Playing Out the Stretch with the Giants and Lions
NFL Week 16 - It's hard to believe there are only two weeks left in the regular season, just 32 more games to go. The playoff race is in full swing, with nearly every spot in the AFC still up for grabs. Fantasy championships are happening for season-long leagues. Records could fall due to the new 17-game schedules.
And, of course, we're not here to talk about any of that.
Here at Loser League HQ, we're always fascinated about matchups between mathematically eliminated teams. Sure, some teams have known, in their heart of hearts, that the season wasn't going anywhere since opening day, but a switch often gets flipped when things mathematically draw to a close. Sometimes, coaches become looser and more creative, opening up the back of the playbook and giving veterans chances to do things they have always wanted to do because, heck, there's nothing to lose, right?
The Jets have been hopeless all season long, and yet they wait until they're mathematically done before doing things like this:
Jets get creative on 3rd & 15! #TakeFlight
— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2021
And while Matt Nagy said he'd go for two here even if the Bears were still in contention, I have my doubts. After all, he had been in an even better situation in 2018 against the Giants, scoring a touchdown with no time left on the clock, and opted to kick the extra point to tie the game and go to overtime (where they lost).
Bears take the lead with the two-point conversion!
— NFL (@NFL) December 26, 2021
We have already seen two matchups this season between eliminated teams, as the Jacksonville Jaguars just got done with a back-to-back series against the Texans and the Jets. That brought us crazy kickoff return touchdowns, fans in the end zone, once-in-a-half-decade quarterback scrambles, multiple offensive linemen scoring touchdowns, and more kickoff return touchdowns. Crazy things happen when stakes are removed, in other words.
Week 18 may have some dead-versus-dead matchups (we're looking at you, Washington), but, at least at the moment, none of that is set in stone. The only meaningless matchups we are assured of seeing the rest of the way come this week, with a pair of matchups between teams running out the slate going head-to-head. These are the games where Loser League glory will be won or lost, the ones us true #sickos will be watching closely. So, while the rest of the world is focusing on the battle for the AFC North or the logjam that is the final NFC wild-card spot, it's worth paying some respects to the matchups that require work to find meaning in.
New York Giants at Chicago Bears—1 p.m., CBS
Last Chance to See? It's rarely a good sign when both head coaches have made a point, coming in, of saying that they intend to coach the rest of the season. You don't hear Bill Belichick or Matt LaFleur making those sorts of declarations. Reports had Nagy on the chopping block had the Bears lost to the Seahawks last week, which would have seemed awfully cruel—send a man away from his family, on Christmas, to coach in the snow with his third-string quarterback, just to fire him the next day? Perhaps I sent the Christmas Spirits to the wrong house. Joe Judge, on the other hand, seems like he'll be returning in 2022 no matter what, and there's an obvious reason for that.
… oh, you want to know what the obvious reason is? Uh, could I instead offer you a free medium soft drink while we sort things out? Great.
It looks like Justin Fields will be returning to the, uh, playing surface for the Bears, which ups the watchability quotient of this one significantly. Yes, Nick Foles is a long-time Loser League legend, but he gets there by checkdown after checkdown; he's not exciting. If you throw out negative plays (anything with a DYAR under zero), Justin Fields' DVOA jumps 187.8%, the second-highest jump in the league behind Zach Wilson. He's not a Loser League staple like, say, Jared Goff, who just doesn't do anything of interest. And he's not a Loser Leaguer like Trevor Lawrence, who simply doesn't have any playmakers around him to do anything. Fields mixes in flashes of brilliance with some of the most baffling decisions we have seen, and that makes for entertaining television.
As for the Giants, oof. I had their matchup against the Eagles on one of my main screens last Sunday and, no. No, I do not recommend doing that. They have had the Loser League leading quarterback in back-to-back weeks now, and Jake Fromm was out there making sure his name was carved into Loser League Lore. The 10-attempt minimum is supposed to make sure that qualified quarterbacks have some sort of stat to their name, but Fromm managed to avoid the penalty while throwing for only 25 yards. That ties him for the 24th-lowest total for a qualified passer since 2002's realignment, but most of the guys ahead of him were 10-pass-and-out types, either fourth-quarter garbage-timers or injured starters. Fromm passed 17 times and averaged 1.47 yards per attempt, 14th-worst since realignment. And if you bump the minimum attempt marker to 15, he goes to sixth-worst, behind only Bruce Gradkowski, Joey Harrington, Nathan Peterman, Derek Anderson, and Byron Leftwich; a true Who's Who of Losers. Not to be outdone, the Giants as a whole averaged just 2.6 yards per play—86th-worst since realignment, third-worst of the season, and the worst by the Giants since they averaged 2.6 against the Ravens in, erm, Super Bowl XXXV. At least fewer people saw the Giants flop last week.
I'd say, if you're looking for Loser League glory, you want to be heavier on the Giants than the Bears. Chicago has shown it can move the ball and score points when not busy doing incredibly stupid things. The Giants' offense is constructed from incredibly stupid things; only the Jaguars have scored fewer points than they have. In a battle of incompetence, I like Judge over Nagy.
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks—4:25 p.m., FOX
The Seahawks are solid Losers because they simply play less football than anyone else. Through 15 games, they have run 826 plays. That's not just dead-last, it's dead-last by a mile—the Texans, in second-to-last, have run 892, and the league average is 951. The Seahawks run eight fewer plays, per game, than an average NFL team. That's an entire drive … or, with how efficient the Seahawks have been, probably two or three drives. They can't get off the field defensively and they can't stay there once they get there on offense. They're set to run the fewest plays per game since the FishTank 2018 Dolphins, Loser League Legends in their own right. That's how you take an offense that was 13th in DVOA entering the week and end up in the bottom-third in points scored. And this is how you finish dead last in your division for the first time since 1996. It also isn't great for Loser League—fewer plays means a higher chance of earning the penalty in any given week, as there's less volume to go around. Caveat emptor, running with Seattle gives you a higher-than-normal chance of double-digit scores compared to other teams of the same quality.
You're not much better off taking the Detroit Lions, honestly. Not because they're good, because boy howdy, they are not, but because they have become the team which just does not quit. Only three teams have run more plays when down by three or more scores than the Lions have. Your passing leader is Jared Goff, with 848 of those garbage-time yards, and T.J. Hockenson and D'Andre Swift are near the top of the receiving leaderboards as well—the Lions are more than willing to keep pressing, even when games are well out of reach. And sometimes, that means they stay in touch right to the end—they beat the Vikings and Cardinals and tied the Steelers, seriously damaging those teams' postseason prospects, and came within a score of knocking off the 49ers, Ravens, Vikings (again), Browns, Bears, and Falcons. Dan Campbell and his men have been an element of chaos all season long, and I am here for it. It's really a pity they end with the Seahawks (already eliminated), and the Packers (who may have the No. 1 seed wrapped up by kickoff). I was really looking forward to the Lions crushing more postseason dreams. Well, maybe the Packers will slip up this week and the Lions can force them to play a game in the wild-card round. Bite some kneecaps, boys.
This is the less appealing game if you're looking for Losers; it has been a while since either team had an absolutely terrible offensive day. You used to be able to count on Aman-Ra St. Brown to have a three-target, 20-yard day, but he has really picked it up over the last month. The Seahawks had a bad game against the Rams, with Russell Wilson and Rashaad Penny having single-digit days, but they combined for 37 points last week against the Bears. No, I'd stick clear of this one if you're looking for the worst of the worst performances; the Lions and Seahawks are a class above the Giants and Bears when it comes to compiling statistics. This game is more likely to have a dramatic finish, however, so if you're bored with the idea of the Cowboys and Cardinals fighting for playoff position, you can always flip over to watch the Seahawks sprinkle one deep shot in every four running plays and eight receivers you have never heard of making plays for the Lions. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon!
Week 15's Biggest Losers
Worst of the Worst
We said last week that it was hard to imagine what value the Giants could get out of starting Mike Glennon again. It turns out, there's not much more value in starting Jake Fromm (0), who had a nightmare of a day in his first professional start. There's still more value in seeing what Fromm can do than there is the experienced Glennon (7), but, uh, so far, what he can do is this:
Jake Fromm throws the first interception of what will be a long prosperous career pic.twitter.com/0RpMPBi8IE
— Bobby Skinner (@BobbySkinner_) December 26, 2021
Other Loser Leaders
Cam Newton (5) wanted to make it clear after the game that he was not retiring, but he also said "I don't know what the future holds, but I'm going to look that lion in the eyeball and not blink." A fun quote to the end, Newton is a surefire Panthers Ring of Honor member who I'm sure will be fondly remembered by (most of) the fanbase for years to come. They may, however, leave this return to town off of his resume when they remember the good old days. And, speaking of quarterbacks not likely to be with us much longer, Ben Roethlisberger (7) continues to wind down as he approaches the end of his career. If his receivers could catch the ball, he might have gotten out of single-digits, but not by much.
Elsewhere, Mac Jones (6) took a rare turn as the worst of the rookie passers—only his third such day, compared to four each for Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Davis Mills, and six for Zach Wilson. Jones' arm strength let him down in a game where he had to throw quite a bit from behind; not his forte.
Baker Mayfield actually misses the bottom of the list, scoring 12 points despite throwing four interceptions—a couple of passing touchdowns take the sting out of that sort of day. So it's Matthew Stafford (7) who ended up with an INT-heavy disaster, his three picks slamming him hard. Fortunately, he was playing the Vikings, who categorically refuse to win or lose big, so there was plenty of time for the Rams to recover.
And no, we didn't forget Monday Night, as Ian Book (2) was just about as bad as you thought he would be. It turns out fourth-string practice squad players aren't good NFL starters. Who knew!
Taylor Heinicke (6), Drew Lock (8), Sam Darnold (10), and Derek Carr (10) round out your bottom scorers.
We could pick one of two rookies here. Davis Mills (20) is a good shout, but he's pipped by Zach Wilson (22)—91 rushing yards and a touchdown does a lot of good! Basing one's value on 50+ yard rushing touchdowns is probably not a sustainable strategy, per se, but for one week, at least, it pushed Wilson very near the top of the Loserboards.
Worst of the Worst
We have a four-way tie between Royce Freeman, Saquon Barkley, and the Miami duo of David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay with 3 points apiece. Barkley appears here far too often for a former second-overall pick. Blame it on the offensive line if you must, but 2.1 yards per carry is practically unusable. And even if you write this off as one bad game, he's still a full yard behind Devontae Booker in yards per attempt, and Elijhaa Penny is ahead of him as well in a small sample size. There is no bigger fantasy bust this season than Barkley.
Fewest yards per rush since 2020 among RBs on active roster
Saquon Barkley 3.32
Chuba Hubbard 3.49
Adrian Peterson 3.62
Mark Ingram 3.67
Najee Harris 3.67
*min. 145 rushes pic.twitter.com/c6SXBI3709
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) December 27, 2021
Other Loser Leaders
Weird to see a Cowboys player here after they scored roughly 10 billion points, but Tony Pollard (4) only just passed the eight-carry threshold, with Corey Clement mopping up the game late. And since it was Elliott who got the touchdown, Pollard ends up with a pretty empty day.
The Jets had the most rushing yards of any team in any game this season, but that was mostly Michael Carter with a little Zach Wilson; Tevin Coleman (5) split carries nearly 50-50 with Carter, but was outgained 118 yards to 57, in case you're wondering which Jets back to take in real fantasy next season.
Craig Reynolds (4), Jordan Howard (4), and AJ Dillon (5) round out the bottom of the list.
Rex Burkhead (26), I have said a lot of mean things about the Texans' rushing game, and I will say a lot more before all is said and done. But 22 rushes for 149 yards and two scores? Goodness gracious; if that doesn't deserve a standing ovation, I don't know what does. That's a career high in rushing yards for Burkhead, and will likely go down as one of the all-time "wait, what?" performances; a tremendous day from a truly putrid unit.
Worst of the Worst
Five Goose Eggers this week: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Josh Gordon, Van Jefferson, Darius Slayton, and Adam Humphries. Gordon managed the zero-catch day; remember when people thought adding him would be some level of unfair in the Chiefs' offense? Not so much. Humphries managed the rare two-catch Goose Egg, with just 4 yards on a pair of receptions. Washington's offense, it, uh, wasn't good.
Other Loser Leaders
Nine players with one point apiece: Russell Gage, Damiere Byrd, Cedric Wilson, Tim Patrick, Khalif Raymond, N'Keal Harry, Jalen Reagor, D'Wayne Eskridge, and Jauan Jennings.
No huge flop this week—most of the big scorers were people you would expect. Perhaps you thought A.J. Brown (20) would be eased back in coming off the injured list. And he was, if by "eased back in" you mean "targeted 16 times for 145 yards and a score in a much-needed win for Tennessee." Very easy.
Worst of the Worst
Matt Prater (-5) missed two field goals and an extra point. Some of the blame does go to Colt McCoy, however, filling in as the holder for the first time in his career. Mess with the kicking system, and bad results can occur.
Other Loser Leaders
No one. Seriously, no other rosterable kicker had negative points. Good job, team!
Ryan Succop (14) was the only kicker to finish above the penalty this week; four field goals and a pair of extra points was a full day's work as the Buccaneers clinched the NFC South title.
Week 16 Contest Results
We had a tie atop the leaderboards this week! In the Hunt has been, well, in the hunt—he's currently seventh on the season-long leaderboards. Suboptimal Superstars is inside the top 60, but a few steps back from the top contenders to this point. Over the holidays, however, they were nearly identical. In the Hunt went with Jake Fromm (0), Tevin Coleman (5), Jamaal Williams (7), Darius Slayton (0), Tim Patrick (1), and Graham Gano (4). Suboptimal Superstars went with Fromm, Coleman, Slayton, Royce Freeman (3), Adam Humphries (0), and Matthew Wright (9). That's 17 points each, so we have to go to the first tiebreaker: total points for all 10 rostered players.
In the Hunt's backups were Tim Boyle (11), Chuba Hubbard (15), Jakobi Meyers (5), and Ka'imi Fairbairn (12). Suboptimal also had Fairbairn and Hubbard, cancelling them out. His other two players, however—Zach Wilson (22) and Jamison Crowder (15)—did him in. Crowder's calf injury kept him out, but the Superstars might have even survived that had Wilson not scampered 52 yards for a touchdown (11 points right there that make up all of the difference between the reserve quarterbacks). That means In The Hunt is our weekly champion, winning the Football Outsiders shirt and the FO+ annual subscription. Congratulations!
Your top five for the week:
1. In the Hunt (17)
2. Suboptimal Superstars (17)
3. How to Lose a Game in 10 Plays (19)
T4. Lahoo Saher (20)
T4. TheNoahClark (20)
T4. BD (20)
Things are getting very tight indeed on our season-long leaderboards, as seven teams are within 10 points of the overall lead. That includes this week's winner, In the Hunt, who had a clutch week at the most opportune time. How to Lose a Game in 10 Plays also stormed back into the top five with a 19-point day of his own, leaning on a Jake Fromm-Saquon Barkley stack; discounting the Giants seems to be a fantastic strategy at this point in time.
Our top two teams from last week both had middling performances. Both AlecV and the Mojo Momenteers got destroyed by their running backs, two of many victims of Rex Burkheaditis. They each ended up scoring Devonta Freeman's 22 points on their way to 48- and 45-point weeks. They're still very much in contention, but that was enough to knock them off the very top step.
Many of the top contenders had running back problems. Both Deacon Blues and Davante's Inferno had all three of their running backs ended up taking the penalty. Both were able to find the Jake Fromm-Darius Slayton stack to keep them to respectable 34- and 37-point days, which ended up being a very solid score for the top players this week.
That leaves Octuplicate, back on top once again. Like so many of the other top players, he ate a running back penalty (Hubbard), but Ian Book and Tevin Coleman provided a solid enough foundation to leave him with 34 points of his own. He moves into first place with just two weeks to play!
There are nine players within 20 points of the leader. There are 40 within 100. These are your contenders as we enter the last two weeks of the season. Here is your current top 10:
1. Octuplicate (516)
T2. Deacon Blues (519)
T2. AlecV (519)
T4. How to Lose a Game in 10 Plays (520)
T4. Mojo Momenteers (520)
6. Davante's Inferno (521)
7. In the Hunt (524)
8. Scott Spratt (532)
9. StMedard (533)
10. Jeremy B (544)
I'm surprised as you are that this has come up, but I'll remind people that if we need a tiebreaker for the season-long stats, we'll look at all 10 players from all 18 weeks. Surely, we won't end up with a tie this late into the year … right?
Plays for Week 17
Davis Mills, I do not believe you. I do not believe your performance last week against the Chargers is going to be indicative of the way you will play for the rest of the season. I think you are, instead, going to look very much like you have looked for the vast majority of the season … which is to say, very bad.
I also think what Trevor Lawrence really needed is for James Robinson to be hurt for the year. Taking away the one consistent skill position player the team had is sure to help him, yeah? No? You're saying that there's just going to be too much pressure on him to do anything meaningful? Well, you're very perceptive.
Other promising picks: Mike Glennon (@CHI), Taylor Heinicke (v. PHI)
You'll note up above that both Dolphins running backs were among the low scorers this week. I'm going to take both Phillip Lindsay and Duke Johnson for that very reason; the Dolphins have seemed to decide that they're going to run, run, run the ball to take some of the pressure off of Tua Tagovailoa. If I had to pick one, I'd go with Johnson—I think he's more likely to avoid the penalty, push comes to shove. But neither of these backs are exactly pushing or shoving their way to a ton of yards, despite the opportunity, so I like 'em both.
I'm also sticking with Chuba Hubbard despite his penalty this week. The Panthers offense is a disaster, and Hubbard is not helping; he's second-to-last in DYAR, averaging just 3.5 yards per attempt. Every week he hits the eight-carry mark is a good week to have him on your team.
Other promising picks: Rex Burkhead (@SF), D'Onta Foreman (v. MIA), Jordan Howard (@WAS)
Take your pick of New York wideouts here, as the Giants offense has cratered and the Jets have to go play the Buccaneers. I'll take Kadarius Toney and Jamison Crowder, but Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, and Braxton Berrios are all excellent choices as well. You could probably craft a fairly solid Loser League team this week without ever leaving New Jersey, adding three of those five receivers; Mike Glennon and Zach Wilson at quarterback; Tevin Coleman, Saquon Barkley, and Michael Carter at running back; and Graham Gano and Eddy Piñeiro. Try it, see what you get!
Or you could add some Jacksonville for spice, with both Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault likely to do very little against the Patriots, as the Jaguars limp to the end of their season.
Other promising picks: Jakobi Meyers (v. JAX)
Matthew Wright and Ka'imi Fairbairn remain locks, no matter the situation.
Other promising picks: Joey Slye (v. PHI), Jason Myers (v. DET)