Calibrating the DOOM Index for the Vikings and Jets
Andrew: Hello, and welcome to your Week 3 edition of Scramble for the Ball, in which your humble Scrambleteers resist the common urge to focus on what those know-it-all "experts" consider Good Football. Instead, we traditionally survey the wreckage of those select franchises who are already well on the way to having their dreams for the season crushed—and we haven't even reached the end of September.
Bryan: Finely crushed dreams are the currency we trade in here after Week 2, the home of our annual DOOM INDEX. Not all 0-2 teams are made equal, of course, and beginning with a pair of faceplants does not necessarily mean a team's season is over. In 2018, we saw both the Seahawks and Texans dig themselves out of 0-2 holes to find themselves playing in January. Of course, no one has managed to do it since then, and only 12% of teams that have started 0-2 since 1990 have gone on to make the playoffs, but you know. Some teams are more doomed than others. And it's our job to separate the chaff from the slightly less beat-up chaff.
Andrew: This year's tasty selection process involves Bryan's long-range forecast pick as the 2021 NFC North champions, our trusty computer's preseason pick for this season's AFC South champions, a team that thought they were a first-round tight end away from contention, and of course both New York teams. Oh, and do we even need to mention the Jaguars and Lions are included? I feel like that's a given.
Bryan: Only seven teams? The massive amount of parity in the AFC is to blame there. We haven't seen so few teams start the year 0-2 since 2018; there were 11 squads who stumbled out of the gates last season. But with surprise upsets from terrible teams such as Houston and powerhouses such as Kansas City slipping up early, nearly three-quarters of the conference is sitting at 1-1. So, that probably spells comparative good news for our three 0-2 teams in the junior conference; there aren't as many obstacles between them and relevancy, other than, y'know, the fact that they have yet to show they can win a professional football game.
Andrew: It's time to go team by team and figure out just how doomed these suckers are.
Andrew: Hey, remember when we titled our NFC South over/unders column "the crushing despair of the Atlanta Falcons?" I feel like we might have been a touch optimistic.
Bryan: Atlanta has held steady, going from 28th in our preseason projections to 30th in DAVE. They're dead last in DVOA after getting absolutely steamrolled by the Eagles and mostly crushed by Tampa Bay, a late-game comeback aside. They have the lowest playoff odds in the league, due to both their poor start and the fact that they play in the same division as the No. 1 team in DAVE (Tampa Bay), the No. 1 team in DVOA (Carolina) and the Saints, who have played one really good football game to this point.
But no, a first-round tight end was definitely the solution to their problems.
Andrew: What's particularly unfortunate is that Kyle Pitts has largely lived up to his billing so far, and the Falcons are still terrible.
Bryan: Pitts has lived up to a reasonable assumption of his billing, as opposed to some of the hyperbole you get during draft times. The Falcons are averaging 5.3 yards per play with him on the field and 2.6 with him off. That's a hit, or at least as much of a hit as you can be certain of after 120 minutes of football.
Andrew: Right. I meant his billing as expressed by people who recognize that rookie tight ends have a very tough time of things. Pitts is already a productive receiver by rookie tight end standards. He was never going to replace Julio Jones, though, and this offense has suffered badly without Jones. They can't block anybody, Russell Gage has been completely unproductive and is now hurt, and Matt Ryan is nowhere close to his peak level right now. I still think they'll figure some things out on offense—they did for a time against the Buccaneers—but the opening two games were brutal. And we haven't even mentioned the defense yet.
Bryan: The defense is likely to get worse before it gets better, too, with A.J. Terrell being knocked out of the game with a concussion last week. Terrell being your top corner is already a problem, but without him, they're down to T.J. Green on the boundaries. Green was a safety last season. They're both thin and bad, which is not a delightful combination.
Andrew: Positives? The pass rush has been a little better than I expected, assuredly thanks to the scheming of Dean Pees. Deion Jones and Foyesade Oluokun have been everywhere. Cordarrelle Patterson has been a tremendous find.
Bryan: I credit Arthur Smith more than Patterson, but your point is a good one—Atlanta does have some skill position players worth noting. It's just that with roughly 0.3 microseconds before pressure gets past the line, there's only so much creative play calling one can do.
Andrew: The other thing to note about the Falcons is their schedule. The Eagles loss was horrendous; there's no escaping that. However, Philadelphia looks a bit better now than they did before the season, and they're well set up to dominate where the Falcons are weakest. Tampa Bay is the best team in the league. The Falcons had a line of 7.5 wins coming into the season; nobody expected them to hang with Tampa Bay. We'll have a much better idea of where they are after they face their next four opponents: Giants, Washington, Jets, and Dolphins.
Bryan: This week's matchup between the Falcons and Giants is big because, if my math is right, the loser will be the first team to no longer have mathematical control of their playoff destiny. That's always a fun matchup for sickos like me who track this kind of crazy thing.
Andrew: Playoffs? You kidding me?! Playoffs?!?
Bryan: Hey, until you're mathematically eliminated there's always a chance.
There's not really a chance here for Atlanta. I imagine they'll get one or two wins out of that upcoming foursome—oh, and you're welcome, London, for the Falcons/Jets game you're getting in three weeks; sending our best and brightest overseas for that one—but I have seen very, very little to get excited or interested about here. I can't go the full monty here for them because Pitts has played well and they did show fight against the Bucs, but this is a 9 out of 10 on the DOOM INDEX for me; there's very little to like in the short term and it doesn't feel like they have accepted their rebuilding status for the long term.
Andrew: That's the concern for me. This offseason was confusing, with the Falcons looking both like a team that thought they were close to contention in drafting Pitts, and one that thought they were rebuilding in trading Jones. I still don't think that they're doomed enough to hit the No. 1 pick, so this is more a purgatory kind of doomed. A Falcons level of doomed, if you will.
Bryan: I actually would give them the top draft pick at this point in time, thanks to how tough the division and the NFC look in general. That would let them take the quarterback they probably should have taken this year ... and then not start him until 2023 thanks to Matt Ryan's massive extension. Being a Falcons fan doesn't feel like very much fun at all.
Andrew: I guess that's why there isn't a Falcons fan on staff.
Andrew: This team is the reason I wouldn't give the Falcons the No. 1 overall pick. In fact, this has gone much like I suspected it would. The Lions looked way better than expected against the 49ers, and lost anyway because the 49ers are simply a better team. They looked better than expected against the Packers, even leading the game at halftime! And they still lost, because the Packers are simply a better team. I suspect there will be a lot of those kinds of losses for Detroit this year. Possibly around 15 of them.
Bryan: The Lions have looked good for four full quarters this year! It's just that it was the last two quarters against San Francisco and the first two quarters against Green Bay. If they can figure out how to put those together into one coherent package, they might have something here.
I mean, "if" is doing a lot of work here; they're 29th in DVOA and 28th in DAVE. They have heart, and gumption, and moxie, and fight, and spirit, and ... not a lot of talent or skill. That feels more fun to watch than, say, the Falcons, and at least it feels like they have acknowledged that no, they're not good at football, but it's not gonna lead to a whole buncha wins.
Andrew: Even being quite good at football might not lead to a whole buncha wins against this schedule, and the Lions are not that. They play the Ravens next, then travel to Chicago and Minnesota, two teams that should be clearly better than them. They have a winnable game against the Bengals after that, then it's Rams-Eagles-Steelers-Browns. I would not be one bit surprised if they emerge from that slate 1-9. By that point, even heart and gumption and moxie start to wane. It's going to be a tough season.
Bryan: The Lions are going to be the best backdoor cover team in the league this year, and they're going to give more than their fair share of heart attacks to big favorites. I thought the Detroit's comeback against San Francisco in Week 1 was cute and fun ... until they crossed the 50 down just eight points at the end of the game. They nearly did the same thing against the Packers, which led to Pat McAfee nearly having a heart attack on air on the Manningcast. And if they can at least stay ... well, not competitive, but close to competitive with teams of the caliber of Green Bay and San Francisco, then I don't think the year's going to be as long as you think it is. I remain very impressed with what Dan Campbell has gotten his team to do so far.
They're still mostly dead, mind you. Without looking, name their top receiver, and no, T.J. Hockenson does not count. Jared Goff is not going to elevate a cast of Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, and Amon-Ra St. Brown, though they may win best-named receiving corps in the league.
Andrew: I guess how doomed the Lions are is a matter of perspective. Unlike the Falcons, I believe the Lions are aware of where they are in the grand scheme of things. I think if the two teams traded schedules, the Lions may well win more games than the Falcons. They're feisty and should retain that feistiness. I still think they'll pick No. 1 overall, and unlike the Falcons, they don't have to sit their new quarterback for two seasons because of the old guy's contract. They can transition from Jared Goff to the rookie with nary a complaint. That's pessimism for this year, but nowhere near as bad in the long term.
Bryan: I have them third at the moment, but that's splitting hairs at a certain point. I can't call the Lions as DOOMED as the Falcons because they have shown more fight and because they don't have a 2-0 team in their division, but if the Falcons are a nine, then the Lions are an eight out of 10—mostly doomed, with the faintest whiff of longshot hope. If being a Falcons fan is excruciating, being a Lions fan is just horrible, and that's a step up!
Andrew: Hey, remember when the Colts were favorites for this division and Carson Wentz was kinda healthy-ish? Those were fun times.
Bryan: Oh, like you have never sprained both your ankles at the same time. Could have happened to absolutely anyone. And being able to do things in the red zone is highly overrated anyway. The Colts are 29th in red zone DVOA through two weeks and 32nd in goal-to-go DVOA. Somehow the plan of "smash Jonathan Taylor into a loaded box three times, and then have Wentz fall down trying to avoid a sack" has not paid the dividends that one would have hoped!
It's no shock that Wentz is hurt. He has been sacked six times and hit 21 times in two games, which I believe puts him on pace for ... carry the one ... a hearse. Some of that is some surprisingly poor blocking up front, but Wentz has gotta get rid of the ball, man.
Andrew: I was observing many similar things this past weekend watching Jameis Winston versus the Panthers rush. It's still astonishing just how big a difference quarterbacks make to sack rates, and how much blame goes on the offensive line versus the quarterback for those. Going from Philip Rivers to Wentz, or Drew Brees to Winston, really puts that into perspective.
Bryan: True, though let's not absolve the right side of the Colts line entirely, as Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith have been giving up the pressures that Wentz is botching.
Before we go further, though, we should make it clear that the Colts aren't in the same category as the Lions and Falcons, right? I mean, they nearly beat the Rams, who look very, very good, and were in it against the Seahawks most of the way.
Andrew: The Colts are in a really awkward spot, and my opinion of them hasn't really changed from preseason. Wentz has been a little better than I expected, but is now hurt. I thought they had a chance to start 0-5, and they're already 40% of the way there with Jacob Eason getting ready to start in Week 3. Things ease up majorly after that, though. After three straight road trips against the Titans, Dolphins, and Ravens, they play the Texans, Jets, and Jaguars in three of their next five games.
Bryan: But digging out of an 0-5 start would be unprecedented. The best an 0-5 team has ever done since the merger is 8-8. And if Eason has to start more than one game, I think they're more likely than not to go 0-5. Heck, even with a healthy Wentz playing as good as he has the first two weeks—and I'm not entirely sure that's sustainable—I'd have them losing their next three games something like 40% of the time. Things are tough, and just getting tougher.
Andrew: Oh, I don't think they're digging out of an 0-5 start to even sniff a successful season. They still have San Francisco, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Arizona after that, so the best they're hitting from 0-5 is 8-9, and that still needs them to beat both the Patriots and Raiders and win the Titans rematch.
Bryan: It sounds like we're saying this next three-game stretch is the season, more or less. The Colts have the benefit of playing in an AFC South which is, uh, not good. Yes, Houston got a shocking upset win and Tennessee got a big win over the Seahawks, but the Colts' three rivals all rank 27th or lower in DAVE. Even if you go by DVOA, they're all 18th and lower thanks to the Surprisingly Not Featured In This Article Texans.
Andrew: Houston's shocking upset win was against the Jaguars, man. I still can't believe the Jaguars were favored on the road against anybody. That was free money. Even I won that bet.
Bryan: I think the Colts' biggest problem so far has been their situational football—the goal line stuff, their third downs (where they rank 31st in DVOA), and so on. It feels like these are problems which can be fixed, but they're running out of time to fix them and still be competitive.
Andrew: I also still feel like extending the contracts of Frank Reich and Chris Ballard before the season was tacit acknowledgement that this was going to be a rough year, and they didn't need questions about the staff during it. The Colts will be fine. They're managed and coached well enough now to be confident of it. They need to figure out what they have in Wentz, and they'll know that by the end of the year. If it's something good, great. If it's not, they can move on. They weren't going to be bad enough to snag a top pick anyway, even with Curtis Painter under center.
Bryan: So the Colts aren't DOOMED, but they can see it from here. They're standing at the Pass of Cirith Ungol, with the fate of the season in the balance. I'm gonna keep them at a two on the DOOM INDEX, with a cautionary sticker that things will spiral out of control very quickly if they can't get things straightened up before they return home to Indianapolis.
Andrew: I think I'd say the 2021 Colts are mostly doomed, assuming Wentz misses a week or two. Beyond that, they'll be OK. At least they aren't the...
Andrew: Seriously, can this franchise do anything right?
Bryan: They're leading the league in September apologies, at least!
— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) September 20, 2021
Andrew: ... oh, it gets better than that. Because the Falcons repeated the trick a few hours later, to which the Jaguars social media team posted this:
"Hey can I copy your homework?"
"Yeah fam just switch it up a bit." https://t.co/hPnIBcVF4x
— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) September 20, 2021
I mean, talk about the ultimate self-own. We're jolly pleased with ourselves ... because we beat the Falcons to the punch in apologizing for our season. In September, no less.
Bryan: It's generally a good sign when there are rumors about your new head coach leaving after his first game coaching the team, right? That's generally a positive indicator going forwards for Urban Meyer and company?
Andrew: Oooh, maybe then the Falcons' media team could snipe back about the Jaguars copying their Bobby Petrino homework! Aren't we all excited!
This franchise is a disaster. At least the Colts tried to make things work for Andrew Luck. What is it with this division and franchise quarterbacks?
So let's see ... the Jaguars lost on opening day to a Texans squad that basically consists of the 45th- and 46th-best player from everybody else's roster. They then lost at home to a Broncos squad that at least has an up-and-coming defense.
Bryan: I'd argue the Broncos defense has already up and come, but that's another article.
Andrew: The new starting quarterback has opened up as a turnover machine, in part because the veteran offensive line couldn't block a popup. Last season's 31st-ranked defense is currently sitting at No. 24, but now the offense is No. 31 instead. The head coach is being linked with a return to college after two games, the general manager has a knack for drafting and signing injured players, and they generated a ton of negative publicity in the offseason with an unspeakably stupid coaching hire. They have already issued an apology for the season, two games in. Again, can this franchise do anything right?
Bryan: They can identify the right first overall pick in an incredibly obvious draft position! I like what I have seen from Trevor Lawrence so far. Yes, he's throwing interceptions, but they're the good kind of rookie interceptions; they come from trusting his arm a lot and trying to make plays when surrounded by worse talent than he had at Clemson. Lawrence is still learning what qualifies as an open passing window against NFL-caliber defenses, but I'd rather see him testing and learning during a lost season than throwing a zillion safe checkdowns.
Andrew: There have definitely been highlights. There has also been this:
Trevor Lawrence throws his third interception of the day. pic.twitter.com/QsBVdex5pF
— The Sports Place (@offsportsplace) September 12, 2021
Don't get me wrong, Lawrence is great. I'm just already concerned that this could be another Andrew Luck situation. Lawrence is far too good for this franchise. As you'll recall, I was optimistic about the Jaguars coming into the season. I'm not anymore.
Bryan: Oh good lord, I have to be the voice of optimism about the Jaguars. Oh geez, I am not prepared for this. Uh…
... I like Andrew Norwell? Carlos Hyde looks less dead than I figure he'd be? Trevor Lawrence has the best hair in football? Eh, I can't do it. I mentioned earlier that I had the Falcons first and Lions third in the draft order if you started today. Well, the Jags pencil in quite nicely between 'em.
I think you start at a DOOM INDEX of 10, considering the fact that Meyer and his staff look utterly unprepared to play NFL football, and that has trickled down to his team being unprepared to even line up properly. Then you dock them one point for playing in the baby-soft AFC South, so there's still a chance, and another point for Trevor Lawrence giving you hope for the future, and you arrive at an eight. Sure. Why not? That sounds like math.
Andrew: Already, optimism for the future looks like keeping Lawrence around long enough that you can pair him with a proper NFL coaching staff. Let's just say I'm slightly skeptical of this franchise's ability to do that.
Bryan: Well, maybe the Miami job will open up and lure Meyer away. Fingers crossed for Duval.
Bryan: I object, I object, I object. The Vikings are not doomed! The Vikings are cursed. There is a qualitative difference between the two states that I demand we acknowledge!
Andrew: Losing that game in Arizona to a missed 37-yard field goal was the most Vikings way they could possibly have lost. It's like that Blair Walsh playoff miss opened a can of Vanderjagt all over this franchise, with no regard for who is caught in the spray.
Bryan: That missed field goal is our Game-Changing Play of the Week, and I have a number of stats down there about how often the Vikings seem to pull this shit, so fair warning, Minnesota fans. And they very nearly had our Game-Changing Play of the Week in Week 1, when the Bengals converted fourth down in overtime! According to our new post-game win expectancies, the Vikings should have actually beaten Cincinnati, and while Arizona outplayed them last week, they had an easily made field goal attempt for the win. They could easily be 2-0 right now instead of 0-2. Cursed!
Andrew: As a Saints fan, I would like to note that I have absolutely zero sympathy for any curse or similar affliction befalling the Vikings. I am, however, intrigued by the apparent fact that this is a very specific affliction. Unlike, say, the Chargers, where absolutely anything could implode at any moment.
Bryan: Now, to be fair to the DOOM index, the Vikings also had real troubles containing Kyler Murray; it's not just all a missed field goal that's destroying them at the moment. Murray continuously escaped the pocket and took big shots down field on plays where a normal quarterback would have been brought down; that's just bad luck. At least they don't have to worry about that next week with—let me see here—Russell Wilson.
Andrew: At least they get Wilson at home, and the Browns there the following week. A three-game home stretch should help to settle things down there. Having said that, a 2-3 start feels realistic and that wouldn't be ideal as I look at their post-bye schedule.
Bryan: As of right now, you can still get +225 odds for the Vikings to make the playoffs.
... you know, I'm tempted. What would this be now, tripling down on my Vikings optimism? Quadrupling?
Andrew: I don't think the Vikings are doomed, by any stretch. They're going to need to hold serve at home over the next few weeks, though. That Carolina trip looks tougher now than it did two weeks ago, and their next three road games after that are Baltimore, the Chargers, and San Francisco. Get through November at even 5-6, and they can hope to make a run at things in December and January. Any worse than that, and it's going to be tough.
Bryan: Yeah, the Vikings need to go 8-7 from here on out to have a shot at the playoffs, and 10-5 to have a better than average shot. I think, in my heart of hearts, that double-digit wins are gone, and that losing two heartbreakers on the road back-to-back will end up keeping them at home in January. But there's a reason they're the only 0-2 team with a positive DVOA and a positive DAVE; this is a solid franchise that apparently requires a young priest and an old priest. Maybe they can pick them up in next year's draft. Not DOOMED. Cursed. 10 on the CURSED INDEX, 0 on the DOOM INDEX, get these guys outta this article.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Bryan: Start spreading the news
These teams can not play
Their coaches are throwing a fit
New York, New York
Gang Green and Big Blue
Had better both pray
Because they can't escape the pit
New York, New York
If they can't win up there
They won't win anywhere
They're 0-2, New York, New York!
Andrew: That's not bad, but there's a reason you're a sportswriter and not an American Idol.
Bryan: You don't know what choices I have made! I'll have you know I was a hit as "third ballplayer" in my high school's production of Damn Yankees!
Andrew: I see. Then there are many reasons why you're a sportswriter and not an American Idol.
Bryan: I can't argue with the facts.
Andrew: Neither can the Giants. They are now 0-2 for the eighth time in the past nine seasons—nobody else has started 0-2 more than four times in that span—and they're the first franchise since the 2007-2011 Rams to start 0-2 in five straight years. They, not the Jaguars, are the true recurring villain of this article. And yet, as we'll see later on, you are surprisingly upbeat about them. Heck, we both picked them to win their game this week. What gives?
Bryan: Well, what gives for this week is that they're playing the Atlanta Falcons, who have decided to play the season without an offensive line in a bold and exciting move. That shouldn't be used as evidence of what we think the Giants will do from this point on; I am told by reliable sources that it's very likely that someone wins that football game.
Their loss to Washington was an exciting game, but exceptionally sloppy by all involved. After the game, it was suggested that the Giants simply didn't know how to win, as costly penalties and boneheaded errors gave the Football Team new life after new life in the fourth quarter. I mean, sure, but I'd suggest that the more pressing issue is that the Giants do not seem to know how to play defense. They had just four pass pressures against Washington, which is somewhat less than ideal! They have allowed 27 points in both of their losses this season; they only allowed 27 points in three games in all of 2020. We're back to the good old days of 2017-2019, which peaked with the Giants allowing 28.2 points per game in the last of those seasons. That got Pat Shurmur and James Bettcher fired, and past may be prologue for the Giants.
Andrew: The worry, for me, is that this was the worst division in football last year, and the Giants are pretty clearly the worst team in it this year. I like some of the moves they made in theory, but in practice Kadarius Toney has negative receiving yards after two games, Saquon Barkley either isn't all the way back yet or has lost some explosiveness from his ACL recovery, Kenny Golladay hasn't made much of an impact yet, and Daniel Jones is still Daniel Jones.
Bryan: Daniel Jones has made strides towards cromulent, if not competent. He has been better than I thought he was going to be when the Giants drafted him, though that is not exactly high praise. While you're not wrong with anything you said about their offense, I'd argue the biggest problems on that side of the ball are play calling and not personnel. Toney has negative yards in part because of how he's being used, and I'm beginning to think that Joe Judge does not realize that you can score more points if you move the ball across the goal line rather than kicking it through the uprights. I suppose that's to be expected from an old special teams coach.
Andrew: That's exactly my point, though. I like the personnel moves, but they're not weaving the individual strands into a strong fabric at all. It's tough to shift philosophy mid season, either in terms of strategy or play calling, without some external event forcing your hand.
I know they have recovered from rough starts before, but I just don't see it this year. The Falcons game is the most winnable contest they have remaining. I don't think the Giants will lose out from there, but I'm looking at their schedule and I really wouldn't be surprised if they did. I suspect the Giants will finish up with a pick in the top five of the draft. Hopefully, there isn't another generational running back there ripe for the plucking. It won't matter to this staff by that point, though; this edition of the franchise is doomed.
Bryan: From a pure talent standpoint, I think the Giants are in better shape than the Falcons/Lions/Jaguars trifecta; we'll have to wait another entry to find the fourth face on our MOUNT DOOMMORE. But they're clearly not competent enough to join the ranks of the Colts or Vikings as a team with a certain air of competitiveness about them. They are bad in a non-interesting way, which is almost worse. Watching the Jaguars flounder or the Lions' biteless roar or the Falcons' papier-mâché line is more interesting—and better Scramble fodder—then watching some overmatched coaches not know how to use what they have. I have 'em at a solid five on my DOOM INDEX in their own little class of boring badness.
But hey, like you said, we're both pickin' 'em to win this week! Go Giants!
NEW YORK JETS
Andrew: Which brings us aboard the mothership of monstrosity itself, the Mount Doom of the doom index, the one franchise that can outscrewup the Jaguars.
Bryan: I really like Robert Saleh, and I'm rooting for him. I think they have the right coaches and staff in place everywhere. And they just have nothing, and I mean nothing, on the field.
They have lost both their best defensive player (Carl Lawson, out for the year before taking a snap) and their best offensive player (Mekhi Becton, out for another month at the least). Zach Wilson claims he wasn't seeing ghosts, but he also wasn't seeing Patriots defenders in an ugly, cover-your-eyes performance this past week, and things don't get better anytime soon. For all the potential, we haven't seen any progress yet; this isn't a team that's substantively better anywhere than Adam Gase's Jets were, and that's not good.
Andrew: With Gase, however, it was about more than just poor performance on the field. It was a pattern of decline in both performance and morale, across multiple franchises, leading to last season's collapse. The Jets have essentially pushed the reset button, and they're quite prepared to spend the rest of the year slinging muck against the wall to see what sticks. That's not great for this season's prospects, but it's a reasonably effective way to get better for next year.
Bryan: The problem at the moment is that nothing's sticking. Two games is far too early to make any kind of long-term judgments, mind you, but it will be nice to see something work at some point this season. You say they have hit the reset button, which is great. They're currently stuck at the BIOS screen and are getting all sorts of error messages.
I will, to be charitable, note that the Jets' defense ranks 17th in VOA, the best of the 0-2 teams by a significant margin. They're dead-on-average at 0.0%, and considering their cornerback room consists of five guys they found at LaGuardia, that says something for Saleh's scheme and coaching. But I think we have found what will be the worst offense in football, and that just weighs everything so far down.
Andrew: The scary part is they're not even in the bottom three right now. The bottom three are Miami, fresh off a 35-0 annihilation by the Bills, and two teams we have already covered in the Jaguars and Falcons.
Bryan: It's why I said "will be"—in part because defensive adjustments haven't kicked in and in part because a small sample size can produce odd results. Like, I think some of the Panthers' top DVOA rating comes from getting to play the Jets, and I'd count on the latter dragging down the former, as it were.
Andrew: That's possible, but they have also played the Panthers and the Patriots, which is to say the current No. 1 defense and Bill Belichick. It's quite possible that the rest of the season won't be this bad.
Note that I didn't say it would be good. Just not this bad.
Bryan: Man, I hope, and Belichick does have an earned reputation for making rookies look horrible (see more on that in the Loser League column coming up later today, cheap plug). It's just that when I see Lawrence throwing interceptions, I can see the thought process behind them. With Wilson, he was panicking and bailing in empty pockets, and it just looked so bad. Rookies have bad days, it happens. But he has been pretty bad even by rookie standards.
I have to go the full monty here. The 10 out of 10 on the DOOM INDEX. If we're just looking at this year, I don't think anyone is in as much trouble as the Jets are. They may not get the top draft pick just based on strength and schedule and whatnot—I don't think anyone's going 0-17 or what have you—but this looks like it's going to be the longest of long seasons.
Andrew: This was always going to be a difficult year for the Jets, and I do agree that they're the worst team in the league right now. However, I think they do at least have some reason for optimism in the future. That places them slightly ahead of a couple of teams in my estimation. However, for this season, yes, they're not recovering from 0-2, and that makes them utterly doomed.
Bryan: So, out of seven 0-2 teams, we have four that might as well throw in the towel right now, two that have a puncher's chance of being competitive, and one kind of awkwardly straddled in between. Sound about right to you?
Andrew: Am I understanding correctly that the Jets, Jaguars, Giants, and Lions can write off the season, the Colts and Vikings have a chance to recover, and the Falcons are somewhere in between?
Bryan: I swap the Giants and Falcons, but maybe it's all much of a muchness and we have a fearful fivesome instead of a final four. In all likelihood, none of them are going to make much noise this year, so I suppose it's just a matter of how many nits one wishes to pick.
Andrew: All of them. This is Scramble. We pick all the nits, so you don't have to. At last, we have found our purpose.
Keep Choppin' Wood
The Panthers defense did a number on the Saints offense on Sunday, holding them to the lowest yardage total and worst overall performance of the Sean Payton era. The Panthers offense was not quite as impressive, but it didn't need to be. With a lead established and the defense playing so well, all the offense really needed to do was avoid catastrophic mistakes, like throwing a really weird interception under heavy pressure deep in their own end of the field.
Sam Darnold with one of the most bizarre "nah, you take it" interceptions you'll ever see. Saints finally catch a break. Can they take advantage? pic.twitter.com/2N5IvP3SKz
— Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) September 19, 2021
That Sam Darnold interception near the end of the first half led to the only Saints points of the game. Beyond that, though, the decision to ... not even really throw, more just shove the ball at the chest of Malcolm Roach under pressure off the edge would have been dire regardless of the situation. The Panthers defense shut the Saints out through the entire remainder of the game. We feel confident asserting that they'd like to see Darnold take this throw out of his repertoire.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
Chiefs-Ravens on Sunday night was the rare game that fully lives up to its preseason billing: two offensive juggernauts going head-to-head, with the game ultimately decided by a single point and a costly late turnover. However, following Clyde Edwards-Helaire's fumble, all was not quite lost for the Chiefs. If they could force the Ravens to go three-and-out, they would get the ball back with about a minute remaining, needing only a field goal to win. All seemed to be going to plan when the Chiefs stopped former receiver Sammy Watkins short of the marker on third-and-7. Then this happened:
— Billy Heyen (@BillyHeyen) September 20, 2021
Video footage shows Ravens head coach John Harbaugh asking Lamar Jackson if he wanted to go for it, as though the quarterback would ever have declined. The conversion iced the game, securing a first win for Harbaugh and Jackson over the Patrick Mahomes Chiefs. Harbaugh commented afterward that this was "100%" a gut call rather than an analytical one. It's nice to see a coach's gut in sync with the analytics for once.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
Contrast that with division rivals Pittsburgh, who were trailing 23-14 at home to the Raiders with eight and a half minutes remaining when they faced fourth-and-1 in their own territory. The Steelers needed at least two scores to come back, against an opponent that was likely to succeed at chewing some clock: the Raiders gained at least one first down on every offensive possession in Week 2. Even so, Mike Tomlin punted. When the Steelers next took possession, they now had the ball with the same score, in similar field position, at first-and-10 instead of fourth-and-1, but with just 5:51 remaining instead of 8:36. It turned out not to matter, as they could only drive for a field goal anyway, but Sunday really wasn't the best time to take the conservative option.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
By now, you have probably seen this sequence in Houston, at the beginning of the second quarter with the score tied at seven. Benjamin Solak lays out the situation clearly and succinctly:
*Texans pick up 13 yards on 3rd and 15
*Browns called for offsides
*Texans can choose between 4th and 2 or 3rd and 10
*They choose 4th and 2
*They then punt the ball away
The Kevin Stefanski reaction is amazing pic.twitter.com/HMpY4ErhX4
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) September 20, 2021
The issue isn't accepting or declining the penalty, really. You could make an argument for accepting the penalty, facing third-and-10, and trying to pick up the first down that way—after all, you just gained 12 yards; maybe you can do it again. You could make an argument for declining the penalty, facing fourth-and-2, and trying to get the first down that way. It's not a must go-for-it situation by any means, but with the ball at midfield, it's certainly an option.
But declining the penalty and then just punting the ball away? The offsides call gave Houston a free play, and they just said "no thank you, we do not want to win the football game today." To add insult to injury, they punted the ball into the end zone and only gained 29 yards of field position anyway; Cleveland passed the original line of scrimmage five plays later. David Culley offered up some word salad after the game to try to explain the decision, but later admitted on Monday that choosing to punt was just out of frustration. I mean, at least I can empathize there!
"Coverage Is Optional" Fantasy Player of the Week
Here's a question for you to mull over: how much of a head start would you need to beat an NFL cornerback to the end zone? I don't know the answer for me, but I'm slower than molasses in January, so I'm guessing I'd probably need a 25-yard cushion or so if I was expected to run 35 yards for a score. So I'm sad to report that I likely could not have pulled off this Freddie Swain touchdown, as he only had 12.3 yards of separation.
Russell Wilson to Freddie Swain for a 68-yard score! #Seahawks
— NFL (@NFL) September 19, 2021
The Dots show what happened in real time. Both Kristian Fulton and Chris Jackson let Swain run past them, assuming Kevin Byard is deep behind them to pick him up. But Byard has to cover Tyler Lockett instead, as otherwise he'd be the one racing unopposed up the center of the field. Covering Lockett instead of Swain is probably the right choice, but that communication lapse was just part of Swain's five-catch, 95-yard day. Swain earned 21 PPR points, more than doubling the previous best day of his career.
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
We often like to reward someone who scores a touchdown right at the very end of a game, but we have to give special acknowledgement for one of the least-impressive six-point fantasy days of all time. Albert Wilson caught four passes for 20 yards, with a long of 6. Every single reception came in the second half with the Dolphins down at least 21 points; three of them came on Miami's final drive of the day with them down 35 points. Picking up 4.5 PPR points while the opposing defense is already headed out to the carpark is an accomplishment and a half; almost every other game like this you can think of at least had the player in question making a catch or two while the game was still theoretically in the balance.
I looked for someone with a matching game over the past decade—a wide receiver with no catches in the first half of a blowout, who had less than 30 yards of total offense but still gained at least 5 PPR points. There's only one other example—a 2013 Stephen Hill game, where his Jets lost 49-9 to the Bengals. Hill had four receptions for 23 yards, so slightly outdistancing Wilson, and at least half of his receptions came with the Jets down less than 30 points. I feel comfortable calling Wilson's last-drive contributions the most garbage-timey game of the past decade. And picking Wilson has nothing to do with the outcome of one of our fantasy matchups, nope, certainly not.
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
It's obvious to say, but there is not a lot to like about a 35-0 home defeat to a division rival. Miami was not just outplayed, but outclassed in every phase of the game, even losing their quarterback to a rib injury with the game already out of hand. The crumb of comfort is Jalen Waddle, who followed up a touchdown on his debut against the Patriots by leading the team in receiving yards against the Bills. Waddle will need many bigger receiving lines than this to justify the first-round pick, but he's off to a solid enough start.
Game Changing Play of the Week
Hey, it wasn't all bad for the Minnesota Vikings this week! Kirk Cousins threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions! Dalvin Cook had over 100 yards on the ground! Danielle Hunter had his first three-sack day since 2019! And here's the kicker:
AS CALLED ON VIKINGS RADIO: pic.twitter.com/11794IWphj
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 20, 2021
According to EdjSports' numbers, Greg Joseph hooking this 37-yard field goal lowered their win probability by 90.1%; kickers have made 88.2% of their field goals from between 32 and 42 yards over the past decade. It's not quite a gimme, but it's about as close as you're going to get. So of course it went wide. It's the Vikings. That's what they do.
Since 2011, the Vikings have eight missed game-winning or -tying field goals in the last two minutes of regulation or overtime. That's tied for second behind Carolina, surprisingly, but the difference there is that the Panthers have shown a willingness to try 60-plus-yard game-winners. That's not the Vikings' problem. The past decade has seen 15 missed game-winning/tying field goals of 40 yards or shorter; the Vikings have a league-leading three of them: Blair Walsh against the Seahawks in the 2015 wild-card game; Daniel Carlson against the Packers in 2018; and now Greg Jennings this past week. Absolutely brutal. Minnesota saw their playoff odds drop 11.4% from that miss, and they missed out on a chance to have a share of the NFC North lead. All from a 37-yard slice.
Bryan: Our double-survival league is off to a great start, with both of us nailing our first two picks. Sure, I needed a last-second re-kick on a penalty for Washington to beat the Giants, but a victory is a victory, and I'll take it. Just pay less attention to our locks of the week, where I thought Miami had a chance to sneak up on Buffalo, and Andrew thought the Cardinals would make short work of the Vikings. Well, you can't win them all, or so we're contractually obligated.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
All picks are made without reference to the a href="/store/premium-access">FO+ picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.
Records to Date
Andrew: In our preseason over/unders, we debated not only the competence of the Las Vegas Raiders but the very concept of the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders have since beaten two top-half opponents in the AFC, and now host a Miami team coming off a 35-0 drubbing in which they also got their quarterback hurt. While the dropoff from Tua Tagovailoa to Jacoby Brissett isn't huge, the dropoff from a competent NFL offensive line to whatever Miami put out against the Bills very much is. Regardless of who lines up under center, the Raiders should get pressure on defense, and on the other side Jon Gruden's squad has proven that they can put up points of their own. The gap between these teams looks a whole lot wider than it did in preseason, and considerably wider than the line. Give me Las Vegas (-4) over Miami.
Bryan: 0-2 and not looking great to begin the season. So you know what? Let's throw caution to the wind and go crazy. Short weeks produce strange results. Quarterbacks without tape can produce surprising outcomes. And I'm not yet sold on the Panthers as being for real. I still have Carolina winning, but I'll take Houston (+7.5) to keep things surprisingly competitive on Thursday night. If I'm right, I'll look like a genius. If I'm wrong, well, 0-3 isn't that much different than 0-2.
Double Survival League
Records to Date
Bryan: CLE, WAS
Andrew: DEN, GB
Andrew: The time-honored tradition of picking against Jacksonville early and often continues this week as I snap up the Arizona Cardinals. After the debacle against the Patriots, I would also pick against the Jets, but I already nabbed the Broncos last week. Instead, I'll go out on a limb to pick the New York Giants against the Falcons in what might be the most winnable game remaining on their schedule. Atlanta still hasn't put much together under their new head coach, and they don't have the pass rush to put Daniel Jones under the kind of pressure that causes him to flounder.
Bryan: I, too, am taking the New York Giants, for basically the same reason Andrew is. Before the season, I circled a few home games that I thought the Giants might be favored in—specifically, Carolina, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia. Well, those teams are a combined 5-1, making those matchups look less and less enticing by the minute. Picking a winless team is never fun, but at least I'll get them against a different winless team. And then, while Andrew wishes he could take Denver a second time, I'll take the Denver Broncos a first time in what seems to be the biggest mismatch on the schedule. Vic Fangio doesn't have quite the same reputation against rookie passers as Bill Belichick, but it's still not exactly the softest bounce-back game for Zach Wilson. This one might get ugly early.