Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: Loser League is one of the time-honored Football Outsiders -- and more specifically Scramble for the Ball -- traditions. One part of that tradition is that readers of Football Outsiders attempt to come up with creative, timely, funny, etc. team names for their hand-picked cast of losers. Your Scramble writers then praise or (gently, and with good humor) mock them based on how effectively they did their job.
Mike: The power to mock is one of the few constitutional powers afforded the Scramble Writer, and I'll be damned if I let an opportunity pass without exercising said authority.
Tom: A full list of this year's names can be seen in the standings
Mike: The first test for a loser league name is whether any amount of effort whatsoever was put into its creation. Not that it is clever, or witty, or took tremendous brainpower to concoct -- because it is a silly exercise featured in a silly column named in honor of a silly, dead football league -- just that the owner put some minimal thought into the name.
Tom: "Unnamed Team: 292" and "Unnamed Team: 353" are your least favorite names, then?
Mike: Yes, followed closely by "A Bag of Crap." The Biggest Loser, despite being fairly lame and worthy of some large but non-maximal amount of scorn and derision, at least references something. Some of the better names utilize some interesting and amusing puns, like The Boy Who Cried Wilf or The Tenant of Rashard Mendenhall.
Tom: Yes. The ideal team name is something timely, football-related, and funny. Unfortunately, the high-profile happenings in the NFL this offseason were not particularly funny. Aaron Hernandez, most notably, was in the news for deeply sad and terribly unfunny reasons, and brain injuries are also up there with the definition of "not cool." I did give a brief chuckle to Riley Cooper's Aryan Foster Home, though.
Tom: See, I'm pretty sure that name is one of the several repeats. Just as my regular fantasy team name is still 1941 Orange Bowl Loser, other people stick to their Loser League name rather than come up with a new one every half-season.
Mike: Boo. There are a few teams with amusing meta names, and if your Scramble writers like anything, it's things that are meta. The winner in that category has to be "2013, and I Still Can Not Use Apostrophes In My Team Name" with bonus points for misspelling "cannot."
Tom: I wouldn't say "can not" is wrong, just not preferred. Unless they were trying to be ironic, in which case I applaud them.
Mike: No, "can not" would be having the option to not use apostrophes. "Cannot" is the inability to use apostrophes. My favorite of the meta category, however, has to be "even NSA not watching us" which is topical, clever, and honestly probably true.
Tom: Yes, but it sadly has nothing to do with football. Carlos Harmless is my favorite in the non-football category, especially because the preferred Loser League players are indeed the harmless ones.
Mike: That is quite clever.
Tom: The funniest thing that has happened in the NFL since the previous Loser League is probably still the buttfumble. Sadly, though, it does not seem to have inspired any good names. "Buttfumble," "The Buttfumblers," and "ButtFumbleFingers" do not do it for me.
Mike: I will give some credit for "Geno, Smithy, Mallow, and Bowser." It is an interesting reference, except Smithy was not a player-controlled character in Super Mario RPG, but the antagonist. So the interesting reference is wasted.
Tom: Well, it's close enough for my purposes unless there was an actual Smith, Sanchez, or Simms who was a playable character in the game.
Mike: I strongly suspect the owner of The IR All-Stars has misunderstood how loser league scoring works.
Tom: While we're on Jets QB-inspired names, apparently several people recognized the Elton John-related team name possibilities and we thus ended up with both "G-G-G-Geno and the Jetsssss" and "GenoandtheJets."
Mike: I would say that Test is my favorite team name, because submitting that team name is a brilliant reference to the sort of extreme incompetence celebrated by the Loser League, but I have strong suspicions that team was an actual test team created by Dear Leader Schatz.
Tom: Note to self: in future, use Aaron/Framingham, MA as name and location identifier for all of your team names. Since, as FO staffers, it doesn't matter if we win as we get KUBIAK for free.
Mike: Absent that choice, I think I have to go with Riley Cooper's Aryan Foster Home.
Tom: As a longtime fan of Back to the Future, I have to commend 1.21 J.J.Watts. Rookies are normally a good source for team names. The only one that seems to have drawn the readers' fancy, though, is Barkevious Mingo, who inspired Mingo the Mercilus (an excellent combination of the Browns rookie and the second-year Texans edge rusher), "Maybe the Mingo Ate Your Baby," and "Barkenvious of course." In fact, I'll go with Mingo the Mercilus as my favorite of this crop of Loser League names.
QUARTERBACK: Fittingly, after your Scramble writers noted a number of Jets quarterback-inspired Loser League names, current Jets quarterback Geno Smith finishes with a weekly low of 5 points, narrowly edging out another recent second-round quarterback, albeit one who was probably not picked in Loser League, in Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick managed a mere 6 points.
RUNNING BACK: Montee Ball and Ray Rice each had 1 point thanks to fumbles, while Mark Ingram, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Frank Gore came by their 2 points without the "benefit" of coughing up possession.
WIDE RECEIVER: The wide receiver formerly know as "Tampa" Mike Williams, a.k.a. "Not the one Matt Millen drafted," found life against the Saints much more difficult than that against the Jets and had a mere two catches for nine yards and 0 points. Cordarrelle Patterson objects to Loser League's non-inclusion of his special teams score and argues he should not be in the same motley 1 point crew as Jason Avant, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Dexter McCluster, Rueben Randle, Brandon LaFell, Earl Bennett, Brice Butler, and Jacoby Ford.
KICKER: Even though two of his misses (and one make) ended up not counting due to miscellaneous mostly timeout-related shenanigans, Texans kicker Randy Bullock still finished with three missed field goals to go with two made extra points for a week-worst and really pretty lousy -4 points. David Akers and Justin Tucker both thank him for pulling the spotlight off their own two missed field goals each.
Keep Chopping Wood: Here is a before shot of slot cornerback D.J. Moore attempting to convey a switch adjustment to outside corner Josh Norman if outside receiver Chris Hogan runs an inside-breaking route and slot receiver Stevie Johnson runs an outside-breaking route:
And here is an after shot, shoving Johnson after running a corner route covered by, well, um...
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: To be fair to Norman, he probably should never have been in that situation in the first place, as head coach Ron Rivera eschewed attempting what would have been a game-sealing conversion on fourth-and-1 for a field goal to extend Carolina's lead to six points, forcing the Bills to play for a winning touchdown rather than a tying field goal (had the conversion failed).
Tom: Well, Mike, the Cowboys did not end up with the win last week but they did cover so you are now 1-0 on the year. My pick of the Rams +7 ended up pushing, as Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter did an excellent job with using the wide receiver screen game to offset the Rams' huge edge at defensive end against the Falcons' tackles. Philp Rivers wishes someone had told Norv Turner last year that maybe you should not run seven-step drops with questionable tackles.
Standard betting lines source Bovada has a number of games off the board as of Tuesday evening writing time, of which only the Monday nighter has a line of greater than the Rams +4 at Dallas. Given early season uncertainty and how much our and other statistical projections have struggled thus far, it is tough to find a line I feel as confident as I did in my pick of St. Louis last week. I will again, though, go with the Falcons game, only on the other side of the coin. Notwithstanding my reasons for pessimism about the Falcons this year, I do not quite get why they are underdogs at Miami. I could see this game being a pick’em, but the line of the Dolphins by the home edge implies these are two equally good teams. I do not believe that. Give me Atlanta +3 at Miami.
Mike: I think this one is easy, really; Pittsburgh's defense looks old, its offense looks incompetent, and the possible return of Heath Miller won't make Todd Haley any less of an idiot. The Bears' offense may be suspect, but its defense completely overmatches Pittsburgh's offense. Chicago Bears -3 at Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mike: Not sure if serious.
Tom: Point number one: Unless you're in a particularly deep league or a league with a very limited number of waiver transactions, why is Kellen Winslow even on somebody's roster?
Mike: Surprisingly, Winslow is owned in 28 percent of Yahoo! leagues. For some insane reason.
Tom: Danario Alexander is owned in 3 percent.
Tom: In my view, barring weirdness, the trade is a downgrade at tight end for some possible degree of an upgrade at running back.
Mike: It really comes down to whether you believe in Jordan Cameron. If you don't, then getting Ridley, a productive back on what should be an elite offense, is a great example of selling high. If you're a believer, then he'll probably have good consistent value at a hard-to-fill roster spot and Ridley isn't worth the sacrifice.
Tom: Given what Ridley has done the last couple weeks and that Richardson at least early has been the featured back for the Rams, it may not be much of an upgrade.
Mike: Ridley ran into the Jets' run defense, which is the one part of the team that is still quite good.
Tom: You'd have to trust Ridley to be that productive back and the Patriots to be an elite offense. The Patriots haven't been a particularly elite offense and have been as matchup-specific as what they've done on a weekly basis as any team in the league.
Mike: We've only had two weeks!
Tom: Unless you think Cameron is a total flash in the pan who is no better than playing matchup tight ends (or you have Rob Gronkowski and are willing to do that for a couple weeks if need be), I would not make this trade.
Mike: Personally, unless you have solid running backs (in which case you're not even entertaining this trade), I say pull the trigger and sell high on Cameron. Then grab matchup tight ends. Actual tight ends. Not Kellen Winslow.
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