008, when Denver attempted 620 passes and Miami 476.
Mike: I think he'll get similar targets. It's the quality of those targets that worries me.
Tom: Absence makes the heart grow fonder toward Kyle Orton?
Mike: I was one of the few Orton backers, if you recall. I'm not saying he's brilliant, but he's a passable quarterback.
Tom: I was thinking you just preferred him to your nemesis, Rex Grossman.
Mike: Hah! That is a completely reasonable interpretation of events.
Tom: I'm cautiously optimistic about Henne's play.
Mike: I'm not, but we've covered that.
Tom: I don't really get the need to draft three quarterbacks.
Mike: Trade bait.
Tom: Sure, but Stafford? I doubt anybody will go for Stafford early, so he may well be dropped to add bye week fodder.
Mike: Yeah, it's true, Stafford is probably a useless pick. We'll have to see.
TEAM CBORG (Autodraft)
QB: Drew Brees, NO (1-10)
RB: DeAngelo Williams, CAR (2-15), Jonathan Stewart, CAR (4-39), Brandon Jacobs, NYG (6-63), Kevin Smith (13-154), Marshawn Lynch, BUF (16-183)
WR: Steve Smith, CAR (3-34), Mike Sims-Walker, JAC (5-58), Percy Harvin, MIN (8-87), Austin Collie, IND (12-135), Nate Burleson, DET (15-178)
TE: Vernon Davis, SF (7-82), Kellen Winslow, TB (10-111)
K: Ryan Longwell, MIN (14-159)
DST: Jets (9-106), Eagles (11-130)
Mike: Oh, dear god. Why does this team have two defenses? Especially when one of them is the Jets?
Tom: Because it's autodraft. There was an autodraft team in my other league that picked four kickers.
Mike: Wow. Still, the team isn't hideous. Needs a backup quarterback.
Tom: If Harvin can stay healthy, I do like the wide receivers. I think Burleson could be a decent inconsistent option, if Stafford improves like I think he might and Detroit throws as much as I think they will. I feel like the autodrafted team last year was more interesting, though.
Mike: Probably true. I am a Kevin Smith fan.
Tom: The Clerks director? The former Cowboys cornerback? The guy who played Ares in Hercules?
As the caretaker of CBORG, I will play sit/starts based on ESPN's projections to keep the control group properly ... uh ... controlled.
Tom: The running backs look too JV to me. Williams is the only guy I feel confident could get the majority of his team's carries, and this team has Stewart to go with him.
Mike: Yeah, it's a weird bunch. We'll have to see who ESPN thinks is better week by week.
Tom: Good luck with that.
WAGSTAFF'S RINGERS (Tom Gower)
QB: Kevin Kolb, PHI (7-83)
RB: Ryan Mathews, SD (1-11), Ronnie Brown, MIA (3-35), Marion Barber, DAL (5-59), Fred Jackson, BUF (9-107), Montario Hardesty, CLE (10-110), Anthony Dixon, SF (16-182)
WR: Reggie Wayne, IND (2-14), Steve Smith, NYG (4-38), Mike Wallace, PIT (6-62), Johnny Knox, CHI (8-86), Laurent Robinson, STL (11-131), Mohamed Massaquoi, CLE (12-134)
TE: Heath Miller, PIT (13-155)
K: Lawrence Tynes, NYG (15-179)
DST: Dolphins (14-158)
Mike: You really love Kolb.
Tom: It just kind of worked out that I ended up with the same players in pretty much the same round in both drafts. Of course, with the second draft, I embraced that ethos more than I tried to avoid it.
Tom: Yes, I am.
Mike: I like Wayne/Wallace/Knox, though.
Tom: Thank you. I actually like all six of my wideouts. Robinson and Massaquoi are likely to be primary targets, and Wallace could really explode if Ward sees a decline.
Mike: Hardesty is a risk, but with upside. And again I feel Brown is running out of steam. But not a bad team, the second time around.
Tom: Ryan Mathews may actually now be my favorite of the non-top four running backs.
Mike: That's good for you, I guess.
Tom: It is!
THE CONSENSUS PICKS (Elias Holman)
QB: Matt Ryan, ATL (5-60), Vince Young, TEN (10-109)
RB: Shonn Greene, NYJ (2-13), Knowshon Moreno, DEN (3-36), Justin Forsett, SEA (7-84), Jerious Norwood, ATL (13-156), Brian Westbrook, SF (16-181)
WR: Randy Moss, NE (1-12), Marques Colston, NO (4-37), Steve Breaston, ARI (8-85), Eddie Royal, DEN (9-108), Jerricho Cotchery, NYJ (14-157)
TE: Tony Gonzalez, ATL (6-61)
K: Stephen Gostkowski, NE (12-133)
DST: Bears (11-132), Saints (15-180)
Tom: Greene's going to get his touchdowns vultured by Tomlinson, because all that soup he's had has given him a nose for the end zone. Moreno I liked as a player, but McDaniels now scares me like Belichick in terms of splitting running back carries. Forsett, Norwood, and Westbrook are all part-time backs.
Mike: Yeah, for a brief second I thought "hadn't Westbrook retired?"
Tom: I like the wideouts more, except for Breaston (Anderson/Leinart/Skelton), Royal (firmly ensconced in the doghouse last year), and Cotchery (Sanchize!).
Mike: I actually owned Moreno last year and it was definitely a mixed bag. Just ignore Cotchery. Royal will still be in the doghouse, but will be a necessary dog this year. Still, we're complaining about the WR3 on a team with strong WR1 and WR2.
Tom: Well, sure. But with 2RB/2WR/1 flex, a third wideout is helpful, especially when your backs are weak sauce.
Mike: Elias will probably be able to get another running back in trade for Vince Young at some point. Or Ryan, I suppose, depending on how this year goes.
Tom: I also have to point out Elias beat Aaron to selecting Gostkowski as the first kicker.
Mike: Good move on Gostkowski.
Tom: I'm not so sure. Annoying people who pay you money isn't a sound long-run business strategy.
Mike: Sad but true. Was it worth it, Elias? Was it? (It probably was, he's a good kicker to get in the 12th round.)
Tom: I think I now like Elias's team less than I did at the draft. Maybe that's because I was watching the Lions play the Browns during the draft.
Mike: What, and you forgot what football actually was? I do think that most of the other teams with weak running back corps at least have a few guys with breakout potential. Team Holman doesn't really have that.
Tom: See, last season's Browns-Lions regular season game was actually reasonably entertaining, like the NFL equivalent of a not particularly well played but high-scoring and back-and-forth college game.
Mike: So, a college game between actual competitors. I hear there are a few of those matches each year.
Tom: Just like the FO Staff Fantasy League.
No Scramble next week, as we'll be running our annual Staff Predictions in this time slot instead. The week after that will see Scramble return in its commercial-hawking, random topic-discussing, lolspeak-purveying in-season glory! If you are having difficulty containing your excitement, there are receptacles under your seat into which you may shed excess enthusiasm.
46 comments, Last at 03 Sep 2010, 10:44am by Blair Wendell