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. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
26 Sep 2012
by Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower
Tom: So, Mike, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but a couple teams that had some pretty good over/under numbers this season currently have a losing record.
Mike: Really? I hadn't noticed.
Tom: That the Titans are currently 1-2 is not much of a surprise. That teams like the Patriots, Packers, Broncos, and, yes, your Steelers, are 1-2 is a less-expected development. As is the 0-3 mark of the Saints.
Mike: I am glaring so hard right now that I'm somewhat worried the monitor is going to catch fire. I will say, you deserve some props for your analysis of the Saints in our over/under column. It's not just the defense that looks a mess, though they have looked really bad. The offense has fallen. If not off a cliff, than at least off one of those indoor climbing walls.
Tom: Why thank you. My "defense is about talented players" mantra paid off when I looked at the Saints and didn't see enough good defensive players.
Mike: You don't get credit for the defense. Otherwise, we'll be here all night, congratulating people.
Tom: The offense looks sort of OK. They've scored at least 24 points in every game and are ninth in the league in total yards. Obviously VOA doesn't shine on them quite that brightly, ranking them 13th (and only 21st in passing VOA).
Mike: Yes, and obviously all of our opinions are based on VOA, except for when we don't like what VOA says.
Tom: Conventional statistics and VOA, plus my eyes, agree they may be giving the ball to Mark Ingram too much. I think the concurrent loss of Robert Meachem and the injury to Devery Henderson has limited the vertical component of their passing game.
Mike: Perhaps. There is an interesting parallel between Green Bay and New Orleans in this early part of the season. Both were high-powered offensive juggernauts with a bad defense, both are losing to sub-standard competition. Although Green Bay with a significant asterisk, after Monday night.
Tom: Neither of Green Bay's losses is as bad as any of New Orleans' losses. As right as I may have been about the Saints, my diagnosis of the 49ers may have been about that far off. The Seahawks do have a legitimately good defense.
Mike: They do, which is a very pleasing development. I suppose we could also throw New England into the pot, and possibly Denver, although Denver's first loss was very much on Peyton Manning. Nevertheless, all of these teams seem to fall into the good/great offense-poor defense category. Including, astoundingly, the Steelers.
Tom: I wonder if "all you need is a passing game" is somehow becoming less true, or if it's just an early-season fluke.
Mike: It may have morphed into "all you need is a passing game and a pass defense to stop the other guy's passing game" since every team, at this point, has received the passing game memo. I hear Andy Reid has wallpapered his office with it.
Tom: I'm not so sure about the general wisdom of wallpapering a coach's office with it, though I volunteer to do it in Tennessee this year. Wallpapering the GM's office with it sounds like a better idea. The Patriots are also second in offensive VOA, though obviously their blowout win Week 1 skews that to some extent. The Falcons are your current example of "all you need is a passing game," ranking first in the air and twenty-fourth on the ground by VOA. They have a similar split on defense: third in pass defense and 28th against the run. Interestingly, the Packers have the same orientation, ranking fifth against the pass and 24th in rushing VOA.
Mike: The other interesting thing about all these teams is that the losses have been relatively close. Pittsburgh lost by 12 to Denver, although that total is slightly misleading as the game was clinched on a pick-six on the Steelers' penultimate drive. They lost by three against Oakland. The Saints lost to the Redskins by eight, then Carolina by eight, then Kansas City by three. Green Bay lost by eight to San Francisco and then by two to Seattle. Denver by six to Atlanta and then six again to Houston.
Tom: The Broncos were, of course, down by much more in both those games.
Mike: The Patriots lost by two to Arizona and then just one to Baltimore. So, all of these teams with great expectations are losing, albeit losing rather close games. The Patriots are probably the most impressive of the lot, since both their losses were extremely close against two good teams. Every other team in our sample has lost a game to an out-and-out bad team.
Tom: Not the Broncos. The Broncos had a tough enough schedule, with three hard games, that I'm not too concerned over their 1-2 start. The non-Broncos teams with a win also have a comfortable win. New England blew out Tennessee. The Packers beat the Bears pretty soundly. The Steelers smoked the Jets.
Mike: I'm not sure I'm really worried about any of these teams, except for maybe the Saints.
Tom: I think you were right in our over/unders to be very concerned about the defensive injuries I mostly dismissed.
Mike: I don't think the Steelers will end up anywhere near our projection from the preseason, and it is worrisome that their defensive VOA is putrid. I suppose maybe I merely have blind faith in the Steelers' coaching staff to Just Fix It. There really are a ton of injuries, yes, and right now they're missing the two cornerstones of the defense. That said, you can no longer count on Troy Polamalu to stay healthy. I think I said this last year also. The defense needs to be redesigned to compensate for this reality, and as of yet it hasn't. Maybe because of the draft's focus on offensive line, who knows. But the issue has come to a head.
Tom: As the Colts of 2006 showed, though, you only need your game-changing safety in the playoffs, if you can get to the playoffs without him.
Mike: True. I also think that if the defense can crawl back to "bad for Pittsburgh" levels, as opposed to "bad for anyone" levels, the budding offensive showcase should make most games very winnable. I suppose we'll have to wait and see.
Tom: Yes. Maybe the Steelers won't hit the over I predicted them to hit, but I still like all of these teams except the team I didn't like in preseason, New Orleans.
Mike: My bets for the best performers out of this group are still on the Patriots, however.
Tom: The Darrelle Revis injury is a big hit to the team that could have posed the biggest intradivision challenge to the Patriots. The Patriots line was optimistic. The defense seems somewhat improved, but giving up 503 yards to the Ravens and blowing a nine-point fourth quarter lead didn't give me much confidence in them. This week's game in Buffalo will pose an interesting challenge, even with the Bills' running back injuries. We should have a better idea of just how good they really are.
Tom: Well, after two miserable weeks, I finally won my first fantasy game this week. My team still underachieved its projected score, thanks in part to my starting the Lions defense and getting all of zero points from them. LeSean McCoy and Ryan Mathews both had mediocre games. Autodrafted second-round pick Matthew Stafford was my high scorer, but was outscored by Jake Locker on the bench. FO binky Kyle Rudolph helped make up for McCoy and Mathews' low scores. Meanwhile, my opponent only got seven points from Justin Tucker and lost 20 points by starting Tony Romo instead of Joe Flacco.
Mike: Hooray! I came dangerously close to winning my first game in my competitive league. Instead, I am stuck with a rather embarrassing loss. I lost by five points, even after my sister started the injured Hakeem Nicks.
Tom: Dangerously close? Did you lose the game on the final play as your opponent started Russell Wilson?
Mike: No, but I serendipitously started Titus Young this past week. Winning with Young in a slot is probably against some rule.
Tom: He would have been a very viable start in the IDP, big-roster league I played last year.
Mike: My league has two WR slots, plus a W/T and W/R. Everyone else was hurt. He was the best of what was left.
Tom: Hey, it worked out for you. It was therefore automatically a good decision.
Mike: It worked out in that he got me 13.5 points. I still lost!
Tom: With that mix, I can't figure out if it was a good decision or not. Let me go yell at somebody else and figure this out.
Mike: Astoundingly, I was let down tremendously by the Jacksons. Steven only netted 3.4 points and Vincent a paltry 2.9.
Tom: Well, I'm sure that's better than Tito and Jermaine did.
Mike: The end of this story is that despite having the second-most points in the league, I have 0 wins and am second-to-last in the standings.
Tom: I'm sure if we ran the standings, you'd end up with like 10.2 Pythagorean Wins. Basically, you're the Eagles.
Mike: As if my day weren't bad enough. In the other league, I added another win to my streak, thanks to Ray Rice and, especially, Jamaal Charles. No thanks whatsoever to Philadelphia DST, which gained me three points during their clobbering. Everyone else was terrible, including Tony Romo. I'm not sure why I started Tony Romo. That said, holy crap, 37.8 points from Jamaal Charles? That was fun.
Tom: To whomever it was I told in last week's comments section I wouldn't start Charles. I wouldn't have started Charles. If you listened to me, I'm sorry, I really do feel badly about that. (Or should I just not say that?)
Mike: Go ahead and say it. We're not infallible. I started Romo!
Tom: Oh, it's one thing to screw up my own fantasy team. I blew a championship a couple years ago by overthinking things. It's another to abuse a position of trust like this one. Well, what can we do? Somehow, we must carry on.
QUARTERBACK: It's not a surprise a quarterback on a limited offense against a good defense like Sam Bradford would end up with only 4 points this week, but what on earth is Philip Rivers doing with the same total? Oh, yeah, he got NORV'ed.
RUNNING BACK: When you fumble three times, even if you only lose two of them, you will probably have a low Loser League score. Toby Gerhart ends up on the bottom this week with -1 point, while Ben Tate's fumble left him with 0.
WIDE RECEIVER: Our fumbling theme continues with Dexter McCluster at 0 points even after 33 yards from scrimmage. Harry Douglas, Greg Little, Jordy Nelson, Eddie Royal, and Brandon Gibson have no such ball security problems to blame for only putting up 1 point each.
KICKER: Through three weeks of this NFL season, we've been spared any particularly terrible kicking performances. Once again, the top Loser League kicker didn't miss any kicks; their offense just didn't score many points. Carolina scored a touchdown and didn't attempt a field goal, which means Justin Medlock is your low man with 1 point.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Poor Akeem Ayers. What seemed like it might be the second-year Tennessee linebacker's career-best game turned into a nightmare. If you saw the replay of Titus Young's Hail Mary catch, you saw Ayers bat the ball to him. What you probably did not see was what Ayers did 20 seconds of gametime earlier, when his roughing the passer penalty negated what would have been a game-sealing interception in the end zone.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Come on down, Romeo Crennel, you are the next student in "Marv Levy's Class on the Wisdom of Settling for Long Field Goals." With 1:51 to play in the fourth quarter, Matt Cassel converted a sneak to give the Chiefs a first-and-10 at the Saints 28 with Kansas City trailing 24-21 in Sunday's game. The Saints had two timeouts left, and for fear of leaving enough time on the clock for them to lose, Jamaal Charles ran into the line twice, simply to burn the clock, and Ryan Succop attempted a 43-yard-field goal to force the tie. He made it, and the Chiefs went on to win in overtime, so Crennel has escaped much scrutiny for his call. At least when Levy called for his long field goals, making them would have won the game outright instead of forcing an overtime period where his team's chance at winning was probably no better than 50-50.
During Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden declared that it would be a long 6,000 mile flight home for the Packers. Perhaps Gruden spent too much time tracking distance by reading "Family Circus" cartoons and tracing Billy's path when he was a child, as the normal distance from Seattle to Green Bay is significantly less than that. Your Scramble writers decided to help Gruden out by finding an itinerary flying through NFL cities that could add up to 6,000 miles or close to it. The Packers’ home adventure thus becomes:
1. Seattle against the Seahawks TO
2. Boston and a visit to the Patriots TO
3. Miami to see old offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and the Dolphins TO
4. Houston to see perhaps the AFC's best team TO
5. Green Bay and blessed rest after a trip home of 5793 miles.
You're welcome, Jon.
Hieronymous: Picked up the Cardinals defense last week. I had originally intended to swap defenses week-to-week but they're looking like a keeper. Only problem is that looking ahead reveals my backup QB (Ryan Fitzpatrick) has a matchup @ARI during my starter's bye week. I'm kind of new to fantasy; is this something I need to address with a trade or just keep him around and hope for the best that week?
Tom: I'm not sure I've ever started a fantasy defense against my fantasy quarterback before, but I don't see any reason in principle you can't do it. The more important questions is, is Fitzpatrick the best quarterback for you to have that week?
Mike: If the quarterback in question is part of a decently good passing team, it's a very bad idea.
Tom: You want to keep Arizona because they're a good defense. Non-great quarterbacks tend to put up fewer points against good defenses. Fitzpatrick is certainly not great.
Mike: Especially in leagues where defenses are on a sliding scale based on points allowed.
Tom: Typically, though, a touchdown for a quarterback is on net more valuable than giving up an additional seven points is for the defense.
Mike: Honestly I'd be looking for a stopgap quarterback off waivers. Fitzpatrick is a solid backup fantasy quarterback, so if you have a deep enough bench consider cutting a marginal player and getting a marginal quarterback with a better matchup just for this week.
Tom: That's where I was getting to as well. If there's a better bye week quarterback on waivers, which is very possible, play him.
Kyle Turley's Helmet: I have the exceptional ___________ (luck, joy, honor) of owning Chris Johnson in my primary league, Steven Jackson in a second, and Matt Forte in a third. Needless to say, my situation at RB is desperate. My KUBIAK sheet was fairly high on all of them, but their lack of performance has been costing me games. Are any of these guys going to perform, or should I start thinking about cutting my losses early on in the season?
Tom: I've covered Chris Johnson before: he's an RB3 with a very high ceiling which will be completely unpredictable.
Mike: None of those words are words I would use to describe the state of owning Chris Johnson.
Tom: If you're willing to put up with lots of low scoring weeks to get the rare and random big game, you're welcome to keep playing him.
Mike: Honestly, Mr. Turley's Helmet, I think you are right and properly boned. Johnson is basically a non-starter in both senses of the word, while Jackson once again has injury issues and I'm certain Forte isn't far behind, with the added bonus of a designated touchdown vulture on staff. I wouldn't recommend trying to move Forte or Jackson, but if you can find some overly optimistic owner willing to take Johnson based on his name, you need to go there.
Tom: I expect Jackson to get more carries once he's healthy, and he's been pretty healthy for most of his career. Forte is better than anybody you'll find on the waiver wire, even if he seems like he'll be a real disappointment compared to his draft status.
Sifter: Been offered Andre Brown for Pierre Thomas in my 12-team PPR league. Does Coughlin have a history of switching starters and turning to the 'hot' back midseason? Or is Brown yesterday's news? Or could David Wilson muddy the waters once he finds the door to the doghouse? I've started 3-0, so I'm more concerned with potential production in the back end of the season.
Tom: The big question with Coughlin is what he does when he was multiple viable backs. At times, he's had clear top backs, and they've generally remained the top back. Then you have years like 2008, when the Giants had three viable backs in Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, and Derrick Ward. They were more or less in a rotation at the start of the year and in a rotation at the end of the year. A similar thing was true in 2009 with Jacobs and Bradshaw, then by 2010 Bradshaw and Jacobs had flipped spots in their timeshare by the start of the year and stayed there. Brown's current productivity is a result of Bradshaw's injury and Wilson spending time in Coughlin's doghouse. Your trading partner is trying to sell high. If you were the prior person, I'd tell you to make the trade. You're not, and I'm not convinced Brown will maintain his current productivity barring injury to the other backs.
Mike: I'm not entirely sure that Brown is going to suffer quite as precipitous a drop as you seem to believe he will. That said, I agree that someone is trying to take you for a ride on this trade. Either ask for a sweeter deal or just pass on it.
Tom: I should add that while I expect Brown's numbers to decline, Thomas isn't a world-beater. He's on pace to put up roughly the same numbers he did last year, though he hasn't scored any touchdowns yet (he only scored six last year). Brown may have better upside. I'd stick with Thomas, though.
Ken: In one (deep) league I've got Tom Brady and Robert Griffin. I feel like I have to trade one of them, probably for a RB (in a start two plus flex, my RBs are Trent Richardson, Pierre Thomas, DeAngelo Williams, and Donald Brown). The question is, who do I trade? RG3 has outscored Brady every week so far but I'm not sure he will keep it up and/or stay healthy. As an added twist, it's a keeper league where you keep the guy with a draft pick 2 spots above where they were drafted, so RG3 would be a 7th rounder next year (Brady was a first rounder and can't be kept). Who would you advise I trade and who should I keep--or should I stay pat?
Mike: As loath as I am to suggest you tie your fate to a rookie quarterback who looks like he's going to take an absolute beating this year, the combination of keeper rules and the incredible trade value of Brady make it hard for me to pick Tom.
Tom: Yes, if he doesn't get broken in half, the keeper value makes RG3 your better bet. The possibility of getting broken in half scares me.
Mike: The possibility of regression next year also scares me. But he was picked late enough that it's not fatal.
Tom: Limited keeper leagues make it tough for us, or at least me, to judge. A seventh-round pick for RG3 could make him a really valuable player if he has lots of rushing value or give you not much excess value. Just the possibility of massive excess value next year makes me say not to trade him. If you can get the right player, a real RB1, for Brady, then I make the trade and take the Griffin gamble.
Joe Diko: Tight End question this week. Brent Celek vs. NYG or Antonio Gates vs. KC. Standard scoring, PPR league. Both have had moments of underwhelmingness. Thanks!
Tom: This is a great question for the handy-dandy DVOA against types of receivers page, which is available this week for the first time this season. The Chiefs have done poorly against tight ends. The Giants have done well. Gates' poor performance last week was more the result of San Diego's problems against Atlanta. The Chiefs don't pose nearly as difficult a challenge. Go with Gates.
Mike: I don't think there's anything else to be said!
Tom: Your weekly reminder: all lines are courtesy of Bovada and are accurate as of the time of this writing. All picks were made without consulting FO's Premium picks. Mike and I both got our pick right last week, and are now 1-1 on the year.
Mike: As tempting as betting against the Browns is, +12.5 is just a crazy line for an NFL game. New England-Buffalo is another tempting game, but as we discussed earlier, the Patriots have not looked extremely sharp, and Buffalo is probably in a decent position to take advantage of the Patriots' suspect secondary.
Tom: I'm thinking about doing something potentially crazy again. But the Bengals' defense looked really awful the first two weeks. The Jaguars have been very competitive in two road games against non-great teams. Okay, the Colts and Vikings may be closer to being bad than non-great. But raw VOA and DAVE suggest this game should be closer to pick'em than a road favorite. I may regret this, but I'm taking Jacksonville +3.
Mike: I think you will regret it.
Tom: Then I will rue my decision in this space next week.
Mike: I've been wavering between Washington +3 at Tampa and Seattle -3 at St. Looey.
Tom: I'm not sure either of those lines you're considering is particularly attractive.
Mike: Anyway, I think I believe in Buccaneers less than the Rams. Washington +3 at Tampa Bay. You disagree?
Tom: The Bucs have been feisty and shut down the Panthers in Week 1.
Mike: The Panthers are awful.
Tom: Seattle is better than St. Louis, but before the final play they'd only scored seven points. I don't think Washington is very good. And they just lost two of their better defensive players for the season. (Last week, but you get the point.)
Mike: And I would say that is a huge problem if they weren't playing Tampa Bay!
Tom: I think Tampa favored by three playing at home is a good line, and I'm not sure which team I'd pick if I had to bet it. That's why I picked a different game. But, hey, good luck with your pick this week.
Send any fantasy questions, comments or loose change you have lying around to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com!
42 comments, Last at 30 Sep 2012, 4:55am by SFC B