by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where our regular readers may have noticed that we are once again in the midst of a run of annual preordained columns. Yes, the season is almost ended and the Super Bowl is upon us, and that can mean only one thing here at Scramble HQ!
Bryan: Another 37 articles about the Patriots' legacy?
Andrew: You are not supposed to leak next season's article schedule at least until we are done with this season, Bryan.
Bryan: For 30 teams, though, the season is over, so it's time for us to hand out the league's most important and influential awards. Forget the Pro Bowl. Ignore the All-Pro rosters. The award that sticks with players for the longest is, of course, Scramble for the Ball's Keep Choppin' Wood Team!
2017 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team
Andrew: As is tradition 'round these parts, while everybody else celebrates the upcoming matchup of the two best teams in football, we rake in the muck of the regular season for those who faceplanted deepest into the sty. For some, this will be their first appearance on this auspicious list. For others, it will be the culmination of a career of calamity (alliterative foreshadowing, oooooh). All this and more, for those hardy fools who read on.
A reminder: The All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team is not strictly for the worst starters in the league this season. It's for the players who did the most to hurt their teams, both on and off the field.
Andrew: The first position in these articles is often the trickiest. Is it fair, for example, to blame a rookie quarterback on a bad team for continuing a two-decade tradition of failure? What if that team is coached by a man who continually belittles his own roster, and almost has Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen as his press-conference intro music?
Bryan: To be fair to Hue Jackson, it would be difficult for any coach to match his record this year of (checks standings) zero wins. Who can be expected to do more than that? Not everyone can be Bill Belichick over here. Anyhow, while DeShone Kizer ended up at the bottom of our quarterback tables, he was a rookie in a terrible offense. Same idea as not giving the award to Jared Goff last season -- a highly (or even moderately) touted rookie's struggles can be waved off as growing pains, and perhaps a new coaching regime can ... oh. Well, still.
Andrew: A similar rationale can be used for the second-worst quarterback in our DYAR table. Brett Hundley was not good. The Packers did not score a single touchdown at Lambeau Field this season with Brett Hundley as their starting quarterback. Hundley, however, was a first-year starter without any offseason preparation for the starting job, promoted beyond his competence by an injury to Aaron Rodgers, and thrust into a staid offense which has been criticized for failing even the ultra-talented Rodgers over the past few seasons.
Bryan: We also want to award season-long struggles, so while Nathan Peterman's one half as a starting quarterback was the highest concentration of Keep Chopping Woodiness among quarterbacks this season, we have to give it to a quarterback who has slightly higher expectations, as represented by a massive freaking albatross of a contract.
Andrew: With even a remotely competent offense, the Baltimore Ravens were almost certainly a playoff team in 2017. They finished one win away from the postseason, despite losing games in September and October to the Jaguars (44-7), Steelers (26-9), Bears (27-24), and Vikings (24-16) in which Joe Flacco led them to a total of two touchdowns on offense. The Bears game in particular, the Ravens scored two touchdowns on special teams and three field goals, and still somehow lost to the 2017 Chicago Bears because the offense could not reach the end zone. Despite bringing in Kansas City's No. 1 receiver from 2016 (Jeremy Maclin), a running back who had a surprising breakout season (Alex Collins), and retaining one of the league's better offensive lines, the Ravens finished 26th in pass offense DVOA and Flacco finished fourth-from-last in DYAR. Meanwhile, Flacco had the highest cap hit of any player in the league in 2017 -- and currently has the fourth-highest projected cap hit of any player in 2018. What looked like a bad contract at the time now looks horrendous, and Flacco therefore claims this award for damaging his team's prospects in the front office as well as on the field.
Andrew: The worst rushing DYAR in the league belonged to Samaje Perine, a fourth-round rookie backup who was given a lot of playing time in September, ultimately benched, then forced back into extended action after injuries to Rob Kelley, Mack Brown, and Chris Thompson.
Bryan: Perine also added value as a receiver, so there are far better choices for this award than him. Take Doug Martin, for example -- the Buccaneers wish somebody would. He averaged just 2.9 yards per carry this season, the second straight year he has failed to even hit three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust territory. He was suspended by the team for a game for a rules violation, and saw the cheaper and much more effective Peyton Barber leapfrog him on the depth chart. For the fourth time in five seasons, he didn't even manage 12 games. The Muscle Hamster's 2016 suspension wiped out his contract guarantees, so there's roughly zero chance he'll be a Buccaneer in 2018. He was bad, real bad -- but we could do worse.
Andrew: Even Doug Martin was not caught on camera yelling at his coach early in the season. The Buccaneers had the good sense not to keep their superior young player on the sideline for Doug Martin. Doug Martin did not force his way out of town after barely a month, only to perform just as badly in another team's offensive backfield. Step forward, Adrian Peterson!
Bryan: Peterson was quoted as saying he "didn't sign up for nine snaps" when he joined the Saints. Well, that's a lot for the third-best running back on the team!
Andrew: After a mercifully brief spell in New Orleans, Peterson was traded to Arizona amid suggestions that he was the sort of back who needed to be fed the ball. Maybe that was true in 2015, but it certainly was not true in 2017: Peterson had 129 carries in six games for the Cardinals, averaging a measly 3.5 yards per attempt with only two touchdowns -- both of which came in his debut, against the worst defense in the league. He then suffered a neck injury against the Jaguars, and finished the season on injured reserve for the third time in four years. It seems clear at this point that 2015 Adrian Peterson is not coming back, that 2017 Adrian Peterson is not a starting-caliber running back, and that 2018 should probably be the first of the five years to elapse before he can be fitted for a golden sports jacket.
Bryan: This offseason, Kenny Britt signed a four-year, $32.5 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. He was going to be a long-term building block around which a young, developing quarterback could, uh, develop. They were probably hoping for a little more than 18 receptions and 233 yards. They were probably hoping for a bit more professionalism, too -- Britt missed curfews, loafed around on the field even when he was healthy, and was told by Hue Jackson that he would have been benched if it wasn't for injuries to other receivers. And now he's in line to possibly earn a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots, because life isn't fair.
Andrew: Britt was far and away the leading candidate for the top receiving role, but second place goes to a man whose worst excesses this season may be largely forgotten by now. Martavis Bryant had a huge moment in the AFC divisional round loss to Jacksonville, catching a 42-yard touchdown on one of Ben Roethlisberger's inspired fourth-down plays. In September and October, however, Bryant was a huge headache for the Steelers: benched for social media comments, missing meetings, requesting to be traded, and ultimately leading head coach Mike Tomlin to issue one of the most damning public comments of the season by any coach, about any of that coach's own players. Though ultimately, Bryant probably did not have a significant negative impact on the field, he certainly had a negative impact off it. Following an entire missed season due to off-field troubles, has probably done enough to ensure that he is not a high priority for the Steelers as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
Bryan: Finally, there's Zay Jones. Reports now indicate that Jones played through most of 2017 with a torn labrum, which might be something of a mitigating factor, but Jones spent his rookie season as a possession receiver who can not catch. Jones not only finished dead last in both DYAR and DVOA, but he put up a shocking 36 percent catch rate. That is unheard of; while determining what is and is not catchable can be somewhat subjective at times, 36 percent is the lowest catch rate we've recorded for a qualifying receiver since Devin Aromashodu's 31 percent for Minnesota in 2011. Plenty of other receivers have played through injury or with inaccurate passers; none put up quite so bad a performance.
Andrew: There is one candidate, and only one, for this spot. Martellus Bennett joined the Packers as a high-priced free agent last offseason, after making it clear immediately following his Super Bowl win with the Patriots that he wanted to get paid. Bennett immediately set about reinforcing every possible fear then-GM Ted Thompson could possibly have had about signing high-priced free agents. After quarterback Aaron Rodgers was placed on injured reserve with a fractured clavicle, Bennett earned his walk along the plank of the sinking Packers ship by publicly raging against the Packers medical team, declaring his intention to have surgery on an injury he had previously been reportedly prepared to play through, and allegedly quitting on the team. When he was released by the Packers, Bennett told other teams not to claim him as he intended to have surgery on his injured shoulder. New England, however, did claim him -- potentially to preserve the compensatory pick they might receive for him -- and he made two further appearances before being placed on injured reserve with shoulder and hamstring injuries.
Bryan: Offensive line is always a difficult position to pick, because they tend to rise or fall together to a certain extent; it can be difficult to point out the one particular weak link which causes the entire chain to collapse. We could point to 60 percent of Buffalo or New York's offensive line and call it a day, but that's the easy way out.
We are going to take a couple players from Cincinnati, however, because we couldn't pick just one.
Andrew: The Bengals' offensive line situation was the source of much of the pessimism in Cincinnati ahead of this season, after top-tier left tackle Andrew Whitworth and former first-round guard Kevin Zeitler were allowed to leave in free agency. Whitworth's replacement, Cedric Ogbuehi, had struggled mightily at right tackle in 2016, and Bengals fans feared that moving him to the left side would only make things worse for both him and his quarterback. They were not wrong: Ogbuehi underperformed even 2016's awful performance and was benched, repeatedly, as the team tried to go in a different direction. Sadly for Andy Dalton, the only real alternative was Andre Smith, returning from a nightmare year in Minnesota. The Bengals have a new offensive line coach for next year, and early reports suggest that Ogbuehi might be moved to guard. Whatever they do with him, it sure looks like he will not be answer at either tackle position anytime soon.
At center, our own Charles McDonald highlighted Russell Bodine's struggles throughout the year. Bodine was selected as the worst center in the league in FO alum Doug Farrar's NFL1000 series for Bleacher Report. Bodine is criticized for poor technique, lack of power, failure to pick up stunts and twists, and just generally being the weakest link on the Bengals line for each of the past two seasons. The Bengals are notorious for trying to develop replacements in-house rather than signing free-agent upgrades, but that philosophy is failing them terribly on the offensive line at present. Whether in the draft or free agency, a replacement center looks more like a necessity than a luxury for 2018.
Bryan: We also weren't going to let the year go by without highlighting someone from Seattle's ongoing offensive line tire fire, which is beginning to rival Springfield's in its longevity and level of noxious fumes. Our token Seahawk this year? Germain Ifedi. Ifedi received 20 flags this season -- nine for false starts, eight for offensive holding, two for unnecessary roughness, and one for taunting. That's a five-flag lead over the next highest-penalized players, Michael Bennett and Garett Bolles. I understand that CenturyLink is supposed to be a loud place and make life difficult for offensive linemen, but the theory is that that should affect opponents, not their own guys. Leading the league in false starts no es bueno.
We also would be remiss in not including Xavier Su'a-Filo. Houston's offensive line simply could not pass protect this season. Some of that is Tom Savage's lack of pocket presence and slow processing speed, some was the revolving door and drama at left tackle, but quite a bit of it was Su'a-Filo. He was charted with 7.5 sacks allowed, and his poor technique with his hands -- highlighted in most of his prospect profiles when he was taken in the 2014 draft -- has only gotten worse over the years. He's simply too easy for interior linemen to overpower, and Deshaun Watson would appreciate an improvement, please.
Andrew: Finally, and most egregiously, we come to Giants right tackle Bobby Hart. It seems strange to pick a player from a team with a top-ten adjusted sack rate, but we feel safe in asserting that the Giants did not owe that statistic to the performance of their offensive tackles. Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart were identified as liabilities before the season, and performed poorly for one of the league's worst offenses during it. What elevates Hart to this roster, however, are the reports that he encouraged fellow tackle Flowers to loaf and play up his injury during practice as the team's season drew to a close. Amid those rumors, Hart was cut as the first roster move by incoming general manager Dave Gettleman -- with some reports suggesting that Flowers may not be far behind. Hart also had a bizarre Twitter feud with retired tackle Geoff Schwartz, and generally made himself into the type of distraction that a bad player with little job security on the league's second-worst team can ill afford to be. Hart will not be back, and he will not be missed either.
Defensive Front Seven
Andrew: Our first defensive nomination is a slightly odd one, in that it is difficult for us to pick out a single player on what was clearly the league's worst unit. Tampa Bay's pass rush finished dead last in adjusted sack rate, registering the fewest sacks and the joint-worst ASR since 2015. The interior linemen did their job, with Gerald McCoy, Chris Baker, and Clinton McDonald contributing 11.5 of the team's 22 total sacks, but the defensive ends could not hold up their end of the bargain: the six Buccaneers defensive ends to see significant roles finished with only 8.5 combined sacks, with Robert Ayers leading the way on a measly 2.5. Twenty-seven individual players had at least as many sacks as the combined total of the Bucs defensive ends. Six of the team's 22 sacks came in one game against the Josh McCown Jets; they averaged barely a sack a game in their other 15 contests. The most disappointing of the six players was probably William Gholston who, though primarily a base-package defensive end, did not record a single sack for the first time in his career and only registered 21 tackles despite playing 14 of the team's 16 games.
Bryan: As for the other edge rusher, we'll go with someone who never should have been put in this situation in the first place. Frank Zombo was forced into action thanks to Tamba Hali starting the season on the PUP list and Dee Ford ending the season on the IR. Zombo is a valuable special teamer and decent role player; he should not be counted upon for major pass rush production. He ended up with just 15.5 pass pressures and 1.5 sacks. He was no better in run defense, either, as teams regularly ran in his general direction.
Andrew: On the interior of the line, our headline selection is Muhammad Wilkerson. Wilkerson is the highest-paid player on the Jets: his $14.75 million contract was more than double the annual salary of any other player on the roster. For that, this year, they got 12 games and only 3.5 sacks from a disgruntled player with frequent disciplinary issues, who was ultimately benched for most of December after his indiscipline came to outweigh his production. Wilkerson signed an $86 million contract in 2016, but is widely expected to be an offseason (June 1 designation) cut with a $3 million 2018 cap penalty. For a player who was widely considered one of the best defensive linemen in the game when he signed that contract, the fall from grace has been sudden and quick.
Bryan: This is Wilkerson's second consecutive appearance on this team. We said last year that we'd take odds on him bouncing back this season. Uh, maybe not.
Ziggy Hood takes our other interior line slot. He has been playing out of position in Washington, lining up at nose tackle. Hood has been at his best as a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 end, not lining up nose-to-nose with a center. Being forced into that position in the short term is bad enough, but this is two years in a row he has been Washington's top choice there, and that simply has to change. Washington was dead last in adjusted line yards and in the bottom four in both power success and stuff percentage.
Andrew: Some players' boneheaded decisions are more difficult to evaluate than others. Take Brian Cushing, for example: Cushing missed ten games of the 2017 season due to the second performance-enhancing substances suspension of his career. When he returned, he was an afterthought: he managed barely 30 snaps a game in his five appearances, and was demoted to only 25 snaps in each of the last two weeks of the season on a defense that was ravaged by injury.
Is that better or worse than Jerrell Freeman, who was a clear starter in Chicago but made only one appearance before being placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral, then was also handed a 10-game suspension for PEDs? Freeman would probably have missed the year anyway, but was also probably more important to his team than Cushing. Perhaps they were each as boneheaded as the other, and deserve a share of the spot. We're going to award it to Brian Cushing, because that Texans defense could have used an extra veteran presence in the middle when its best players started dropping like flies.
Bryan: Any time your team files a missing persons report on you -- and not in a metaphorical sense, like "where were you on that play?" but in a real, "we don't know where our starting linebacker is 24 hours before our Week 2 game" sense you know you're having an odd season. Lawrence Timmons went AWOL from the Dolphins before their first game, being found in airport early on gameday boarding a flight headed back to Pennsylvania and his child. The official excuse for Timmons' absence has never been released, but the Dolphins clearly didn't think it was good enough, and suspended the linebacker for their second game of the season. When Timmons finally did get on the field, he was slow and not particularly good at tackling. It seems somewhat unlikely he'll return to Miami in 2018.
Andrew: Eli Apple has been publicly described this season as "a cancer" who "needs to grow up" ... and that was by a teammate, safety Landon Collins. Apple has variously feuded with said teammate, fans on social media, Giants coaches, and (more understandably) the New York media. He reportedly threatened to walk out in November after being criticized in one of the team's film sessions. He was ultimately suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, reportedly as a result of an argument with cornerbacks coach Tim Walton. While Apple has faced major challenges in his personal life -- his mother had brain surgery in November -- it is extremely rare to see a player have this many off-field issues, this publicly, for this long. The Giants are able to void Apple's contract this offseason, and are widely expected to do so -- it certainly looks from the outside like a fresh start would be best for both parties.
Bryan While we normally try to avoid giving someone a KCW team slot for one play, Marcus Cooper had the KCW play to end all KCW plays back in Week 3 against Pittsburgh:
— RichInFacts (@RichInFacts) September 24, 2017
Mr. Cooper, Mr. Lett will see you now.
Andrew: Our final cornerback spot goes again to a player from the No. 32 defense in DVOA. Cornerback Ryan Smith was not meant to be a starter this year: in an ideal world, sophomore Vernon Hargreaves would have shown progress after a poor rookie season, Robert McClain would have manned the slot, and top corner Brent Grimes would have continued his solid performance level from 2016. In fact, Grimes and McClain battled hamstring injuries and Hargreaves was worse than the year before, and Smith was therefore thrust into a starting role as Tampa Bay had no depth whatsoever at the position. It did not go well: Smith finished 80th out of 81 qualifying cornerbacks (subscription required) in both success rate and yards per pass, being targeted over and over by some of the league's most dangerous offenses. After he spent last year failing to convert to safety, and this year failing to perform at cornerback, we have no idea what the Buccaneers will do with Smith in the third year of his rookie contract. We suspect that it will involve considerably more time chasing down punts, and considerably less time chasing down starting receivers.
Bryan: As for safeties, if you ever needed proof of the widespread impact and influence of this column, look no further than Chris Conte and T.J. Green. At this point last season, we singled them out as our All-KCW safeties, and the front offices in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis responded by ... having them continue to play, once again at terrible levels. Green was a rookie last year, so having him return and hoping for an improvement which just didn't come made sense, at least conceptually. Chris Conte has photographs of somebody, somewhere.
Bryan: And speaking of returnees, welcome back Blair Walsh! Walsh's disastrous 2016 in Minnesota didn't keep him from being signed by Seattle, and while he did improve some, it was not enough to get him out of the basement. His extra point yips subsided, but he was just 21-for-29 on field goals, including three misses from inside 40 yards. He also didn't have the leg any more to make up for his less-than-stellar accuracy, hitting no field goals from beyond 50 yards. It was tempting to give this award to just the general concept of a Chargers kicker, as they had, by far, the worst FG/XP score this season, but they cycled through kickers regularly, making it more of an organizational problem rather than an individual kicker's failure. Nick Folk and the Tampa Bay Kicking Kerfluffle was another strong contender. Kicking is hard, but it's not that hard.
Andrew: One punter led the league in five separate statistical categories this season. Sadly for Brad Wing, none of those categories were desirable. Wing had the lowest DVOA punt value, lowest net average punt, and fewest punts inside the 20, and tied for the most blocks and touchbacks. The Giants have much bigger issues than the punting game, but the punting game was certainly one of their issues in 2017.
Bryan: We have two returners on the roster, one primarily for a single highlight (lowlight?), and the other for an extended period of futility. First of all, Travis Benjamin, don't do this:
— What the Sports (@realwtsports) December 29, 2017
Secondly, Alex Erickson, you should perhaps recognize that the touchback has been moved to the 25-yard line, and has been there for a few years now, so running the ball out of the end zone into a wall of tacklers isn't really the best strategy. Erickson had 32 kickoff returns this season. Fifteen of them failed to gain 20 yards, and he fumbled another. At a certain point, stop bothering. Please.
Andrew: In perhaps the most controversial move of this year's column, our 2017 All-KCW Team does not see Hue Jackson take over from Jeff Fisher as head coach. Jackson's Browns were expected to be bad -- not that bad, admittedly, but bad. Ben McAdoo, however, took the Giants from the playoffs last season to the second overall pick this. Some of that was injuries, most notably to his entire starting receiver corps, but plenty of teams have dealt with injuries before. McAdoo, however, (mis)managed to suspend all three of his starting cornerbacks at various points in the season; spent the year battling criticism of his approach from both inside and outside the building; and finally, utterly botched the benching of franchise legend Eli Manning so badly that he became the first Giants coach fired during the season since 1976.
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Bryan: We're going to cheat a little tiny bit at offensive coordinator, however, because we can't not have Hue Jackson on our roster -- and, as the Browns do not employ an offensive coordinator, Jackson is the de facto man in charge there. Cleveland's offense was last in both overall DVOA and passing DVOA. It boasted the last-ranked quarterback and three of the bottom seven receivers in terms of DYAR. That's somewhat less than ideal. But Jackson was hired to get the most out of low-quality ingredients as part of Cleveland's never-ending rebuilding project, and Jackson's handling of the quarterback position this year bordered on malpractice. DeShone Kizer was benched, un-benched, sat down, and generally had has confidence shot by Jackson's very public questioning of his quarterback's abilities. He was no better with backup quarterbacks, flip-flopping between Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler on multiple occasions, with Hogan in particular going from starter to inactive in consecutive weeks. What a bad team's fanbase really needs to see isn't necessarily wins, but the idea that some sort of plan is in place, some kind of structure that will lead to wins down the line -- that the pains of an 0-16 season will be worth it in the end. Jackson has shown no signs of any sort of long-term thinking or strategy. And, while he apparently can not be fired as head coach, he was essentially fired as offensive coordinator; the Browns have brought ex-Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley in to run the offense next year. Pittsburgh fans, imagine being excited that Todd Haley was going to come in as your coordinator.
Andrew: We expected the Buccaneers defense to decline this year. We detailed why, at some length, during the offseason. There is decline, however, and then there is going from sixth in pass defense to 31st. Some of the problem is lack of talent: the Buccaneers spent a lot of resources on the offense last offseason, but basically stood pat on defense. Some of it, however, is not: the team returned almost all of the starters from last year and added depth to the front seven, but both the pass rush and the coverage collapsed into insignificance. If the defense was viewed as a strength last year, this year it very much was not, and significant upgrades are needed for the secondary in particular if the Buccaneers are to return to playoff contention.
Bryan: The Los Angeles Chargers finished dead last in our FG/XP rankings, and had significant negative scores on kickoffs, kick returns, and punt returns. This is not a one-year blip, either; the Chargers have been in the bottom five in our special teams rankings for three years in a row. Is the revolving door at kicker more a failure of the personnel department? Maybe. Is Travis Benjamin just not a good kick returner, and there's only so much you can do with him? Perhaps. Did George Stewart inherit a long-term disaster of a unit? Definitely. But if anything, they got worse this season. Scientists are still trying to determine how that is possible, as it defies previously assumed laws of physics.
Andrew: Huh. After all of that, we only had one Browns player, plus an honorable mention.
Bryan: Failure is cumulative. Having, say, the fifth-worst player at every position cripples you, but doesn't earn you All-KCW honors. You could say that the Browns have failed ... at failing.
Andrew: Which is what, in FOA 2017, our editor Vince Verhei wrote that the Jets would do -- and we also only had one of their players!
Bryan: Well, we could have simply put the most questionable starters on the worst teams here and called it a day, but there's an important lesson here. Not everyone can become a great Wood Chopper, but a great Wood Chopper can come from anywhere.
Andrew: You are nothing, if not sage.
Bryan: I steal all my wisdom from Pixar movies.
Andrew: With that, it's time for the table.
|2017 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team|
|QB||Joe Flacco||EDGE||William Gholston||K||Blair Walsh|
|RB||Adrian Peterson||EDGE||Frank Zombo||P||Brad Wing|
|WR||Kenny Britt||DL||Muhammad Wilkerson||KR||Alex Erickson|
|WR||Martavis Bryant||DL||Ziggy Hood||PR||Travis Benjamin|
|WR||Zay Jones||LB||Brian Cushing|
|TE||Martellus Bennett||LB||Lawrence Timmons||HC||Ben McAdoo|
|OT||Cedric Ogbuehi||CB||Eli Apple||OC||Hue Jackson|
|OT||Bobby Hart||CB||Ryan Smith||DC||Mike Smith|
|OG||Xavier Su'a-Filo||CB||Marcus Cooper||ST||George Stewart
|OG||Germain Ifedi||S||Chris Conte|
|C||Russell Bodine||S||T.J. Green|
Staff Playoff Fantasy Update
Bryan: So, yeah, while the Super Bowl is intriguing and brings with it plenty of storylines and promises to be an enthralling contest and all that, the Staff Playoff Fantasy League is ... more or less over. Leading the league with 195 points, with five players remaining including the only quarterback, Aaron has this pretty much on lockdown. It turns out loading up on Patriots is a strategy that's hard to beat, and perhaps next year, the other five of us should make an effort to, you know, break up the team that has been a consistent winner for Football Outsiders' entire history. Just a thought.
|QB||Jared Goff||Drew Brees||Tom Brady||Ben Roethlisberger||Blake Bortles||Alex Smith|
|RB||Todd Gurley||Kareem Hunt||Derrick Henry||Le'Veon Bell||Alvin Kamara||Dion Lewis|
|RB||Rex Burkhead||Leonard Fournette||Jay Ajayi||Mark Ingram||Devonta Freeman||Latavius Murray|
|WR||Robert Woods||Tyreek Hill||Brandin Cooks||JuJu Smith-Schuster||Antonio Brown||Adam Thielen|
|WR||Cooper Kupp||Keelan Cole||Michael Thomas||Ted Ginn||Julio Jones||Devin Funchess|
|WR||Alshon Jeffery||Mohamed Sanu||Stefon Diggs||Sammy Watkins||Chris Hogan||Danny Amendola|
|TE||Rob Gronkowski||Travis Kelce||Kyle Rudolph||Delanie Walker||Austin Hooper||Zach Ertz|
|K||Harrison Butker||Wil Lutz||Stephen Gostkowski||Ryan Succop||Chris Boswell||Kai Forbath|
|D||Los Angeles||Kansas City||New England||New Orleans||Jacksonville||Minnesota|
Bryan: But an essentially certain victory is not a mathematically certain victory! While the odds of Aaron putting up -29 points to fall behind Andrew or Vince, neither of whom have any active players left, are pretty much non-existent, the other three squads at least could hope for some sort of record-setting day to catch up. The greatest fantasy day in Super Bowl history belongs to Steve Young in Super Bowl XXIX. Throwing for 325 yards and six touchdowns, that would have earned him 44 points in our format. Unfortunately, Rivers, Scott, and Bryan are all quarterback-less, so that's of no use. The best fantasy skill position day in Super Bowl history, by our scoring rules, belongs to Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIX (poor Chargers). Rice caught three of Young's touchdowns and gained 149 yards receiving and 10 more rushing, good for 33 points. So big days are possible.
|Top FO Staff Playoff Fantasy Days, Super Bowl History|
|Steve Young||XXIX||SF||SD||44||325 yards passing, 6 TDs; 49 yards rushing||Roger Craig||XIX||SF||MIA||30||77 yards rushing, 58 yards receiving, 3 TDs|
|Joe Montana||XIX||SF||MIA||39||331 yards passing, 3 TDs; 59 yards rushing, 1 TD||Marcus Allen||XVIII||LARD||WAS||30||191 yards rushing, 18 yards reiecing, 2 TDs, 1 fumble|
|Joe Montana||XXIV||SF||DEN||35||297 yards passing, 5 TDs; 15 yards rushing||Colin Kaepernick||XLVII||SF||BAL||29||302 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT; 62 yards rushing, 1 TD|
|Jerry Rice||XXIX||SF||SD||33||149 yards receiving, 10 yards rushing, 3 TDs||Ricky Sanders||XXII||WAS||DEN||29||193 yards receiving, 2 TDs, 1 fumble|
|Jerry Rice||XXIV||SF||DEN||32||148 yards receiving, 3 TDs||Tom Brady||XLIX||NE||SEA||28||328 yards passing; 4 TDs, 2 INTs|
|Timmy Smith||XXII||WAS||DEN||32||204 yards rushing, 2 TDs||Tom Brady||XXXVIII||NE||CAR||28||354 yards passing, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 12 yards rushing|
|James White||LI||NE||ATL||31||110 yards rushing, 29 yards receiving, 3 TDs||Aaron Rodgers||XLV||GB||PIT||27||304 yards passing, 3 TDs|
|Terrell Davis||XXXII||DEN||GB||31||157 yards rushing, 3 TDs, 1 fumble||Brett Favre||XXXI||GB||NE||27||246 yards passing, 2 TDs; 12 yards rushing, 1 TD|
|Troy Aikman||XXVII||DAL||BUF||31||273 yards passing, 4 TDs; 28 yards rushing||Emmitt Smith||XXVIII||DAL||BUF||27||132 yards rushing, 26 yards receiving, 2 TDs|
|Doug Williams||XXII||WAS||DEN||31||340 yards passing, 4 TDs, 1 INT||Jerry Rice||XXIII||SF||CIN||27||215 yards receiving, 1 TD|
|Tom Brady||LI||NE||ATL||30||466 yards passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 15 yards rushing||Phil Simms||XXI||NYG||DEN||27||268 yards passing, 3 TDs; 25 yards rushing|
Bryan: Rivers is only 19 points behind, so if Chris Hogan suddenly becomes Jerry Rice ... he still doesn't have much of a chance, because in all likelihood, Tom Brady is throwing those touchdown passes. But if Brady's hand injury suddenly flares up and Brian Hoyer has to come in ... I mean, I'm not saying it's a good chance or anything, but 20-point days aren't unheard of. It's just, you know, a 20-point day plus a shutout of Aaron that's off the table.
Sixty-seven points back, Scott would need Zach Ertz to have the best Super Bowl by a tight end ever plus very good days from both Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola. Ninety-seven points back, Bryan essentially needs Alshon Jeffery to break Billy Cannon's record five-touchdown, 360-yard day from the 1960s, while the Patriots simultaneously innovate the direct handoff to Rob Gronkowski.
I mean, stranger things, yeah?
Best of the Rest
Bryan: There's some drama going into the finale here. Surebrec shot up from third to first with a 51-point conference championship day, led primarily by Case Keenum, Jerick McKinnon, and especially Josh Lambo. However, those three players are all gone now, so while he has a 17-point lead, he only has the Philadelphia defense left. A safe game by the Patriots could leave him stuck at 141 points, and an offensive explosion could see him actually drift back towards the pack somewhat. Still, better to have a lead at this point than not.
There are two real challengers here: RickD and Sid. RickD is 17 points back, has Philadelphia's defense (so no huge Eagles day can build Surebrec's lead), and also adds James White, Nelson Agholor, and Kenny Britt. A touchdown from each of the actual starters there, and he could very realistically bring the title home. Sid is in down 19, with only Agholor and Jake Elliott leading the way. A bad day from the Eagles' defense and a few 50-plus-yard field goals from Elliott, and he's in with a fighting chance. No one else can win without a massive negative-point performance from somebody, and probably multiple somebodies.
- 1. Surebrec (141) (Philadelphia D remaining)
- 2. AudacityofHoops (129) (No players remaining)
- 3. Rick D (124) (James White, Nelson Agholor, Kenny Britt and Philadelphia D remaining)
- 4. Sid (122) (Nelson Agholor and Jake Elliott remaining)
- 5. MichaelInMelbourne(119) (James White remaining)
Keep Choppin' Wood: Looking solely at the final score of 38-7, it would be easy to assume that Philadelphia's divisional round victory over the Minnesota Vikings was a straightforward domination from start to finish. Not so! The Vikings took the lead on the opening drive, forced the Eagles to punt after a single first down, and got the ball back in hopes of extending their lead -- right up until the clock struck midnight on Case Keenum's fairytale season. Under pressure from Chris Long, Keenum threw an ill-advised pass into heavy coverage, and Patrick Robinson returned the resultant interception 50 yards for the game-tying score. Though it is absolutely not fair to blame Keenum for a loss in which the excellent Vikings defense was systematically dismantled by the Eagles offense, the pick-six was by far the game's biggest turning point -- and a throw we expect Keenum would very much like to have back.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win The Game: Fans of trick plays had a lot of fun on conference championship Sunday, being treated to no fewer than three flea flickers, plus the Patriots' annual playoff double-pass. Of those four trick plays, Philadelphia's was by far the most effective:
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 22, 2018
That 41-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith finally ended the competitive portion of the NFC Championship Game. Afterward, offensive coordinator Frank Reich suggested that the Eagles specifically dug the play out for this game to help counter the aggressive Vikings defense. Head coach Doug Pederson has earned a reputation as one of the most aggressive coaches in the league, and his masterful game plan against the Vikings will only enhance that reputation.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 22, 2018
John Fox Award for Conservatism: It is only fitting that the John Fox Award be won by the most John Fox of conservative calls: the Jaguars received a kickoff with 55 seconds left in the first half and two timeouts remaining, and promptly knelt twice to take the game to halftime. While it should be noted that in the Blake Bortles era (2014-17), when the Jaguars have taken possession in their own territory inside the two-minute warning of either half, they have more turnovers (10 interceptions, six lost fumbles) than successful drives (three touchdowns and 10 field goals, plus missed field goals from 53 and 55 yards), it cannot be denied that the decision to not even try for points was extremely conservative.
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Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: Most of what we could say about Jacksonville we've covered, so we're going to look instead at Doug Pederson. Pick your point you thought the Philadelphia-Minnesota game was finished -- we'll take the Alshon Jeffery touchdown to make it 38-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, but your answers may vary -- but it was odd to see Nick Foles still in action with the game already for all intents and purposes over. Philadelphia already lost a quarterback this season. They were wise enough to have an experienced backup like Foles for just such a situation, but it's not something you want to mess with twice. Why not give Nate Sudfeld a few reps in front of a raucous home crowd, just in case the nightmare scenario happens and Foles goes down early in the Super Bowl? I admit, it's grasping at straws in a week with few truly confusing moments, but the competitive portion of the game was over, and the Eagles could have taken some precautions and prepared for an emergency rather than have Foles lead one final drive.
'Rex Grossman, Super Bowl Quarterback' Fantasy Player of the Week: When a Super Bowl quarterback goes unpicked -- not just in the Staff League but also on every Best of the Rest roster -- you get this award. Jared Goff, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Blake Bortles, Alex Smith, Cam Newton, Case Keenum, Matt Ryan -- all can fall before Nick Foles and his 352-yard, three-touchdown day.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 22, 2018
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: Both of the teams eliminated at the final hurdle were built around the basis of a solid defense: Jacksonville and Minnesota finished first and second in both DVOA and yards allowed per play; both accrued more interceptions than the number of passing touchdowns they allowed; and both ranked in the top four in percentage of drives that ended in points for the other team (25.0 percent and 29.5 percent, respectively). What's more, both teams have almost their entire starting defense signed through 2018: the Jaguars have only veteran running-down linebacker Paul Posluszny and nickelback Aaron Colvin as impending free agents, while the Vikings have only 39-year-old cornerback Terence Newman unsigned. So while this may be a historic season for playoff quarterback departures -- including the quarterbacks of both of these teams -- the best two defenses in this postseason, though both are now eliminated, are likely to look very familiar when the next campaign begins.
Game-Changing Play of the Week: Not a huge week for big, game-changing plays; Minnesota-Philadelphia was just about over at halftime, while New England's comeback was death of a thousand paper cuts. We'll highlight one of the smaller plays that hasn't gotten as much coverage -- this late sack of Blake Bortles by Kyle Van Noy and James Harrison.
— Terrell Williams (@4hill2015) January 21, 2018
For everything that went wrong for the Jaguars in the second half, they got the ball back with 2:48 to go down just four points. This is the sort of drive where reputations are made and lost, and things started off OK for Bortles, moving the ball to the New England 38 in just two plays. This sack, though, with 2:07 to go, was a killer. It wasted the two-minute warning. It knocked them back to a third-and-19, a down-and-distance they haven't converted since Week 2 ... of 2013, when Chad Henne was still the quarterback (they were 0 for their previous 38 attempts to convert at that distance or longer). The fumble cost them about 3 extra yards compared to if Bortles could have just tucked and fallen down. It just killed any sense of momentum or continuity the Jags had on that final drive, leading up to a dump-off and then the truly game-ending Stephon Gilmore deflection.
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Player of the Week: We have to pick a Viking, and considering they didn't score after their first drive of the game, the pickings are a wee bit slim. We'll take Jerick McKinnon, who caught all six passes thrown his way for 58 yards in the second half, adding 18 more yards on the ground on all of Minnesota's three second-half hand-offs. McKinnon's a pending free agent; someone who wants their running backs to catch passes and doesn't really mind them not being all that good actually, uh, running the ball, might find him a useful pickup.
Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week
Records to date:
Bryan: That's right. After a full season, we're tied. As I see it, we have three options. We can take the gentlemanly thing and pick the same Lock, and ride to the heights of .500. We can each pick separate bets and let the cards fall where they may. Or we can take opposite sides of the same bet and determine a winner, once and for all.
Andrew: You are unnervingly competitive about this thing at times. Fine, have it your way. Tails (-110) never fails.
Bryan: If it doesn't matter who wins, why keep score? Heads all the way. It's fitting in a year where neither of us is going to break .500 that it comes down to a literal coin flip.
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