by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball. After gorging ourselves on football -- eight live games in one weekend! -- and battling our way through a weekend of sales emails, we now sit in eager anticipation of the final calendar month of the regular season. Only one more game stands between us and December Football, which takes a very close second to January football in my list of favorite football flavors.
Bryan: December's also the time of year when your humble Scramble writers hand out superlatives like candy. Best rookies! Worst coaches! Staff fantasy picks! Recaps of our terrible, terrible predictions from the preseason! We almost become an actual football column there for a little bit, which is frightening.
Fortunately, it's still November, so we can be as goofy as we want at the moment.
Andrew: One thing that always fills the time between Thanksgiving football and the following Sunday's action is sales, and one thing that invariably accompanies sales is commercials. Fittingly, we're also entering the time of year in which large swathes of players, eliminated from contention, are left with little to do but tout their wares in the proverbial shop window.
Put those two things together, and you too can end up with beautiful, poetic, inspired performance art such as this:
I am crying here ... jfc who approved this advert. pic.twitter.com/RzJ2TT3bRX
— Archibald (@EyeonOhio) November 9, 2018
Bryan: Local ads are always where you'll find the weirdest stuff. There are at least five terrible gimmicks all thrown into that Britton Colquitt ad: using a player most fans can't recognize, (terrible) dancing inspired by a faddish video game, terrible music, terrible replays, a talking dog ... I mean, every scene change brings with it something new and uniquely terrible. This would never even get past the discussion stage for any major advertiser, which is why it's so bizarre to see, and only could exist on local TV. This is the equivalent of tuning in some DIII football and watching someone run the wishbone or a 6-2-2-1 defense or something.
Andrew: It's funny you mention that, because the Browns did actually run six straight plays out of a wishbone-style formation against the Falcons, though it was more of a pistol diamond than a true classic wishbone. This being the year that the Browns finally emerged out of being a Division III outfit.
Bryan: Yeah, but tell me "Freddie Kitchens" doesn't sound exactly like someone you'd watch throw 50 passes in a low-tier college championship between two schools you've never heard of and can't quite place on a map.
Andrew: You're asking the wrong person, there. There are only about a dozen schools I have heard of, and I'd rather than number was lower.
Still, goofy and terrible local commercials are one thing. Goofy and terrible national commercials are something else. We're here to celebrate the good, the bad, and the arguable of NFL commercials.
Bryan: The amusing thing is, Andrew was the one pushing for this one. You'd think living across the pond would limit one's exposure to all our American commercials, but he has strong opinions. Strong! Ironically, your local Yank will be seeing some of these for the first time, thanks to a combination of NFL RedZone, channel flipping, DirecTV, writing during island games, and good old-fashioned "talking to other human beings."
Andrew: American commercials are nothing like British commercials. They're a form of entertainment all on their own.
We begin, as many football conversations do, with Aaron Rodgers:
I never, ever thought I would say this after the last batch, but bring back Clay Matthews, all is forgiven!
Bryan: Is it too much to ask for commercials to make some sort of logical sense? This has to be the worst ongoing campaign of the year, all centered around the fact that the word "agent" can have multiple meanings, and Rodgers' agent is too dumb to recognize this. It is ... I mean, it's utterly, utterly stupid. Why would Rodgers, a highly successful football player, hire someone who can't understand basic concepts about everyday life to be his agent? At least with the Clay Matthews versions, it was grounded somewhere in reality -- we've all had obnoxious coworkers, sure, and they just heightened that up to 11 for an ad. Fine. Knock yourself out. This is just dumb.
Andrew: All the entire campaign succeeds in doing is making "Gabe Gabriel," played by Supernatural actor David Haydn-Jones, look like the stupidest, most self-absorbed person on TV. Which is no mean feat, admittedly, but can't possibly have been the intent. Sports agents already have a terrible rap outside the business, and this campaign isn't doing the image any favors. He looks like a doofus, talks like a doofus, and makes you think everybody on the set with him is a doofus. I'm very glad I'm not watching it as a sports agent.
Bryan: The saving grace, I suppose, is that there's a large number of ads in this campaign -- it's not the same unfunny ad, over and over again. Those are the ones that really drive you nuts. Then again, with four or five different variations, you'd expect a joke to land in at least one of them. We're still waiting.
Andrew: At least we aren't stuck in the dry cleaning queue behind Colin Cowherd.
One NFC North player who does have an entertaining commercial spot this year is Stefon Diggs:
Bryan: I like that the ad is understated -- or, at least, as understated as you're going to get in a commercial. The Rodgers/agent commercial hammers you over the head with the joke over and over again. This one is low-key by comparison, with Diggs being asked to just be funny in the background with a very deadpan delivery over the top of it. I think that works a little better; it's not poking you in the ribs repeatedly going "get it? GET IT?! GET IT?!?!?!" No wacky sound effects or anything, and some relatively impressive low-key exasperation from Diggs in the background. With amateur actors, you always run the risk of overacting the heck out of a situation, and Diggs doesn't.
Andrew: Diggs is great in this, I agree. It's obviously a ludicrous situation, but he plays it beautifully. It's rare that I see a commercial in September that still has me smiling or chuckling along in November, but this fits that bill. I'm quite liking this Geico campaign in general, nose whistles aside, but this is easily my favorite of them.
Bryan: Geico can always be counted on to have a few good ones a year, if for no other reason than they're usually running two or three separate ad campaigns at any given time. Throw out that much quantity, and I suppose you're bound to find some quality here and there.
Andrew: Ah, the broken clock theory applied to advertising. If only life were so simple.
Oh, hey, that's another segue:
I'm ... not entirely sure what to make of this commercial. It's an evocative, necessarily abbreviated look at how Shaquem Griffin got to where he is, but I'm not sure I'm on board with that as a marketing tool for toiletries.
Bryan: First, let me say I'm glad they don't run the full 2:30 every time it airs, because that would get tedious really, really quickly.
Secondly, I'm always a little cautious about using the story of someone with a disability or impairment as an inspirational story. A week or two ago, Peter King did a feature on Steve Gleason at halftime on Sunday Night Football that really ventured too close into "look at the strange person!" territory for my liking. Lines like "why would this man, who needs help breathing, choose to get on a plane and fly across the country?" and "explain to me how you have kids" and stuff like that made it feel almost exploitative -- it has not been Peter King's best year by far, and that was one of the more egregious examples. This ad, on the other hand, mostly avoids that trap. It shows Shaquem and Shaquille together doing the same things all the time, and references the difficulties Shaquem might have without lingering and making it feel like we're supposed to be gawking at the weird thing. I think it's tastefully done.
I have no idea why it's supposed to get me to buy a razor or something.
Andrew: Right. I can think of some things for which it might make sense, but shaving foam and deodorant aren't the first two that spring to mind. Clearly Griffin and his family were comfortable with that, and I'm nobody to criticize, but I'm not sure it really works for the purpose to which it's applied.
Let me put it this way: I come away from that set appropriately impressed by Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin, but with nary a thought for whatever it was they were selling.
Bryan: Successful short film, failed ad, in other words?
Andrew: That seems like a reasonable summary, sure. I'm not sure how I'd fix that either, except by making the commercial for something far more directly related to their situation.
Bryan: Or it could work as a Nike "Just Do It" sort of ad -- an inspirational story! If he can overcome his obstacles and become an NFL star, then so can you! Motivation! And whatnot. That makes more sense than being inspired by Griffin's story to reduce my personal body odor.
Speaking of things that stink, remember how much we enjoyed the Tide ads during the Super Bowl last year? Well, like leftovers forgotten on the kitchen counter overnight, this year's batch of Tide ads during Thursday Night Football are absolutely rancid.
Andrew: Ah, now these are where our roles reverse, as I am safely tucked under my warm duvet well in advance of the Thursday night kickoff, and the NFL Game Pass edit on Friday is not accompanied by the commercials.
Boy am I glad about that. That advert is horrible. Just awful. Like "who thought this was a good idea?" dreadful. Abysmal. I'm glad I don't stay up to watch, solely because I was blissfully unaware of those abominations until now.
Bryan: The reason the "Surprise! It's a Tide Ad!" commercials worked during the Super Bowl is that they were unexpected. They were new, and each ad looked like it was legitimately for something else before the twist came in. It also meant that you went into every ad going "wait, is this one going to be a Tide ad, too?," which is great from the advertiser's point of view -- you're constantly thinking of their product! And it was funny! Perfect.
These, on the other hand, are obvious from the get-go. There is no element of surprise; these happen every week. They come after the crew has already cut to a commercial, so you really, really have to not be paying attention in order to confuse whatever inane situation they've set up with part of the actual Thursday Night Football broadcast. They're drawn out way, way too long -- the Super Bowl commercials all mostly ended after "surprise! It's a Tide ad!," but these drag on and on. About the only thing I can give them credit for is Joe Buck's deadpan and ability to poke fun at his own image, which is at least moderately humorous on occasion. Aikman's terrible, Perrera's terrible, most of the actual football players involved are terrible. The ads are terrible.
Andrew: If you had told me that Troy Aikman would be in a season-long series of adverts in which he demonstrated that he is, in fact, a worse pitch man than he is a color guy, I'm not sure I would have believed you. There is, however, now indisputable video evidence, and we can safely overturn these commercials.
If we're moving to former players in the broadcast booth, rather than current players on the field, I guess that means it's time to call Tony Romo:
Or don't. Put the phone down. Walk away. Whatever you do, do not call Tony Romo on the Corona hotline. These adverts are woeful.
Bryan: He's better than Aikman, at least. I'm not sure I would have called Jon Gruden "good" in that ad series last year, but I think Romo was a definite downgrade. Then again, I'll take Romo on commentary and commercials over Gruden in the same two roles.
Andrew: I think one of the things that annoys me about the commercial is it's clearly a campaign that was written for Gruden, and Romo just doesn't fit. He isn't the same personality, and whatever you think of Gruden's nigh-caricature of himself in the broadcast booth, he had enough of the genuine boisterous extrovert to pull this off. Romo simply doesn't.
Bryan: He's the other Darrin! You're absolutely right. Romo's enthusiasm and excitement are of a very different quality than Gruden's that-guy-ism. I think Romo could be a good commercial pitchman, but they needed to change up the formula to play to his strengths, not just plug-and-play.
Andrew: Right. We could have a Romo set where he predicted the next play would suck, and told people to grab a beer instead, or where he correctly called the location of the full Corona based on the alignment of the empties, or just something that isn't grafting Gruden.
Bryan: Or even just him being overly excited about mundane things -- one of the things that makes Romo so good to watch on commentary is his raw enthusiasm, and that's not really played up in the ad campaign at all. I mean, he even made Jim Nantz seem to wake up after years of falling asleep next to Phil Simms, so you know his enthusiasm has to be contagious. Just something tailored to his strengths. It's like taking a successful college quarterback and plugging him into "your" system that in no way resembles what he did in college. Did Hue Jackson direct this campaign?
Andrew: Right. A successful advertising campaign, like with Stefon Diggs above, takes something the pitch man is well known for, and uses that as the base of the advert. Witness:
I hate Call of Duty, but I find this commercial irresistibly hilarious every. Single. Time.
Bryan: Did that air on television during an NFL game? Really? I find it surprising the NFL would OK that, as much as they hate making fun of themselves.
Andrew: I can't definitively state that it was broadcast during a game, but it's part of a large series of fan-made Call of Duty commercials that Activision made into legitimate plugs, and it certainly fits our theme.
Bryan: It's certainly interesting how the number of personal foul penalties for landing on the quarterback had dropped dramatically since September, isn't it? Especially with the NFL claiming they didn't change the rule at all.
Andrew: Tell that to Calais Campbell, after the farcical penalty against him in the Pittsburgh game, but yes one example does not refute the general trend away from those soft calls. Still, this was well-timed, well-directed, and well-executed, unlike the majority of shots in Call of Duty.
Oh, while we're on the subject of referees...
Bryan: I assume that's the same ref from the Cardinals-Chargers game this week. You know, the one that hit Josh Rosen in the hand midplay with a penalty flag? Also, those things are dangerous! Orlando Brown missed multiple seasons with an eye injury caused by an errant penalty flag. This ad is setting a bad example for young referees everywhere. And not a "do not attempt" warning in sight. For shame, Avocados from Mexico. For shame.
Andrew: Is that better or worse than the example Jeff Triplette set for young referees everywhere, both by blinding Brown with the penalty flag, and by generally refereeing games the way he did? I like this commercial. It still makes me laugh. Like with Diggs, it's the reaction of the fans in the living room that does it for me more than the premise of the advert itself. It's different enough, and amusing enough, to stand out without becoming irritating. As I mentioned above, that's a tough balance to strike.
Bryan: Eh, it's alright, but I don't find anything particularly notable about it. I do give them credit for holding on the silent reaction after the flag hits, rather than having someone point out the joke that just happened (a common problem in these sorts of ads), so I suppose it's better than average.
Andrew: It's important that it also doesn't go on too long, like with the annoying pretentious patron and his "malty and full-bodied autumnal mead" in the somehow-not-dead-yet Bud Knight campaign.
Bryan: The shorter version of that commercial is more tolerable, cutting down the interjections, but yes. We're done with Dilly Dilly now, thank you, move along. We don't need this whole ... Dilly Dillyverse they have going on. The Super Bowl big dramatic buildup was already too much, and we're just running the joke into the ground now. Plus, I hate "beer for the common man!" or whatever the slogan is -- like, it's a bad thing to like things that aren't mass produced? No dilly for you. No dilly at all.
Andrew: "For the many, not the few" is, hilariously, the slogan for one of our political parties (very roughly, the Democrat equivalent, VERY roughly) in the U.K. When a political party is being confused with a beer commercial, it's probably time for both to rethink their approach.
Bryan: I think I'll dodge dipping my toe into the entirely calm and sane world of British politics for now.
Andrew: I assure you, that's entirely mutual!
Still, if we're skipping away from commercials that specifically include football references, there's one other job lot of commercials that need to be consigned to the "never do this again" section of the brainstorming sessions.
I'm talking, of course, of the absolutely ridiculous, unassailably nonsensical notion that anybody, anywhere in the world buys their significant other, kids, or basically anybody really a brand-new top-of-the-line TRUCK as a surprise present. Perhaps excluding millionaires, but I have to think millionaires are not GMC's target market.
I suppose they probably are Jaguars, but even so:
"Unwrap a Jaguar?" Really? Like REALLY really?
Bryan: As we are a statistical site, let me crunch some numbers here. While "what's a reasonable amount of money to spend on a Christmas gift?" is somewhat subjective, to say the least, a quick search on the interwebs has seems to have most people fixing their budget between 1 and 2 percent of their yearly salary. In the first ad, those are two GMC Sierras, each of which has an MSRP of $29,600 in their base model. That would imply that, assuming those cars were purchased outright and not on a payment plan, that the couple in question makes $3.7 million a year. Now, if I made $3.7 million a year (and c'mon, Aaron, is that really too much to ask?), I don't think I would be driving a GMC Sierra. Or even two GMC Sierras. The Jaguar F-Pace has an MSRP of $44,600, making it the more financially reasonable of those two commercials, implying a salary of just $2.8 million a year.
Andrew: That's before we even get into the idea of buying TWO CARS without telling your significant other you're doing so, which in my world is pretty much a guaranteed way to get my bank card shredded, and how utterly oblivious said significant other would have to be to not notice TWO BRAND-NEW TRUCKS arriving in her driveway on Christmas Day.
Bryan: Christmas Day is still the day I wake up earliest all year long, so maybe sleep deprivation and general grogginess can explain that latter bit, but your first point rings absolutely true. And it's probably a "Merry Christmas! I got you a car payment!" sort of deal, which ... no. Don't do that. You're terrible, Random Guy in a GMC Commercial.
Andrew: It's better than buying your wife a kitchen appliance, but not by as much as you think.
Bryan: I can't tell if that's just the way they think people live, or if they're trying to sell you to a better lifestyle (that still involves relatively budget trucks, for some reason), or what they're doing. Maybe they're just trying to generate brand recognition via outrage, which seems to at least be working.
Andrew: It's still probably better than Chevy's "hey, you bought a Ford with extra features but we sold you a Chevy instead" campaign, but that is not a high bar. The Ford F150 commercials are, somehow, the best of that batch, purely because they're the least ridiculous.
Alright, there's a couple more commercials I'd like to include here, both for the same product. The first is one I like way more than my rational mind thinks I should:
Bryan: NFL Films music makes anything better. Anything. "The Equalizer" is doing 99 percent of the heavy lifting in this ad, so of course it's good.
Andrew: Most adverts like this, that have somebody singing along or humming along to a well-known backing track, are awful. Feeder's "Just a Day" music video is hideous and loathsome for this reason, even though I enjoy the track itself. A few other advertisers have tried this lately, and I usually hate it. This, however, I appreciate. It bucks the trend, and I love it. Which makes their other current football commercial a real shame:
This is the single most Ron Rivera commercial it is possible to make. If you distilled the essence of Rivera into a storyboard, this is what you would get.
Bryan: Are they implying that the collective gasps of refreshment are enough to blow the ball off-target? Is that how icing the kicker is supposed to work?
Andrew: In this instance, I think the premise is that the scripted sequence psyches the kicker out. It's plainly exaggerated for effect. It's also annoying, because icing the kicker is annoying, and thinking about somebody icing the kicker does not, in fact, refresh me or chill me out. Neither does Pepsi, I guess, but I don't think that's the effect they're chasing. Even though it conforms to my usual ruleset -- the advertising hook corresponds to something that actually happens in a football game -- it has the unfortunate effect of making me want to get it over with and move on to the next play.
Bryan: Andrew, I'm surprised at you. Don't tell people which colas you do or do not enjoy until we get our long-awaited brand deal!
Andrew: If we get offered an endorsement deal by Fentimans, I'm listening, if for no other reason than I'm stunned into silence. Otherwise, ye can keep yer gutrot.
Bryan: FINE gutrot, available at a store near you. Probably. Depending on who pays us the most.
Andrew: Anyway, I like the Pepsi ad that does something I'd usually hate, and hate the one that does something I'd normally like.
Bryan: Again, such is the power of the NFL Films soundtrack.
Andrew: Alright, we're almost there. There is one series of adverts this season that I almost universally love, that necessarily changes from week to week, and that therefore never has a chance to get old:
Bryan: I'm amused that the ad campaign is "no, really, Thursday night games don't suck! This time, we promise!" Of course, the quality of games isn't actually any better this year, nor was it as bad as the meme suggested in the past, but hey.
Andrew: The good thing about the campaign is it changes week-to-week, and tries to sell each game on its own merits. The Eagles-Giants commercial in particular was a standout. They aren't too overstated, but are effective at drawing your attention to the quality of the matchups. Well, some of the matchups anyway. Raiders-49ers may not quite have fit that description.
Bryan: I think that particular kind of commercial is appealing directly to us. Trying to sell each game as an individual experience, rather than "it's the NFL! You should watch it!" That does appeal to people who like analyzing matchups and digging into the whys of how teams are good or bad. It's not going after the casual fan, like NFL ads often do. And, as a non-casual fan, I do appreciate that, even if I wonder how it's playing to someone who just watches a game every few weeks or so.
Andrew: I expect that the idea there is to simply draw them into watching their own team, and hope that's enough to make them want to catch another game. That's how interest becomes a habit. You're right that we probably aren't the target demographic for most of these -- I certainly am not -- so something that does appeal to us is a welcome sight. And hey, this week should be better than most! Two playoff contenders, division leaders no less, both in the rare position of having a full week of practice ahead of Thursday night because both played on Thanksgiving. It should be a good one, and unlike most of these products, I'm excited for it.
Bryan: Saints/Cowboys: For the Many, Not the Few.
Loser League Update
Quarterback: We have a tie! Both Josh Rosen and Matthew Stafford had days to forget -- perhaps slightly more understandable for a rookie rather than a ten-year veteran. Rosen was a victim of volume, throwing just 19 passes, while Stafford's multiple interceptions cost him. Both earned 7 points.
Running Back: Derrick Henry out-performed Dion Lewis on Monday night, but his fumble at the end of the fourth quarter hurts him here. Without it, he would have had a low-scoring day, but would avoid getting called out in this space. With the fumble, and without a ton of yards to offset it, he ends up as the low man with 2 points.
Wide Receiver: A quartet of Goose Eggers this week. Neither Maurice Harris nor James Washington were able to come down with a catch, while both Kenny Stills and Laquon Treadwell were held to just 6 receiving yards. Nul Points
Kicker: Robbie Gould's day was bad enough, missing an extra point to finish in negative digits, but at least he had a field goal to offset that. No such luck for Randy Bullock, who missed both an extra point and a field goal. Bullock's generally an above-average kicker, so I suppose this shows these sorts of days can happen to anybody. -5 points.
Check your team's score and the Part II leaderboard here!
Keep Choppin' Wood: For the second consecutive week, this award goes to a franchise quarterback playing against the Denver Broncos. This time, Ben Roethlisberger is the man guilty of throwing a terrible pass directly at a front-seven defender.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 26, 2018
As with Philip Rivers last week, the throw is never open. Worse, however: even if Shelby Harris is not there, the pass will probably be intercepted by Bradley Roby anyway. We understand that sometimes top quarterbacks with strong arms will attempt to make a difficult throw between two defenders, but it's another thing entirely to attempt to throw the ball through two defenders. With only a minute and change remaining and one timeout left, this interception sealed the Steelers' loss -- and dropped them out of prime position for a playoff bye. That should make their Week 15 game against the Patriots even more important than it already was, with the Houston Texans now hot on the heels of both entering the final month.
John Fox Award for Conservatism: Leading by seven late in Indianapolis, the Miami Dolphins faced third-and-10 at their own 25-yard line following two unsuccessful pass plays. The play call was highly conservative: a draw to Kenyan Drake that not only lost 5 yards, but also aggravated the halfback's existing shoulder injury. After the punt, the Colts drove for a game-tying touchdown, then a poor return accompanied by a holding penalty pinned the Dolphins at their own 6-yard line, tied, with 4:25 remaining.
In this situation, two things become vitally important. The primary objective should be to gain a decent amount of field position so that, at the very least, you avoid gifting the opposition an easy field-goal drive. Failing that, you also need to carefully manage the clock in hopes that you will have an opportunity to answer that probable field goal. The Dolphins did neither. Their first two plays were a Frank Gore run up the middle that burned 40 seconds off the game clock, then an extremely conservative pass to DeVante Parker for no gain. A penalty granted Miami a free timeout, but on third-and-10 they inexplicably ran the ball again. Not only did this have no chance of gaining the first down, not only were they running again with the halfback who had been hurt on the previous third down, but the run also caused another 44 seconds to run off the clock, practically guaranteeing that a Colts field goal would be the game-winning score. Predictably, the Colts took possession barely inside their own half, drove 44 yards in six plays, burned the two-minute warning and all of Miami's timeouts, then kicked the game-winning field goal on fourth down as time expired. This was an All-Madden masterclass in how not to manage that game situation, courtesy of Dolphins head coach Adam Gase.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: We've highlighted opening-drive fake punts in this spot over the past two weeks, but even those are generally more common than fake field goals. Trailing by seven in Denver, the Steelers lined up for a very short attempt on fourth-and-2 with only three seconds left until halftime. Then, they called this:
(Yes, you read that correctly.) pic.twitter.com/0FtvWfCkCO
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 25, 2018
A direct snap to kicker Chris Boswell resulted in a touchdown toss to former Army receiver-turned-professional offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, and the Steelers went in tied at halftime. Though normally we would caution that going for fourth-and-goal right before halftime negates one of the strategic advantages of aggressive fourth-down strategy -- pinning the other team deep -- we at Scramble HQ are always happy to celebrate a touchdown pass from a kicker to an offensive lineman. He may not have been happy with the result of the game, but Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin can certainly be happy with the result of this call.
Hue Jackson Award for Confusing Coaching: Talking about the Saquon Barkley pick is a little difficult this year. Barkley has been arguably the best rookie running back in football; while UDFA Phillip Lindsay has more rushing DYAR and a higher DVOA, Barkley makes up most of that ground in the receiving game and works behind a much lower-quality offensive line. At the same time, when we're comparing him to an undrafted free agent, the question of value comes back into the equation again, and so we go round and round. One thing's clear, though -- now that the Giants have Barkley, they should really use him. A lot. Because he's really good.
Against Philadelphia, Barkley had 131 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half alone, giving the Giants a 19-3 lead. Then in the second half ... he vanished. He had just five touches in the second half as the lead evaporated. Pat Shurmur's explanation? They wanted to "spell him a little bit." He was the second overall draft choice! If you're going to put that much value into a player, you need to use him -- especially in control-the-ball, run-out-the-clock situations, protecting a lead. Not using your best player in crunch time is the very definition of confusing.
'Credit Where Credit Is Due' Fantasy Player of the Week: Josh Allen remains last in our DVOA rankings, and only avoids being last in DYAR thanks to his stint on the bench injured. But last week, if you were crazy enough to start him in fantasy for some reason, he was QB4; only Deshaun Watson, Kirk Cousins, and Dak Prescott outscored him. Admittedly, over half that value came on two plays -- his 14-yard scramble for a touchdown, and his 75-yard bomb to Robert Foster -- but hey, it doesn't matter how he earns you fantasy points, so long as he does, right?
JOSH ALLEN WHAT A THROW! pic.twitter.com/NS5pM9rEnN
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) November 25, 2018
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: The Falcons' season effectively ended with their 31-17 loss to New Orleans on Thanksgiving night, but at least Julio Jones didn't go down without a fight. Jones had 11 receptions for 147 yards against the Saints, including four receptions and 61 yards in the fourth quarter, as the Falcons were trying to come back from a three-score deficit. It's not his fault Calvin Ridley fumbled in the red zone, though it is his fault he fumbled just prior to halftime. Jones went down swinging in what has been a very disappointing season for Atlanta.
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: The Tennessee Titans have been a streaky but inconsistent team in 2018. Three losses in a row -- a 21-point shutout defeat to the Ravens sandwiched between a pair of one-point losses to the Bills and Chargers -- gave way to back-to-back blowout wins against the Cowboys and Patriots in November, which in turn gave way to back-to-back blowout defeats against the division-rival Colts and Texans. One small bright spot from those two games has been the overdue integration of 2017 third-round pick Jonnu Smith into the offense. Smith was expected to take a larger role in the passing game in 2018, especially after Delanie Walker was lost for the year in Week 2, but it wasn't until after the team's Week 8 bye that expectation became reality. Since the bye, Smith has three touchdowns in four games, and the second-year pro has more receiving yards in each of his past four games than he had in any of his first 25 (including playoffs). Smith, like the Titans in general, still has plenty of room to improve, and his inconsistency remains frustrating, but he finally appears to be trending in the right direction after a lackluster first season and a half.
Game-Changing Play of the Week: Our Keep Choppin' Wood award doubles up here, as Roethlisberger's interception was by far the most important play of the week for playoff purposes.
The loss by Pittsburgh tumbles them down from second in the AFC, sitting on a bye week, all the way down to fourth. They're only a game and a half above Baltimore for the division title -- though they have, fortunately, played their set against the Ravens -- and above Indianapolis for a wild-card spot. They are still, of course, our favorites in the AFC North, but their chances at a bye week are fading, and fast. They'll likely have to go 4-1 from here to earn that bye, and they still have to play the Chargers, Patriots, and Saints. That's a very tall order. It also seems reasonable that this loss could mean the Steelers end up matched up with the top AFC wild-card team, rather than whomever comes out of the mess for the sixth seed -- the difference between the third and fourth seeds in the AFC may matter more than usual this year. No matter how you slice it, this loss hurts.
It also revitalizes the Broncos, who many (including, uh, yours truly) had written off for dead at 3-6. The win vaults them from 13th to 10th in the AFC race, in a massive four-way tie at 5-6, one game off the wild-card leaders. Their schedule really opens up now, too -- they get the Raiders and Niners, both of whom are toast. They get the somewhat resurgent, but still not quite there Browns. They get the Dalton-less Bengals. They get the Chargers, who may end up resting starters in Week 17. That is a very winnable schedule for a team that has played better than their record all year long. They don't control their own fate, but winning out would very likely give the Broncos a playoff berth, while going 4-1 at least gives them a puncher's chance at the six seed. Had they lost to Pittsburgh, they would probably have had to run the table to even have any chance, so snagging that goal-line interception in a game they weren't favored to win really, really helped their odds.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Andrew: Denver opened as 1.5-point underdogs in Cincinnati, but quickly moved to 5-point favorites after Andy Dalton was placed on injured reserve. I still think there's more shifting to come, and would have favored the Broncos even if Dalton had been healthy. I don't usually like taking road favorites, but the Bengals were in the midst of a severe swoon even with their starting quarterback: they were down 35-7 at home to the Browns when Dalton injured his thumb, and their only win the past six games came at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jeff Driskel led two touchdown drives after relieving Dalton against Cleveland, but he is not the man I would expect to arrest that slide. The Broncos are better than their record, and still have a chance at a late playoff push this December. I don't think they'll ultimately make it, but I do think they'll get off to the right start here. Denver (-5) at Cincinnati.
Bryan: Offensive coordinator fired? Starting quarterback benched? Star running back suspended? Pah! I fear not. I'll take Jacksonville (+5) at home against the Colts. It was a close game the last time these two teams met, and now the Jaguars get to play at home, having upgraded their quarterback. I get that the chaos in the front office, with the offensive coordinator change and all that, is not good for long-term success, but we're just focusing on this week, and finally, finally benching Blake Bortles is enough for me to give the Jaguars some credit.
Double Survival League
Bryan: Another 2-0 week for both of us as we head down to the wire, and Andrew really scored a coup. Knocking out both the Buccaneers and Bills is a fantastic result for him. Yes, I picked up the Eagles win he couldn't find, but when you can bank a Josh Allen win, you know you're doing something right. As a result, Andrew holds on to his one-game lead, and his remaining teams have the better winning percentage (.483 to .477). Yes, he still has to find wins for the Falcons, Jaguars, and Jets, but I'm in real trouble. I didn't get my Bengals win in before Andy Dalton went on IR, I still haven't found my Bills win, the Cardinals are trying really hard to get that top draft pick, and I still have to squeeze the Dolphins in, as well. Things are looking bleak, True Believers.
Andrew: In theory, this week should be more straightforward for me, though we know things don't always work out that way. The Seattle Seahawks should be the latest team to feast on Nick Mullens and the 49ers, as the Seahawks contend for a wild-card spot while it's already draft season in San Francisco. It would be a major upset to see the 49ers win at CenturyLink. The Tennessee Titans are more variable. As mentioned above, the Titans are streaky and inconsistent, and it's tough to tell which version will show up on which weekend. It's hard to trust any team that loses to the Bills and Dolphins, but they should have enough to dispose of a Jets team that has only kept one of its last five games, all defeats, closer than a 14-point margin. I've said this a few times and come unglued, but if the Titans can't beat this Jets squad, it's tough to see where I could trust them more against their remaining schedule.
Bryan: One of the few advantages I have left in my pocket is a couple of nigh-guaranteed wins. I'm going to use one now, taking Kansas City, rested and coming off of a bye week, with the possibility of clinching a playoff berth, against the disaster that is Oakland. Maybe that's not the easiest call left in the season, but it's right up there in the running. Gotta cash in that opportunity sooner or later, so it might as well be now. I'm going to go with Miami over Buffalo for my second pick. I like the Dolphins in two more games this season: against the Bills this week, and against the Jaguars in Week 16. Of the two, however, Buffalo has had the worst offense, even if they're coming off of a hot streak. I'd rather put my chips on an offense to sputter rather than picking the worse of the two defenses, so Miami gets the call this week.
At the moment, zero teams have qualified for the playoffs, while all 32 teams are still mathematically alive to make it in. That will all change after Week 13, with our first final clinching and elimination scenarios of the year.
The race to be the first team into the playoffs is a fairly straightforward one. The Saints get the first crack at it -- a win over the Cowboys on Thursday will punch their playoff ticket -- but that's their only opportunity this week. Should they fail, the Rams have the next shot, as they play the Lions in the early Sunday window. A win there would be enough to put them through. If they somehow fall to Detroit, however, things get complicated in the late Sunday window. The Rams could, in fact, still be the first team to qualify, should the 49ers upset the Seahawks. However, they'd be challenged by the Chiefs, who could get in with -- deep breath here -- wins by Kansas City, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Buffalo, and either N.Y. Jets or both Atlanta and Denver. Is that more likely than a 49ers upset? That's at least three upsets to one, but counterpoint: the 49ers are really bad. Either way, the Chiefs could still slip in on Sunday night with the first four wins listed, a Falcons win, and a Steelers win. Let's just say the Chiefs' odds of making the playoffs THIS week are low, probably in the sub-1 percent range. While the Rams have the easiest path, the Saints get to go first, so I think they'll punch the first ticket.
The race to be the first team eliminated is a bit more heated, with six teams vying for that "honor." The Jaguars and Cardinals are up first, as both have lose-and-they're-out games in the early Sunday window. The Jags might well pull off the upset over Indianapolis, but color me somewhat skeptical that the Cardinals would survive against the Packers. Should both teams pick up unlikely victories, we'd move to the late window. There, both the 49ers and Raiders face lose-and-they're-out games, while the Jets and Giants need a loss and a lot of help to pip them to the line. If I had to put money on it, I'd expect the Packers to blow out the Cardinals, resulting in a faster-paced game and letting Arizona beat Jacksonville to the line. It could be very, very close, however.
It should be noted that we're not listing every elimination scenario here -- I'm pretty sure my editor would kill me if I had three pages of HTML tables for him to work through. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Indeed.) If you're interested in elimination scenarios for home-field advantage, top-three seeds, or top-five seeds, you can find those here.
- New Orleans can clinch a top-three seed IF New Orleans d. Dallas AND Philadelphia d. Washington AND Tampa Bay d. Carolina
- New Orleans can clinch the NFC South IF New Orleans d. Dallas AND Tampa Bay d. Carolina
- New Orleans can clinch a top-five seed IF New Orleans d. Dallas AND EITHER Tampa Bay d. Carolina OR BOTH New England d. Minnesota AND San Francisco d. Seattle
- New Orleans can clinch a playoff berth IF New Orleans d. Dallas
- L.A. Rams can clinch a top-three seed IF L.A. Rams d. Detroit AND New Orleans d. Dallas AND Philadelphia d. Washington
- L.A. Rams can clinch the NFC West IF L.A. Rams d. Detroit OR San Francisco d. Seattle
- Kansas City can clinch a playoff berth IF Kansas City d. Oakland AND Cleveland d. Houston AND Jacksonville d. Indianapolis AND Buffalo d. Miami AND EITHER N.Y. Jets d. Tennessee OR BOTH Atlanta d. Indianapolis AND EITHER Pittsburgh d. L.A. Chargers OR Denver d. Cincinnati
- Carolina can be eliminated from the NFC South IF Tampa Bay d. Carolina AND New Orleans d. Dallas
- Minnesota can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF New England d. Minnesota AND New Orleans d. Dallas AND L.A. Rams d. Detroit
- Green Bay can be eliminated from the NFC North IF Arizona d. Green Bay AND Chicago d. N.Y. Giants
- Detroit can be eliminated from the NFC North IF L.A. Rams d. Detroit OR Chicago d. N.Y. Giants
- Seattle can be eliminated from the NFC West IF San Francisco d. Seattle OR L.A. Rams d. Detroit
- Arizona can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Green Bay d. Arizona
- San Francisco can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Seattle d. San Francisco
- Dallas can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF New Orleans d. Dallas AND EITHER L.A. Rams d. Detroit OR BOTH Chicago d. N.Y. Giants AND New England d. Minnesota
- Washington can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Philadelphia d. Washington AND New Orleans d. Dallas AND L.A. Rams d. Detroit
- Philadelphia can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Washington d. Philadelphia OR (EITHER Chicago d. N.Y. Giants OR L.A. Rams d. Detroit) AND (EITHER New Orleans d. Dallas OR New England d. Minnesota)
- N.Y. Giants can be eliminated from the NFC East IF Chicago d. N.Y. Giants
- N.Y. Giants can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Chicago d. N.Y. Giants AND EITHER TWO OF (Seattle d. San Francisco OR Minnesota d. New England OR Carolina d. Tampa Bay) OR ALL OF Washington d. Philadelphia AND Dallas d. New Orleans AND ONE OF (Carolina d. Tampa Bay OR Seattle d. San Francisco OR Minnesota d. New England)
- Tennessee can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF N.Y. Jets d. Tennnessee AND New England d. Minnesota AND Pittsburgh d. L.A. Chargers
- Jacksonville can be eliminated from the AFC South IF Indianapolis d. Jacksonville OR Houston d. Cleveland
- Jacksonville can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Indianapolis d. Jacksonville
- Cincinnati can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Denver d. Cincinnati AND Pittsburgh d. L.A. Chargers AND Kansas City d. Oakland AND New England d. Minnesota
- Cleveland can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Houston d. Cleveland
- Cleveland can be eliminated from the AFC North IF Houston d. Cleveland AND Pittsburgh d. L.A. Chargers AND Denver d. Cincinnati
- Denver can be eliminated from the AFC West IF Cincinnati d. Denver OR Kansas City d. Oakland
- Oakland can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Kansas City d. Oakland
- Miami can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Buffalo d. Miami AND Pittsburgh d. L.A. Chargers AND New England d. Minnesota AND Kansas City d. Oakland
- Buffalo can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Miami d. Buffalo OR ALL OF Pittsburgh d. L.A. Chargers AND New England d. Minnesota AND Kansas City d. Oakland
- Buffalo can be eliminated from the AFC East IF Miami d. Buffalo AND New England d. Minnesota
- N.Y. Jets can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Tennessee d. N.Y. Jets AND Cleveland d. Houston AND Cincinnati d. Denver AND Baltimore d. Atlanta
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