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It's a three-receiver league, but for the first time since 2010, the frequency of 11 personnel actually went down last year. Was it a blip, or sign of things to come?

29 Dec 2011

Scramble for the Ball: Best of the Bad Teams

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Equal Opportunity All-Stars

Tom: So, Mike, the Pro Bowl rosters were announced yesterday. As we discussed last year, having a football All-Star game is silly, and we think we should reinforce that silliness by requiring every team to have a representative.

Mike: I'll open this discussion by saying that I came up with a pretty good title for that column.

Tom: Yes, good for you, here’s a cookie. Anyway, here's a link to the actual Pro Bowl rosters, and we need to find room for Buffalo, Tennessee, St. Louis, and Washington. Wow, that's actually not too bad.

Mike: I think this will be somewhat easy for Buffalo and Tennessee, since there are so many Patriots we can unceremoniously boot from this roster.

Tom: Well, it's not just about booting the Patriots, but finding a more worthy Titans or Bills player for that position. The Bills' best chance for a Pro Bowl player was seemingly Fred Jackson, but he's on injured reserve. We could pretend to send him for the time he was active, and name Arian Foster (who did miss time at the start of the year) as his replacement.

Mike: That would be dishonest.

Tom: It would be. One idea is adding offensive lineman Andy Levitre, who's been shuffled around and played pretty well, at guard, and booting Logan Mankins. I admit I don't have a good feeling for how well Mankins has played this year.

Mike: Buffalo is second in the league in adjusted line yards to the right end, but 30th in adjusted line yards to right tackle. That should bolster your argument, since Levitre often played left guard and was therefore pulling on runs to the right end. It would also cast doubt on claims that Erik Pears is anything special.

Tom: Delightful. One problem solved.

(Ed. Note: Guys, if you want to ditch Matthew Slater or something that's fine, but the idea that Andy Levitre had a better year than Logan Mankins is nuts. -- Aaron)

Mike: How have you found Craig Stevens' play this year? He's a small sample size all-star.

Tom: To spare myself a rant of at least five hundred words, he's not enough of a receiving option that I can recommend him for the Pro Bowl.

Mike: Fair enough. And Jared Cook is the seventh-best tight end in the AFC this year, so there goes the easy route.

Tom: I see four Titans players I could make a realistic case for: left tackle Michael Roos, right tackle David Stewart (the current roster has three LTs), cornerback Cortland Finnegan, and kicker Rob Bironas.

Mike: Sebastian Janikowski deserves his spot, unquestionably. So sadly I can't pull the lever for Bironas, either.

Tom: Well ... Bironas actually has a surprisingly strong case.

Mike: Although I almost certainly won't change my mind, go ahead and make it.

Tom: According to our special teams stats, Janikowski is first in the league in FG/XP value, at 14.2, but Bironas isn't that far off at 13.2. Nobody else is higher than 7.8. Bironas actually is converting at a higher rate, 26-of-29, compared to 27-of-31. He's doing an excellent job of kicking from distance: 8-of-9 from 40-49 yards out and 6-of-7 from 50 and beyond. Janikowski is as well, of course, 9-of-10 from 40-49 and 6-of-9 from 50 and beyond with some absurd attempts.

Mike: That is surprisingly impressive. I didn't think anyone was in the same universe as Seabass this year.

Tom: I agree Janikowski has the edge, but it's smaller than you think. Bironas has also been a more effective kickoff man this year. He's averaging more yards and has 40 touchbacks on 73 kickoffs, compared to Seabass's 31.

Mike: All right. Oakland has Shane Lechler and (somehow) Richard Seymour. We'll leave the rant for Seymour's inclusion for another day, but we can bump Janikowski, so I suppose we'll be going with Bironas.

Tom: It's very important that Seabass go for touchbacks, because Oakland is actually 27th in kickoff value. When opposing teams do return the ball, the Raiders struggle. Obviously, there are a number of players on the Pro Bowl who wouldn't be on our roster in an ideal universe. But we're not here to right every wrong, just add our brand of silliness to an already silly exercise. If you're going all-inclusive, you're going to end up with some marginal picks that are a little off. This may be one of them, but it's not egregiously bad.

Mike: True. Now for the hard part. I suppose it would be cheating to cut the fullback position and add a fourth running back?

Tom: Yes. And yes.

Mike: Drat. The problem is that Steven Jackson is really the only good player on the St. Louis roster.

Tom: I can't see there being another candidate on offense. At all.

Mike: Aside from his injured quarterback, who has no chance of being placed higher than three quarterbacks who are vying to break Dan Marino's single-season yardage record, I agree with you.

Tom: I'm still a big Sam Bradford fan, but I still would not put him near the Pro Bowl this year.

Mike: St. Louis is near the bottom in rushing defense, but they are surprisingly average in pass defense.

Tom: They don't have positive value in any special teams area, so I doubt there's a hidden candidate there.

Mike: St. Louis ranks No. 1 by DVOA against passes to tight ends. Do we have any surprises among the linebacking corps?

Tom: Well, the two names on defense that seem to stand out are defensive end Chris Long and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Laurinaitis I see as having DeMeco Ryans Syndrome.

Mike: Actually...

Tom: Namely, he's at least a decent middle linebacker on a bad team and therefore will pile up a ton of tackles if he's anywhere from decent to awesome, and it's hard to tell which he actually is.

Mike: Yeah. That said, Brian Urlacher hasn't had a particularly strong year.

Tom: You watch the Bears more closely than I do, so I'll take your word for it. I'd like to find a space for Long, but it's really tough to bump Jared Allen, Jason Pierre-Paul, or Jason Babin.

Mike: And lo and behold, St. Louis is ninth in defensive power success. I personally think Babin, even, should be bumped in favor of Julius Peppers. The NFC is just stacked with great defensive ends.

Tom: Can you send some over to the AFC? I'm not thrilled with that selection this year.

Mike: Anyway, that power success is way out of sync with the rest of their line stats: 24th in adjusted line yards, 29th in running back yards and 31st in open-field yards, yet the Rams are ninth in power success and average (17th) in second-level yards. Considering the dross surrounding him, I'm willing to say that's a pretty strong Laurinaitis effect, paired with his good production of tackles.

Tom: Well, unfortunately, we have to find room for a Redskins player, and the only one that seems to be a particularly serious candidate is London Fletcher.

Mike: Indeed. I guess that leaves Long, then?

Tom: Yup. Allen is the only Vikings representative, so I’m not inclined to kick him off. Pierre-Paul has had such a fantastic season that I think he has to be on there as well. That means bye-bye, Babin!

Mike: This exercise was ... significantly easier this year.

Tom: When we started this exercise, I thought if felt like about six-to-eight teams got snubbed. The past two years, it's only been four each year.

Mike: I'm certain that there were Titans and Bills in the conversation that didn't make the cut.

Tom: I remember George Wilson got some defensive MVP talk early. I wasn't that high on him, and his play apparently tailed off the rest of the season. Plus, Kyle Williams got hurt.

Mike: Yeah.

Tom: Well, we just have to do the best we can. We know some of you won't like our picks, but do us a favor and remember there are only so many spots to go around. If you want Mankins, Janikowski, or Urlacher to go to the Pro Bowl, find another player it makes plausible sense to boot instead. Thanks.

Fantasy Football Update

Tom: Well, fantasy football playoffs are not completely meaningless. I say this because, of course, I won the championship in the league where I had the best team in the regular season. For the second week in a row, I put up the league's highest score among the teams in the postseason. Go me!

Mike: Fantastic. I can imagine how smug you will be next year.

Tom: If I start acting smug, you can just remind me of how my other fantasy teams did.

Mike: That is a fantastic point.

Tom: I'm not naming my Staff League team "Wagstaff's Ringers" again, because they've performed like Wagstaff's ringers. (Horse Feathers, Marx Brothers movie. You should watch it. Duck Soup is better, though.) And, as I've been stressing, I won this game on the strength of my awesome defensive players.

Mike: IDP leagues are great because they give savvy players a bit of an edge, especially in leagues that have decent points for tackles, which are more predictable down the line than sacks or interceptions.

Tom: Clay Matthews, David Harris, Brian Cushing, and Devin McCourty all had at least 15 points, and my IDPs outscored his by 58 in a 51-point victory. Let me put in a plug for NJFFL, under whose rules this league was created. You can find the rules here, and I'll just say again I enjoyed playing under these settings.

Mike: Sounds exciting. Of course, when I say you will be insufferable, I will probably be mega-insufferable.

Tom: Please, brag without humble-bragging.

Mike: Thanks to Drew Brees and Julio Jones' exploits on Monday Night, I am the champion of not one, but both of my leagues. It was actually touch and go in both leagues due to solid performances across the board by both of my opponents. In one league, Cam Newton, who managed 31.34 points, outdid Brees' 25.18.

Tom: Yet you still crushed that team into oblivion.

Mike: However, there was simply too much power down my roster, including a high-but-still-slightly-disappointing Ray Rice with 21 points, Julio Jones with 20.80, and London Fletcher with 13. Actually, the final score was 130.78-126.24, in a PPR league, where we had one of each the Falcons' wide receivers. Had Roddy White snagged a touchdown in the final seconds of garbage time, I would have lost. My problems largely centered on a disappointing game by A.J. Green and my Tennessee DST experiment blowing up in my face.

Tom: See what happens when you start a fantasy defense that’s horrible at rushing the passer?

Mike: My other team should have absolutely crushed my opponent, but it was Christmastime, and I was apparently up against the team from the Island of Misfit Toys.

Tom: I presume it was a marginal team that played well over its head come playoff time?

Mike: And none would stand in the way of their feel-good stories, from Malcolm Floyd's 15.5 points to Kevin Smith's 18.1, with Jordy Nelson's 25.5 leading the way. My nemesis, Rex Grossman, also managed to punch in 20.36 in an effort, I am certain, was designed to thwart destiny. That goes beyond marginal. That is just a bad team which powered through on the strength, largely, of LeSean McCoy and Rob Gronkowski. So it is a bit of poetic justice that despite his terrible players putting up all-star games, the two engines of his success were complete duds, for 4.5 and 7.8 points, respectively.

Tom: And, of course, McCoy went out injured (but of course that didn’t prevent me from winning) and Gronkowski had a more "normal tight end" game.

Mike: My matchups all worked out, in particular Julio Jones (19.8 points), Steven Jackson (14.7) and Brandon Marshall (23.6). Despite my brilliant Jacksonville DST experiment blowing up in my face (see a pattern?), I sailed through relatively easily, 158.08-143.16.

Tom: Congratulations on your glorious triumphs.

Mike: Thank you, thank you.

Tom: Do you have to pay to get your trophy engraved, though?

Mike: Yes. This will be the second time my name is etched onto the unnamed trophy, bringing me even with the career league leader. It is a very competitive league.

Tom: For there to be a trophy in the first place, it must be.

Mike: It's a bit like The League, but very, very G-rated considering it's full of young adults and parents.

Tom: Kind of disappointing, but c'est la vie. Go enjoy your celebratory bender!

FO Staff League Update

That's Great Hustle! (No. 2, Sean, 8-3) 99 def. Reverse Jinxes (No. 4, Elias, 6-5) 93

This seems to be the year for close championship games! Aside from Tom Brady's 29 points for Elias, Neither team had overwhelming performances by any one player, but that simply is not their style -- both of these teams were in the final round because of consistently high production from the range of their roster. While different roster decisions obviously would have influenced a game with this close a result, generally both owners played a good game. Neither had an optimal lineup, but they were both close to the ideal, which meant we had the benefit of a tight, well-played championship. Well done, gentlemen, and congratulations to Sean!

Loser League Update

KICKERS: Missing two field goals when your team can't find its way to the end zone is a pretty good example of "adding insult to injury." Way to go, Josh Brown and his -4 points.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Lavelle Hawkins didn't even have a fumble to blame for his 0. Jason Avant did, but fellow 1 point scorers Legedu Naanee, Mohamed Massaquoi, Golden Tate, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh did not.

RUNNING BACKS: Cedric Benson may have ruined your fantasy day with two fumbles to leave him with 1 point. Tashard Choice and Bernard Scott each had 2 points, but that wasn't much of a surprise.

QUARTERBACK: Christian Ponder is this week's winner of the "rookie quarterback who can't do anything" award, with a turnover-less performance that gave him 5 points.


KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: The only way Early Doucet could've done a better job of locking down this award this week is if he'd fallen down on purpose.

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: It takes Mike Martz-level genius to have first-and-goal from the 5 with 34 seconds to play, only run two plays, and not score any points. Congratulations, Pat Shurmur. Your team might have been able to use some points there in a game they eventually lost 20-14.

COLBERT AWARD: The awesomeness of the Raiders' fake field goal wins Hue Jackson this week's award, no matter what other deserving candidates there may be, and even if, well, a delay of game wiped out the touchdown. As for that decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Chiefs 39...

Scramble Mailbag

Flores: My leagues sensibly ended week 16, and I won my PPR league! Thanks again for all your help this season (and generally tolerating my possibly neurotic hand wringing over my roster)! The PPR league came with a nice bonus of $400 in prize money, so if you guys are ever in NYC, I'd be more than happy to buy you guys a few rounds of drinks!

Tom: And thanks to you for emailing us a question every week! If your league foolishly does run through Week 17, ask us a question in the comments and we’ll answer it. We may even not mock your league for running through Week 17, no matter how much it deserves it.

Mike: I wouldn't count on that last bit, though.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 29 Dec 2011

12 comments, Last at 01 Jan 2012, 2:52am by nibiyabi


by Drunkmonkey :: Thu, 12/29/2011 - 3:58pm

Fantasy's End? That's your good title of last year's column? Is that really deserving of a cookie?

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 12/29/2011 - 4:14pm

Maybe the cookies my sister made for the holidays. Blech!

by Dean :: Thu, 12/29/2011 - 4:10pm

As I posted in the Pro Bowl thread on Tuesday, Chris Long as 13 sacks on the year, and unlike Babin, he actually plays the run. He also rushes from the front side (James Hall and Robert Quinn split time as the blindside end).

Its hard to argue for anyone from a 2-13 team, but Long genuinely deserves the spot more than Babin does.

Also, as for Laurenitis, he did play at a high level, but he did not play at a pro bowl level.

by Jonadan :: Thu, 12/29/2011 - 4:48pm

My league holds championships Week 17. After two years of finishing 3rd, I made the final... and will almost certainly lose as my headliner all year has been Aaron Rodgers, who will (I assume) be sitting for at least three quarters of the actual Lions-Packers game. Which just demonstrates the problem, of course.

"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 12/29/2011 - 5:13pm

Would Jonathan Stewart over Ferguson not be a better shout than leaving Janikowski out?

by Tom Gower :: Thu, 12/29/2011 - 10:34pm

As a Titans watcher, I'm fine with both Roos and Stewart missing the Pro Bowl. I think Stewart's best argument is if you wanted to sent a pure RT, and even then I'd rather send Winston (though of course the Texans were already represented). Bironas is actually close enough you can make what I hope was an interesting argument he's pretty much Janikowski's equal.

by Dales :: Thu, 12/29/2011 - 6:20pm

"(Ed. Note: Guys, if you want to ditch Matthew Slater or something that's fine, but the idea that Andy Levitre had a better year than Logan Mankins is nuts. -- Aaron)"

ProFootballFocus disagrees.

I quote:

If you watched Mankins play last year you saw a man with a chip on his shoulder. The Patriots weren’t paying him what he wanted and he was proving his worth to them with a string of stellar displays. Fast forward to this year and gone are those dominant displays. Instead we’re seeing a whole lot of ‘meh’, and a high number (seven) of penalties. It’s not that Mankins has been terrible, he just isn’t having a huge impact on the game like say what Andy Levitre has managed in his 11 starts at left guard.

Not saying they are right. I can say, though, that the 2 or 3 games I saw of the Pats this year, Mankins was not terribly impressive.

by Shekb (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2011 - 6:44pm

I think you could make a strong case for Sav Rocca over Andy Lee.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Fri, 12/30/2011 - 7:57am

Speaking of DEF/ST experiments blowing up... I startet the Broncos (0.0) instead oof the Lions (15.0). Wooops.

I was blown out by 28, so no worries.

by nibiyabi :: Fri, 12/30/2011 - 1:24pm

In case A.Foster (vs. TEN) is listed as inactive for week 17, should I start C.Benson vs. BAL or S.Greene @ MIA?

And if he is active, should I bench him anyway? If I was Kubiak I would not risk injuring my last remaining healthy superstar.

However, Benson and Greene have awful matchups. If I knew that Foster would play an entire half, I would start him.

by Tom Gower :: Fri, 12/30/2011 - 8:50pm

Even though the Texans are locked into the #3 seed, after their recent slide winning this week seems to be important to them. Foster has not had that many carries this year, or even the last three weeks in particular. I wouldn't expect him to get 30 carries or anything, but expect him to get a reasonable amount of work and not to sit unless Kubiak suddenly starts worrying or the game gets out of hand one way or the other.

by nibiyabi :: Sun, 01/01/2012 - 2:52am

Good point -- thanks for the advice.