Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Nov 2015

Scramble for the Playoff Picture

by Andrew Healy and Sterling Xie

Sterling: NFL teams this season can give thanks for the flock of mediocrity keeping their playoff hopes alive. With Buffalo's loss on Monday night, 23 teams are at or below .500 headed into Thanksgiving weekend. Only five teams -- the Lions, 49ers, Titans, Chargers, and Browns -- are more than two games out of a playoff spot at the moment. So no, Roger, we do not need an expanded postseason.

Last weekend didn't necessarily bring a ton of movement in our playoff odds -- the Chiefs saw a huge rise by whooping the Chargers' JV squad, while the Giants also sat at home and watched the NFC East world burn around them. How about we do an awards-style look at the playoff race after Week 11?

Andrew: As long as we get to hand out a turducken at the end, I'm in.

Biggest Pretender

Sterling: If we're talking pretender to make the postseason, I'm going with the Philadelphia Eagles. Yep, I'm finally throwing out the kelly green Kool-Aid and jumping ship on my preseason Super Bowl pick. Both DVOA and ESPN's Football Power Index have been fairly high on the Eagles throughout the season, but if the run defense crumbles as it has since the season-ending injury to dynamic rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks, I'm not sure this team has any meaningful strengths. On a Super Bowl contending level, I'm not buying much stock in the Denver Broncos yet, at least until we see them receive an extended stretch of non-replacement level quarterback play.

Andrew: The New England Patriots. I kid. For this, I looked at the Super Bowl odds and picked the first team that I think has no shot to win it all. The first seven teams (Patriots, Cardinals, Panthers, Packers, Steelers, Bengals, and Broncos) all have real chances at this point, although I think Denver will be a logical pick. The eighth team, at 18/1, is the New York Giants. Leaving aside their apparent destiny to play the Patriots in the Super Bowl, they really shouldn't make this discussion. But that didn't stop them in 2007 and 2011. They are currently right in their 2007 (14th in DVOA) and 2011 (12th in DVOA) wheelhouse with their 12th overall ranking in DVOA. That stuff doesn't matter, right?

Most Important Injury Not Involving Peyton Manning

Andrew: Give me Ben Roethlisberger here. No quarterback-receiver combo right now compares to Big Ben and Antonio Brown. Brown has amassed more than 650 DYAR in his last 16 games with Roethlisberger (including Week 10 when Roethlisberger came off the bench). The single-season record is Michael Irvin's 591 in 1995. With the Steelers' defense ranking 14th this year, a healthy Ben Roethlisberger come playoff time would currently make Pittsburgh the main threat to the Patriots in the AFC.

Sterling: The perpetually dinged-up Roethlisberger makes sense, but then again, Big Ben makes the Black Knight look like J.D. Drew. Andrew Luck's kidney and Aaron Rodgers' mystery shoulder ailment are also reasonable choices, but just to move off the quarterback grid for a moment, how about DeMarcus Ware? I mentioned my skepticism about Denver above, and even if Brock Osweiler or reincarnated Zombie Peyton can give them reasonable quarterback play, it still seems safe to assume the Broncos will go as far as their defense can carry them. Denver may have excellent secondary personnel, but ranking second in adjusted sack rate is going to make most groups of defensive backs look great. In the three games Ware has missed this season, the Broncos have sacked the opposing quarterback on roughly 7.3 percent of dropbacks, whereas they've accrued a 9.8 percent sack rate with him in the lineup. Two of the three teams Denver has faced without Ware -- Kansas City and Cleveland -- are among the six worst offensive lines in adjusted sack rate, so even that raw sack rate might be overstating their Ware-less pass rush a bit. Ware is out after aggravating a pre-existing back injury which caused him to miss the Week 6 game at Cleveland. The 33-year-old vet has a ton of mileage on him, and if that injury lingers, it could further reduce the Broncos' margin for error against the Bengals and Patriots.

Most Revealing Game

Sterling: Jaguars vs. Titans revealed all we need to know about the abomination that the NFL Color Rush campaign can turn into. For actual football purposes, I'm going with Packers vs. Vikings from this past week. It's not that Green Bay was particularly great despite the 17-point margin of victory. The offense still hasn't figured things out, as Aaron Rodgers completed only 47.1 percent of his passes, the fourth-worst single-game mark of his career. Eddie Lacy got things going a bit in the second half, but the Packers as a whole still averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. And yet, when defenses hone in on Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater and, perhaps more glaringly, his pass protection aren't competent enough to sustain drives. Maybe there's a small aberration in Minnesota committing eight penalties for a season-high 110 penalty yards, though some will buy into the big-game composure narrative there. Still, even with the Packers still figuring themselves out on the Vikings' home turf, this rarely felt like a seriously competitive game during the second half.

Andrew: I'm going with Seahawks vs. Cardinals from Week 10. That was the game when I started to believe in Arizona as a Super Bowl contender and, to a lesser extent, to doubt the Seahawks' ability to reach their former heights on defense despite mostly the exact same talent. Carson Palmer just tore them apart except for those turnovers that briefly put the Seahawks ahead in the fourth quarter.

Turducken Picks

Andrew: If we're going to fill in for John Madden, I think we need to follow the letter of the turducken law and give the turducken to the best performer on Thanksgiving. And I'm even sticking with the tradition and going with the NFC game that Madden would have done. I'm with you and out on your preseason Super Bowl pick, so I'm going Lions. Let's go with Golden Tate as the winner of the Thanksgiving turkey/turducken. He's feisty, and let's give him at least one play where he runs someone over. Despite having just 50 carries so far for the year, Joique Bell is our dark horse contender given the Eagles' struggles against power backs. More than one person is allowed to win the turducken, so call it a Tate-Bell combo.

Sterling: Madden would have to be everywhere at once if he was calling an NFC game, as all six teams playing on Thanksgiving are from the NFC. Perhaps it's better that Madden is no longer working in a world where tofurkey Twitter accounts have five-figure followings.

I'll stick to the Thanksgiving Day part of that tradition and hand out a virtual turducken to the Panthers' backfield duo of Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. The Cowboys rank 25th in run defense DVOA and 23rd in adjusted line yards, which makes for a terrible matchup against the ground-bound Carolina offense. Tolbert hasn't actually gotten more than seven carries or 31 rushing yards in a game yet this season, but the thought of him gobbling down a postgame turducken just seems appropriate.

Andrew: In lieu of a bet this week, let's go with holiday wishes here. It's the best holiday of the year in my book. Football, food, gratitude. All awesome. Happy Thanksgiving!

Advanced Stat O' The Week

Cam Newton's Passing DVOA: 1.2% (Ranked 14th)

Newton finally leaned into positive territory in DVOA with a fantastic five-touchdown day against Washington. His receivers on those throws: Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Butterfingers Ginn, Greg Olsen, and Devin Funchess.

G.O.A.T. of the Week

The 2014 fantasy season might go down as the year of the handcuff running back. Two of the position's top three scorers this week, Thomas Rawls (36 points) and Spencer Ware (21 points), were unknown reserves at the start of the season (and in Ware's case, as recently as this week). Of the top 10 scoring running backs from this week (it's 11 players in total if we include the three-way tie between Darren McFadden, Alfred Blue, and Patrick Freaking DiMarco), five weren't even drafted in average ESPN standard leagues. Three more -- Doug Martin, McFadden, and Blue -- had an ADP of 97 or later.

Ware is probably still a handcuff to an original handcuff, assuming Charcandrick West's hamstring ailment isn't too troublesome. Still, the Chiefs face the easiest remaining run defense schedule by DVOA during the fantasy playoffs -- Kansas City's Week 13-16 opponents (Oakland, San Diego, Baltimore, and Cleveland) have combined for an average run defense DVOA of -3.3%. As for the Seahawks, Rawls has looked more like Beast Mode than the original mode ever did this year, and might hold the same RB1 value that Marshawn Lynch did if he receives a similarly heavy usage rate. Seattle and Kansas City may deliver two of the most valuable running backs down the stretch. It just won't be the names anyone imagined at the start of the season.

Goat of the Week

It's always rough starting a player against a seemingly juicy matchup, only to see things go unexpectedly south. Many owners loaded up on the Oakland triplets of Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, and Amari Cooper against the woeful Lions. Based on ESPN figures, Carr, Murray and Cooper were started in 74.0 percent, 86.4 percent and 91.7 percent of standard leagues, respectively. Michael Crabtree, more of a flex level player, also saw a big matchup boost, receiving starts in 87.1 percent of leagues. Unfortunately, Sebastian Janikowski ended up being the Raiders' leading fantasy scorer of the day, as none of Oakland's quartet cracked eight points.

Loser League: Updates and Prizes!

In case you haven't seen, we're doing a one-week Thanksgiving edition of the Loser League, with the winner getting his or her choice of ugly NFL Christmas sweaters from our sponsor UglyChristmasSweater.com. Because after all, nothing says Thanksgiving like looking ahead to Christmas. The roster size (2 QB, 3 RB, 3 RB, 2 K) and scoring system is the same as the normal Loser League, and even though this is a one-week deal, there's no salary cap, a la daily fantasy. However, in order to actually be eligible to win the contest, you must select at least one player from each position who is playing on Thanksgiving! Players from Philadelphia, Detroit, Carolina, Dallas, Green Bay and Chicago are bolded on the selection page to help as a friendly reminder. (Brock Osweiler is apparently also bolded on the selection page because we occasionally make confusing mistakes.)

The regular Loser League will still go in during Week 12, of course. Here's a look back at the best of the worst from Week 11.

Quarterback: The tipping point has come for Philip Rivers, who posted his worst game of the season en route to just 6 Loser League points. Along with Derek Carr, the people's choice Kirk Cousins tied for second with 8 points.

Running Back: Tevin Coleman hadn't gotten enough carries to avoid the 15-point penalty since Week 2, but Devonta Freeman's concussion paved the way for the Falcons running back to end up with a week-low 2 Loser League points. Chris Ivory ended up with just 3 points after failing to score for the fourth time in his past five games, while Part I star Melvin Gordon was part of a three-way tie with 4 points alongside Ameer Abdullah and LeGarrette Blount.

Wide Receiver: It wasn't the best week at the position, as only three receivers ended up with goose eggs. No one would've picked Amari Cooper for obvious reasons, while Jeff Janis and Devin Smith haven't received enough targets this year for serious Loser League consideration. There was a healthy contingent of 12 players with 1 point, however, which included stalwarts like Quinton Patton, Torrey Smith, Tavon Austin, and Harry Douglas.

Kicker: It was a big week for missed extra points. Greg Zuerlein's loose cannon of a leg again ended up in the red with minus-6 points, as he missed his only field goal attempt, made one extra point and saw another one blocked. Steven Hauschka ended up with two missed extra points, but also a field goal and two extra points made for a total of minus-5. Blair Walsh also had minus-4 points after he also missed one of his two extra point attempts.

You can see the full Week 11 results here. Note that scores may be incorrect for Zuerlein and Hauschka because of an error related to blocked extra points; that will be be fixed sometime on Wednesday afternoon.

Super-Huge Mega Lock of the Week

Last week, we turned to the nephew to snap us out of our picking doldrums and he delivered with his pick of the Packers getting a point in Minnesota. This week, with the niece edging out the nephew and the rest of the family in our weekly picks, we turned again to the eight-year-old niece and six-year-old nephew to bring us back to .500. They like the Panthers giving a point in Dallas on Thanksgiving. They agree that Tony Romo makes a huge difference and they know you're not supposed to bet against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but the Panthers are now the Super Bowl favorites and within shouting distance of the top spot in our ratings. The nephew and niece emphasize that they never endorsed their uncle's stubborn pessimism on the Panthers.

Record: 5-6

Cinemax Presents Exotic Propositions

With Thanksgiving coming up, we are grateful that our team* is so freaking good. So how about Patriots to win the Super Bowl at +240? They are still winning without their left tackle, their best receiver, and maybe their best defensive player in Jamie Collins. Two of those guys will be back by the time the playoffs start. The one huge question mark coming into the season was corner, but Malcolm Butler has provided an answer. The eff-you season is repeating, just a little less angrily. Isn't there only one logical conclusion to this Patriots season?

(*Ed. Note: "Our team?" Yes, both of our new Scramble scribes are Patriots fans, returning Football Outsiders to its proper position as a sparkling festival of pro-Patriots bias. Come for the advanced stats, stay for the fawning hagiography celebrating the brilliance of Dante Scarnecchia.)

John Fox Award

Hue Jackson would be in the running for an Offensive Coordinator of the Year award, but a poor play call helped take the Bengals further away from contention for the top seed in the AFC. If the Bengals had run on third-and-2 instead of passing with 1:14 left trailing by three, they could have left Arizona almost no time to respond. Instead, a deep pass to A.J. Green fell incomplete, which led to the Cardinals getting their own field goal to win as time expired. Particularly given that Carson Palmer had gashed the Bengals' secondary all night, this is one of those times you just have to run. Even if the pass worked, Palmer was grabbing 20-yard chunks on the subsequent drive such that a four-point lead wouldn't have been safe. Marvin Lewis' postgame comments suggested maybe Dalton made the call to pass, although there was no obvious switch on the tape.

Keep Choppin' Wood

Offenses with green quarterbacks under center tend to have lots of issues. The play calling needs to be dialed back, receiver chemistry is often lacking, and sacks and turnovers tend to pile up in bunches. Of course, most teams would expect any quarterback to have basic ambulatory functionality. However, even that was too much for both Brock Osweiler and Case Keenum, who share our KCW in the week after their first starts of 2015.

You've likely seen the Osweiler clip by now, as the Broncos gangly quarterback fulfilled all the bad tall people stereotypes by tripping Ronnie Hillman on fourth-and-1 from the Chicago 2-yard line. The play seemed to work -- it appeared Hillman had a clear path to the end zone -- but apparently in a game involving John Fox, no fourth-down decision is allowed to work out.

Occurring at 9:06 of the third quarter, Keenum's gaffe wasn't entirely his fault, as he was tripped by pulling guard Garrett Reynolds (who appeared to get away with a false start, which might explain how he ended up in position to trip Keenum in the first place). Either way, Keenum ended up dropping the ball in front of Todd Gurley, and the Ravens recovered at the St. Louis 42. Of course, because that game was essentially a nonsensical shoving contest, Joe Flacco returned the favor with a pick just three plays later. Come to think of it, most of Rams-Ravens could fit under KCW.

Posted by: Andrew Healy and Sterling Xie on 25 Nov 2015

5 comments, Last at 12 Sep 2017, 7:02am by himanshu123

Comments

1
by Moridin :: Wed, 11/25/2015 - 10:22pm

I feel like KCW should've gone to Fisher, for having Keenum in after the obvious concussion. Or maybe Andrew would prefer a new 'Three Stooges' (or something medicalish) award for coaches who put brain damaged or otherwise obviously injured players back in to screw up.

3
by LionInAZ :: Sun, 11/29/2015 - 9:31pm

I think KCW is reserved for players. Coaches compete for the John Fox award.

2
by Sid :: Sun, 11/29/2015 - 6:20pm

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/loser/results

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