Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» SDA Bowl Spectacular: Part I

Our first round of bowl games includes exciting players like Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, a potential first-round pick in April's draft.

22 Nov 2017

Scramble for the Ball: With All the Fixings

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew: Welcome to this week's Scramble for the Ball, where we somehow are still in the midst of an amazing multi-week run of terrific football. Since my personal favorite week of the NFL season, we have had a chance to look at the most inept performances of the first half of the year, followed immediately by the Chargers and Jaguars demonstrating exactly what a Loser League Pro Bowl would look like in real time! As if that wasn't enough, this midweek we get roughly seven hours of bonus football, with the arrival of Thanksgiving weekend!

Bryan: It's not really "bonus football" so much as it's spreading football out over a larger period of time. And, unlike last year, where we had three really juicy matchups, it feels like the spread gets a little bit thinner as we approach the evening.

Andrew: Fine, bonus live televised football. Stickler.

Bryan: Still, Thanksgiving football is one of the best traditions in sports -- one of the few times when Thursday football doesn't feel awkwardly crammed in for ratings or TV money. Maybe in 50 years, we'll think of random Thursday night games as having the same tradition, but for now, these ones are special.

One of the most awkward parts about Thanksgiving football, we find, is that a good chunk of the audience for these games may be tuning in for the first time this season. And, if you're a regular reader of the site, you're probably The Football Expert in the room. Sure, you've been following Ezekiel Elliot's suspension drama, know about Case Keenum's 2017 renaissance and can name two New York Giants receivers (...OK, maybe not that last one, but still), but Aunt Samantha still thinks Joe Theismann is Washington's quarterback and Uncle Joe still thinks that teams need to run the ball more like it was still 1972, dang it.

At least when I go home, I often feel a pressure to answer questions and explain things for most of the game, which can kind of dampen my own excitement, at least -- and can prove awkward when there's something I don't know, like all the injury replacements on a team I've only seen play once or twice this season.

Your Friendly Scramble Team is here to help, however! As is tradition (two years is a tradition, shut up), we've provided a helpful Thanksgiving Day preview, simple enough for people who haven't watched a game of football since Peyton Manning retired but nuanced enough for you to sound like Paul Zimmerman to someone who doesn't know who Paul Zimmerman is. Consider this your cheat sheet to help get you through a Thanksgiving day with the family.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-2) AT DETROIT LIONS (6-4) (FOX, 12:30 p.m. EST)

Andrew: This is easily the pick of this Thanksgiving slate. Last year, the same teams met on the same Thursday in the same stadium with identical 6-4 records, and we got an incredible ending when Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford threw an interception to Darius Slay with only 38 seconds left to set up a game-winning field goal for the Lions. It was a tightly-contested game throughout, but not so action-packed you couldn't go to the kitchen, and had the most dramatic finale of any of the games.

Bryan: The teams are less evenly matched this year, but in some ways, that makes the game more interesting. One of my favorite types of games is the very good team, trying to prove they belong in the serious Super Bowl conversation, having to go on the road and win against an amped up good team. Add in the fact that Minnesota is trying to avenge a 14-7 loss to Detroit back in their own stadium in Week 5, and you have the game of the week right here.

Who's Playing (And Who's Not)

Andrew: Sam Bradford is on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered way back in Week 1, so former Texans and Rams journeyman Case Keenum is in line to make his eighth start for Minnesota. Halfback Dalvin Cook is also done for the year with a knee injury, leaving Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray dividing time in the Vikings backfield. Fortunately, those are the only major Vikings absentees -- unlike last season's injury disaster -- and a solid, mostly healthy offensive line paired with one of the league's best receiving tandems has given the Vikings a much improved offense despite the backfield losses.

The Lions are missing almost nobody. Left tackle Taylor Decker returned two weeks ago from the Physically Unable to Perform list (basically a form of preseason injured reserve), leaving backup running back Dwayne Washington as the only offensive contributor of any remote significance who might miss Thursday's game. Ziggy Ansah is a significant question mark for the defense, but he and long-term absentee Haloti Ngata are the only defensive starters in doubt as well. In a season that has seen injuries wreck the starting lineups of many a would-be contender, the Lions may be the healthiest team in the league.

What's at Stake

Bryan: The NFC North title. If the Vikings win, they'll have a three-game lead on the entire division with five to play -- not a mathematically insurmountable lead, but enough of one to start printing out the playoff tickets. On the other hand, if Detroit wins, that will complete the season sweep, locking in the divisional tiebreaker in all but the strangest Brett Hundley-fueled scenarios. They would still be one game back, of course, but at least that would be in play. Losing and going to 6-5 would put them, at least temporarily, on the outside looking in in the NFC playoff field.

This is the only game on Thanksgiving to have real ramifications outside of the two teams playing. The other three divisional leaders -- the Eagles, Saints, and Rams -- would love to see the VIkings drop a game for seeding purposes. This is especially important for the Saints, who lost to the Vikings back in Week 1 and thus trail Minnesota for a bye week at the moment thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker. Teams with a bye are 79-29 in the divisional round since the NFL expanded the playoffs in 1990, so that's a big prize to win. The Vikings own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Rams as well, and have a real shot at the tiebreaker over the Eagles due to strength of victory. Everyone else would be much happier if Minnesota were to pick up a couple losses in the next few weeks, thank you.

What to Watch Out For

Andrew: We have already mentioned Sam Bradford's game-losing interception last year. He misses out this time, but Lions fans need not fret: offseason acquisition Case Keenum is around twice as likely to offer them a festive gift. While Bradford has five interceptions in 17 games (well, 16 games and one drive) as a Vikings quarterback, Keenum has the same number in half as many appearances, and has thrown at least one in each of his last four starts. Darius Slay -- who caught that interception last year -- has four interceptions this season, tied for the most among cornerbacks. The Lions on the whole have 19 takeaways, tied for fourth-most in the league, which goes a long way toward explaining their defensive improvement: last year, they only had 19 takeaways all season, tied for fourth-fewest. Turnovers, both made and missed, played a huge role in Detroit winning the reverse fixture in October -- Detroit recovered three Vikings fumbles, including the play that sent Dalvin Cook to injured reserve, while Minnesota dropped several potential interceptions in the 14-7 defeat.

On the flip side, a browse through Quick Reads would tell us that Matthew Stafford has played his best three games of the season during the past four weeks, ranking in the DYAR top four every week with the exception of a first-half clunker in Week 10.

Bryan: I'm going to be watching how the Lions handle Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, who have combined for 15 sacks this season. The answer last time these two teams played was "poorly," as the duo combined for three of the Vikings' six sacks. That was, however, before Taylor Decker returned from his torn labrum, and the Lions have looked a lot better in pass protection since he returned two weeks ago. Decker's stand-in was Greg Robinson, whom Griffen mocked before the first matchup. Robinson, perhaps not coincidentally, is currently not employed in the NFL. Matthew Stafford has been sacked a lot this season -- more than anyone but Jacoby Brissett -- so it will be a real challenge for the Lions to handle a pair of dominant rushers like Griffen and Hunter.

Do Say: Forcing fumbles is good, but a high recovery rate is not necessarily predictive of future success.

Don't Say: If the Vikings have such a good record, why isn't their quarterback an MVP candidate?

Winner Winner, Chicken Turkey Dinner

Andrew: This is the hardest of the three games to call. As you noted, this is a very good team on the road against a merely good team, which also happens to be a game between the top two teams in a closely fought division. Detroit has the better quarterback, but Minnesota has the better team. In a game this tight, I think I favor the home team Lions, but no result whatsoever would surprise me.

Bryan: I'm going to agree under extreme protest; I don't think I've had as hard of a time picking a winner all year long, and certainly not in a game as important as this one. Seriously, if you're only going to watch one game this week, make it this one -- it's the most significant game of the entire weekend, and has all the right ingredients to be something special.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (4-6) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (5-5) (CBS, 4:30 p.m. EST)

Bryan: This is a very intriguing matchup between a Zombie Team and a team staggering towards the grave. In September, the Chargers looked dead, starting the season at 0-4. However, it's worth noting that two of those early losses came on missed last-second field goals by a man who is no longer employed to kick footballs for a living. With a 4-2 record since then, the Chargers have come roaring back ... into 12th place in a weak conference, but still. They live! The Cowboys, meanwhile, have just gotten embarrassed in back-to-back games against Atlanta and Philadelphia, and are staggering. They desperately need a win to right the ship.

Andrew: I saw one guy I follow on Twitter pointing out that the Chargers might be the best team in the AFC West at this point, which is both realistic, astute, and hilarious. They are roughly average in both offense and defense, whereas every other team in the division has at least one glaring flaw, and Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram might be the best pass-rush tandem in the game. This game at its simplest might come down to the status of Tyron Smith, more on which in a moment.

Who's Playing (And Who's Not)

Andrew: Tyron Smith has missed two games for the Cowboys. In those two games, the team has totaled 16 points. Before that, we have to go back to a rest-the-starters game in January for the last time the team failed to score 16 points in a single game, and December for the only other time Dak Prescott led them to less than 17. Of course, there is one other possible factor in that statistic: running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is about to reach the midpoint of a six-game suspension for domestic violence. Elliott definitely will not play, while Smith will also probably miss out. Linebackers Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens could be key absentees against a team that likes to use its backs as receivers, and kicker Dan Bailey is questionable with a groin strain.

In a shocking development, and stop me if you have heard this one before, the Chargers have injury issues on the offensive line. Guards Forrest Lamp and Matt Slauson are long-term absentees at guard, but right tackle Joe Barksdale has missed four games with a foot sprain and Russell Okung is questionable with a knee injury. Philip Rivers, at least, is accustomed to playing behind a line that could charitably be described as patchwork, though Rivers has just overcome a concussion of his own. Rivers will have his major weapons, at least, and the defense has suffered no further losses since Jason Verrett was lost for the year with a knee injury.

What's at Stake

Bryan: The Cowboys' season. No, they wouldn't be officially eliminated at 5-6, but the NFC wild-card race is a real tough one thanks to the conference power imbalance; the NFC has 11 teams with an above-average weighted DVOA compared to AFC's six. That means some 9-7 teams are going to be left at home, and that the Cowboys can really afford only one more loss all year long -- and they finish their schedule with Seattle and Philadelphia. No more room to let home games slip away, not when three six-win teams stand between them and a playoff berth.

The Chargers are in a little better position despite their worse record because of the softer AFC. Obviously, a loss still hurts, but they only play one more team with a winning record this season (the suddenly struggling Chiefs). A 9-7 record will almost certainly be good enough for a playoff berth, so while the Chargers are well on the outside looking in at the moment, don't put anything past them. That's not to say you would love to be the Chargers right now -- even in their best-case scenario this week, they'll still not be in playoff position -- but short of a massive set of injuries, nothing that happens to the Chargers this week will end the competitive portion of their schedule.

What to Watch Out For

Bryan: It seems overly simplistic to boil everything down to Tyron Smith, but his absence has had a massive impact on the Cowboys' offense. Their offensive DVOA has fallen from 17.0% to -37.7% with him on the mend, and their success rate has dropped from 46 percent to 36 percent as well. Smith is working with the first-string offense at practice this week, giving a spark of hope to Cowboys fans tired of seeing their quarterback ground into a fine paste.

The Chargers ended up allowing 173 yards on the ground in their rout of Buffalo and have had trouble stopping the run all year long. You would think the loss of Elliott would hurt the Cowboys' chances here -- and it does -- but Dallas is coming off of a 112-yard rushing game against Philadelphia, with Alfred Morris looking solid against a fairly tough Eagles front. If I'm the Cowboys, that's where I'm attacking, rather than challenging Casey Hayward and a very stout secondary. A solid running game might slow down Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, as well. The return of Smith seems exceptionally vital to this game plan, however.

Do Say: Tyron Smith's health is the key to stopping the Chargers edge rushers from getting to Prescott.

Don't Say: Anything about Ezekiel Elliott. Trust us, don't touch that one with a 50-foot pole.

Winner Winner, Chicken Turkey Dinner

Andrew: It seems crazy to say, but I trust the Cowboys more than I trust the Chargers. Nobody defeats themselves more than the Bolts, and here they might not even get that opportunity. Dallas has a decent pass rush of its own against the makeshift Chargers line, and Smith would make a huge difference in pass protection for Dak Prescott.

Bryan: This is the Chargers, a team which has made a habit of finding insane ways to lose games. There's no way I can tempt the fates and pick the Chargers here. That's just asking to get crushed when Philip Rivers throws an interception off the hands of Keenan Allen, the feet of Anthony Brown, and the head of a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, resulting in a game-ending pick-six. Give me Dallas to keep their season afloat.

NEW YORK GIANTS (2-8) AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS (4-6) (NBC, 8:30 p.m. EST)

Bryan: And then there's this mess. Five of the six teams playing on Thursday have above-average DVOA ratings, playing in competitive games and looking competent at playing football. Then you have the New York Football Giants: a flaming garbage barge slowly sinking into the East River.

Andrew: Well, the sinking should at least quench the fire, making it a perfect metaphor for what Ben McAdoo has done to last year's second-ranked DVOA defense. We talk frequently about being suspicious of one-year outliers following years of pass defense failure (hello, 2018 Saints!), but boy did the Giants fall hard. It's hard to see how McAdoo survives beyond this season, though a shock result in this game would be a big help.

Who's Playing (And Who's Not)

Andrew: Not Odell Beckham. Not Brandon Marshall. Neither Chris Thompson nor Rob Kelley, nor possibly Jordan Reed (OK, that last one's sadly true most weeks). Weston Richburg is on injured reserve. Justin Pugh is not, but will not play. Sterling Shepard is questionable due to migraines. The Giants have nine other players listed as questionable, including Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul, Kelvin Sheppard, and Dalvin Tomlinson. Washington has fifteen, including not only Reed but Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses, Ty Nsekhe, Samaje Perine, and Ryan Grant. So that is almost the entire Washington offensive line, and almost the entire Giants defensive line rotation. Kirk Cousins and Eli Manning are playing, at least. Beyond that, it's apparently too early to tell. Score another point for those who advocate a bye before every Thursday night game.

What's at Stake

Bryan: Washington's season. Washington had a 31-16 lead over the Saints late in the fourth quarter last week, and they looked to be in a pretty fine position. Yes, they would only get back to 5-5, but they have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFC. Pair that with an upset road win over one of the hottest teams in football, and they would be feeling pretty good about themselves. Instead, they're just the best team with a losing record, which doesn't grant you a mystical seventh playoff berth. Take everything we said about Dallas and make it one worse; Washington will need help even if they do manage to run the table.

The Giants' season ended back in October when they fell to 0-5 and their receiving corps became more of a receiving corpse. Upset win over Kansas City notwithstanding, they are already toast. A loss, coupled with help elsewhere, could make that official. Any team with a losing record entering the week will be rooting for a Giants victory here, just for the purposes of draft position.

What to Watch Out For

Bryan: Tryptophan comas. Seriously, there are better things for you to be doing on Thanksgiving night than watching an average team beat up on a very bad team. This is a perfect time for you to actually spend some time with your family. Play a board game, help clean up, play some football outside if you're on the West Coast and there's some light. Don't subject yourself to this one as a neutral observer!

If you do end up watching, check out Kirk Cousins, because there's a real shot he'll be your quarterback in 2018. Cousins' DVOA has fallen a bit this season; he ranked in the top 10 in each of the last two seasons but is firmly in the middle of the pack this year. Don't be fooled -- that's not on Cousins; that's on his receiving corps being down to Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder after letting Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson leave in the offseason. Cousins is a very solid quarterback, able to work in a messy pocket and absorb hits to make plays. He's the reason Washington is still even remotely in the playoff hunt. It would take a bad owner indeed to look at a losing record and blame it all on the quarterback, but, well, that's where we are.

Washington's inability or unwillingness to sign Cousins to a long-term deal the past two offseasons has Cousins poised as the juiciest prize in free agency 2018. A third consecutive franchise tag would cost Washington $34.5 million; they have the cap space to do it, but then you start to think about Zack Brown and Mason Foster and Spencer Long and signing other players and a draft class and so on and so forth. Things can get tight in a hurry there, and you can imagine the Broncos, Browns, Jets and possibly the Dolphins and Bengals lining up to give a very good quarterback elite money. No matter what happens, Cousins is likely to be overpaid in 2018, but that's life when you don't have a top-10 quarterback in the modern NFL.

Also, watch Snacks Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson (if they play) stuff the middle of the line for the Giants, because even terrible teams have stars who deserve our admiration.

Do Say: The historic rivalries in the NFC East make the games feel important regardless of the teams' records or who's wearing the uniforms.

Don't Say: Hey, I know! Let's turn on Sunday Night Football!

Winner Winner, Chicken Turkey Dinner

Andrew: I have picked Washington as my Lock of the Week (see below), which naturally guarantees a Giants win. Seriously though, Washington is better in every facet of the game except run offense, which is basically a wash. A Giants divisional win wouldn't be the single biggest shock of the year, but it would be more than a little surprising. This game is not quite Colts-Steelers from last year, but the scheduling sure has been kind to the full bellies over the past few Thanksgiving Thursdays.

Bryan: Agreed. While the Chiefs game reminds us that anyone can win on any given Sunday, this game's on a Thursday. The loss of Chris Thompson should hurt, but Washington should still win in a walkover.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: Before you ask, no, Nathan Peterman was not eligible to be picked in Loser League, so he's not here. The low man, instead, was Dak Prescott, who had the worst game of his professional career. Three interceptions and less than 150 yards passing will do that for you -- the loss of Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott did a number on the sophomore quarterback. He ended up with a score of 0 -- not as bad as Peterman's -7, but you take what you can get.

Running Back: The Jaguars' run defense has really gotten better since Marcell Dareus came to town. This was bad news for Isaiah Crowell, who came crashing down to earth after a few solid weeks. He was limited to just 18 yards on 11 carries, which gives you just 1 point.

Wide Receiver: A three-headed monster joins the Goose Egg Brigade this week. Neither Cole Beasley nor Nelson Agholor were able to get anything going on Sunday Night Football, and Demarcus Robinson fell victim to the heavy winds crushing the passing game in New York.

Kicker: Stop missing extra points! Randy Bullock, we're looking at you; your two successful conversions gets your score back to -3 for the low mark of the week. Jake Elliott finished in the negatives as well, thanks to a missed field goal, but that's more understandable after the head injury he suffered in the game.

Check your team's score and the Part II leaderboard here!

Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood: Nathan Peterman was not ready. It was clear from his first drive. It was clear long before he threw his fifth interception. It was so clear, so quickly that it was a mystery why he was even still in the game at that point. Or why he had been given the start in the first place, behind a struggling line against one of the league's best pass-rush duos. At least the rookie quarterback can -- and surely will -- quietly head back to the bench. His rookie head coach has no such escape. In a week with some bizarre mistakes and questionable coaching decisions, nobody did more to cost his team a chance at victory than Bills head coach Sean McDermott.

John Fox Todd Bowles Award for Conservatism: Since CenturyLink Field opened in 2002, NFL kickers have made approximately 59 percent (1,092-for-1,862) of their field goal attempts from at least 50 yards. This season, that number rests around 72 percent (75-for-104); the rate is 64 percent (264-for-414) if we consider the past three seasons. At the home of the Seahawks, however, the number is just 51.9 percent (28-for-54) over the entire 15-year period. Our own Editor-in-Chief Aaron Schatz often bemoans teams settling for "field goal range" at the end of a close game, as though that range were a simple line of demarcation within which a conversion was assured. Seattle did not have much time at the end of their Monday night clash against the Falcons, but in spiking the ball to set up a 50-yard field goal the Seahawks were essentially tossing a coin to decide, not whether they won or lost, but whether they lost or snatched overtime. A succession of short passes on crossing midfield used too much time for too little gain, the wind-impeded kick fell short, and Atlanta went home with the win. Though not an egregious misstep, this will serve as your public service reminder: long field goals are not guaranteed.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: With around six minutes to go in the third quarter in New Orleans, Kirk Cousins failed to pick up a first down with a two-yard scramble on third-and-3, not only hurting himself but knocking teammate Chris Thompson out for the season with a broken leg in the process. On their own 15-yard line, with a 17-13 lead, their receiving back on a cart, and a winded quarterback, most onlookers would consider a fourth-and-1 punt a formality. Instead, Washington's Jay Gruden had his team run a fake, and Niles Paul picked up 5 yards for a first down. Cousins came back in, the drive continued all the way for a touchdown, and Washington ended the third quarter leading 24-13. Though they ultimately lost to a stunning Saints comeback, Gruden's gamble was exactly the type of calculated risk we hope to see more road underdogs take in a bid to manufacture an upset.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: The gamebook says that the wind at MetLife Stadium was blowing at 23 miles per hour, and that's without taking into account the gusts that blew in as high as 50 miles an hour. That's a tough environment for any professional quarterback to throw in, which might explain why Eli Manning and Alex Smith combined for just 5.8 yards per attempt and attempted only 15 deep balls all game long. Or, rather, their teams attempted 15 deep balls. Both Ben McAdoo and Andy Reid decided these terrible throwing conditions were great opportunities to let Shane Vereen and Travis Kelce throw deep. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both passes ended up in interceptions. We're all in favor of wacky trick plays here at Scramble, but please remember that you don't get any bonus points for insane degrees of difficulty.

'Efficient Milestones' Fantasy Player of the Week: Coming into Sunday, Ricky Seals-Jones had one career offensive snap. Hopefully, he left plenty of room in his career scrapbook, because against the Texans, Seals-Jones recorded his first catch and his first and second career touchdowns. The fact that they came in his home-town is just the icing on the cake. Not bad for someone who disappointed both at Texas A&M and at the NFL combine.

Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week:: Tyrod Taylor. Seriously, we hate to keep dumping on the Bills, but … 15-for-25, 158 yards and a touchdown through the air, with another touchdown on the ground. This is not the first time this season Taylor has earned this award with inflated stats after a game has been decided. We also understand the frustration a team and fanbase can get starting a below-average player at the most important position in the game. But Nathan Peterman? Really?

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: It has gone largely unnoticed due to his terrible quarterback situation, minimal touchdowns (three), and unspectacular catch rate (61 percent), but Demaryius Thomas is quietly having another very effective year for the Denver Broncos. His touchdown grab against the Bengals was only his third of the season, but his 29 DYAR from that game moved him into the top ten in our wide receiver numbers and left him only seven DYAR shy of last year's total with six games yet to play. One recent report (since denied) had the Broncos shopping Thomas, ostensibly due to loss of strength from his change to a vegan diet, but our numbers say that he is having his best season since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset and the fourth-best season of his career. Broncos fans will hope that this, at least, can continue under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Game-Changing Play of the Week: The Giants' season was over after their Week 5 loss to the Chargers; the game in which their entire receiving corps was hurt. They weren't supposed to show up in any critical situations for the rest of the year; while dead teams can play spoiler, they generally don't throw major wrenches into critical playoff situations. But, in a week without many close games between playoff contenders, we had this:

I mean ... no. That's not something that happens. Not from the seventh receiver on the Giants' depth chart. And not to deliver a body blow to Kansas City's hopes at earning a bye week. It must be something in the water in East Rutherford; insane catches are just something the Giants specialize in. The Chiefs now essentially have to run the table to have a chance at home field advantage in the AFC, and two losses probably pushes a bye out of the window, as well. It's not a tough schedule for them going forward, but if you can lose to the Giants...

Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Andrew: I get that Washington just lost its most effective outlet receiver, and is therefore down to Samaje Perine and a smattering of Madden new gens at halfback. I also get that the Giants just won an upset against the Chiefs, a team expected to beat them handily. That said, Washington might well be better than the Chiefs, record be damned; and a Thursday night road trip, even in-division, is not a windstorm at the Meadowlands. Washington (-7.5) is better in every area of the game, and should be more than a touchdown too strong for a still-imploding Giants squad.

Bryan: I'm tempted to pick New England over Miami, even as 17-point favorites, but huge spreads like that generally lead to other factors determining the final score, including how many points New England feels like scoring and when they pull Brady. So instead, I'll go with Kansas City (-10) over the imploding Buffalo Bills. We still don't know who the Bills' starting quarterback will be, and yes, give me ALL the opportunities to bet against Peterman. Even if Taylor's back there, the Bills' defense has collapsed.

Records to date:
Andrew: 6-4
Bryan: 4-6

Scenarios

Hey, who will pay attention to the terrible teams if not Scramble? Cleveland fans need content, too.

And if you were paying attention to the Race to the Bottom, you had some thrilling results! The Browns' late flop in Jacksonville seemed to have cost them, but Nathan Peterman and the Great Buffalo Kerfluffle bailed them out. That put the 49ers' heads on the chopping block next, but they got a stay of execution when Blair Walsh's kick came up short, giving Seattle a loss. So, entering Week 12, all 32 teams technically remain alive for the playoffs. Exciting!

That might not be true for even 24 hours after this article goes up, however. The Browns, 49ers and now the Giants are all knotted in a close race to be the first team officially eliminated. The 49ers find themselves in the most danger; their eight conference losses means they can't win a tiebreaker with the NFC North runner-up. Therefore, if Detroit gets to seven wins by beating Minnesota on Thanksgiving, the 49ers are toast. A Vikings win means things get interesting, however, as all three teams could next be eliminated during the early block of games on Sunday -- the Giants with a loss on Thanksgiving plus wins by the NFC South; the Browns with a loss or wins by either Buffalo or Miami; and the 49ers with one of a couple semi-convoluted combinations involving the NFC South. It's even theoretically possible that we could have a tie for first team eliminated, with the 49ers and Giants bowing out simultaneously as Cam Newton or Matt Ryan kneel out victories.

If you're invested in Race to the Bottom scoreboard watching, you're rooting for Minnesota and Washington to win on Thursday; that will create the most conceivable chaos for your Sunday enjoyment. Alternatively, you could root for the Bengals, Chiefs, Patriots, Steelers, Vikings, Giants, 49ers, and Buccaneers. That would leave all three teams alive heading into Week 13, as well as throw some serious wrenches into the playoff framework.

It should be noted that we're only listing the scenarios for divisional, wild card, and bye-week elimination this week. The full list was 44 bullet points long, and would have resulted in Aaron or Vince murdering me in my sleep. (Ed. Note: He's not wrong. I would have had to kill him. -- Vince) For those scenario-obsessed fanatics who want to know if the Bears or Buccaneers can still win home field advantage, I've put them up over here.

  • Cincinnati can be eliminated from the AFC North IF Cleveland d. Cincinnati AND Pittsburgh d. Green Bay
  • Cleveland can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Cincinnati d. Cleveland OR Buffalo d. Kansas City OR Miami d. New England
  • Indianapolis can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Tennessee d. Indianapolis AND EITHER:
    • Jacksonville d. Arizona
    • Pittsburgh d. Green Bay AND EITHER New England d. Miami OR ALL OF Buffalo d. Kansas City AND Houston d. Baltimore AND Cincinnati d. Cleveland AND Oakland d. Denver AND N.Y. Jets d. Carolina AND L.A. Chargers d. Dallas
  • Indianapolis can be eliminated from the AFC South IF Tennessee d. Indianapolis AND Jacksonville d. Arizona
  • Denver can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Oakland d. Denver AND ONE OF:
    • New England d. Miami AND Pittsburgh d. Green Bay
    • Jacksonville d. Arizona AND Buffalo d. Kansas City AND ONE OF Pittsburgh d. Green Bay OR Houston d. Baltimore OR Tennessee d. Indianapolis
    • New England d. Miami AND TWO OF Tennessee d. Indianapolis OR Houston d. Baltimore OR Jacksonville d. Arizona
  • Chicago can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Philadelphia d. Chicago OR Minnesota d. Detroit OR BOTH L.A. Rams d. New Orleans AND EITHER Carolina d. N.Y. Jets OR Atlanta d. Tampa Bay
    • Chicago can be eliminated from the NFC North IF Minnesota d. Detroit
    • Tampa Bay can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Atlanta d. Tampa Bay AND ONE OF
      • New Orleans d. L.A. Rams
      • Philadelphia d. Chicago AND EITHER Minnesota d. Detroit OR Carolina d. N.Y. Jets
    • Tampa Bay can be eliminated from the NFC South IF Atlanta d. Tampa Bay AND New Orleans d. L.A. Rams
  • Washington can be eliminated from the NFC East IF N.Y. Giants d. Washington OR Philadelphia d. Chicago
  • N.Y. Giants can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Washington d. N.Y. Giants AND ONE OF:
    • Detroit d. Minnesota
    • Green Bay d. Pittsburgh
    • Seattle d. San Francisco AND L.A. Rams d. New Orleans
    • Atlanta d. Tampa Bay AND Carolina d. N.Y. Jets
  • Arizona can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Jacksonville d. Arizona AND Green Bay d. Pittsburgh AND Philadelphia d. Chicago
  • San Francisco can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Seattle d. San Francisco OR Detroit d. Minnesota OR Green Bay d. Pittsburgh OR Atlanta d. Tampa Bay AND EITHER Carolina d. N.Y. Jets OR BOTH Arizona d. Jacksonville AND Dallas d. L.A. Chargers

Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, recipes for leftover turkey (curry!), and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter on 22 Nov 2017

8 comments, Last at 23 Nov 2017, 3:39pm by Afrocomb

Comments

1
by Afrocomb :: Wed, 11/22/2017 - 4:39pm

Loser League is still showing week 10 results!

3
by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 11/22/2017 - 5:03pm

Whoops! That usually gets updated before Scramble publishes. It will be fixed shortly; our apologies!

8
by Afrocomb :: Thu, 11/23/2017 - 3:39pm

Knew it was worth pointing out, my first weekly win!!!

2
by Steve in WI :: Wed, 11/22/2017 - 4:40pm

Regarding Peterman, isn't it at least possible that McDermott was ordered to start him? It would be in character with the dysfunctional Bills, and really, I don't know how good or bad of a coach he truly is but he sure has seemed to be more competent than someone who would choose Peterman over Taylor assuming his number one priority was to win the game.

4
by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 11/22/2017 - 5:06pm

That's the popular conspiracy theory, and I wouldn't put anything past Buffalo's management. The delay in naming Taylor this week's starter (which happened earlier this morning) could play into that, too -- giving a bit of time to save some face for the front office. We know, for example, that McDermott spoke to GM Brandon Beane before announcing the switch this morning.

On the other hand, the simplest explanation is often the correct one, which would be a panic move from a rookie head coach.

6
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 11/22/2017 - 5:25pm

As I wrote elsewhere my pet theory is that they thought Chargers HC Antony Lynn would be familiar with Tyrod Taylor and that he'd be shutdown. But if they started a rookie, who there's no gamefilm on, there could be a chance of kickstarting the offense.

I certainly wouldn't put money on it but there is just no decent explanation for starting a rookie 5th round QB against one of the best pass rushes in the league when your o-line is terrible; and the incumbent starter is a good scrambler.

5
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 11/22/2017 - 5:19pm

Re: who's not playing in MIN/DET:

Detroit's punt returner, Jamal Agnew will not play, which is a big deal, because he's been one of the best punt returners in the league, and has been helping give the Lions offense the 5th best avg starting field position. Not having that is no bueno against one of the NFL's top defenses.

7
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 11/23/2017 - 2:06am

one time on Thanksgiving my cousin who was 3 at the time dropped a bean. my grandparents' dog, Heidi, cmae by and licked the bean. she didn't like it so then my cousin picked up the bean from the floor and ate it.

other good thanksgiving memories- watching Packers-Loins 44-40 game in 1986. two crap teams but great game. punt reyurn td by walter Stanley tremendous

1987 minensoat vs dallas game great
1989 Browns vs Lions
that time it snowed on Thanksgiving