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10 Sep 2014

Scramble for the Ball: The New Old Hotness

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: Welcome to National Jump to Conclusions Week, fantasy football edition. Bill Barnwell (now of Grantland) wrote many moons ago about how Week 1 standouts were like other standouts, sometimes players having a great season and sometimes players having a great week.

Mike: The great thing about football is that basically everything is a small sample size! But the days between Week 1 and Week 2 showcase the smallest sample size of them all.

Tom: Perhaps we should consider renaming it National Confirmation Bias Week, thought that might be a bit much after we went going through preseason's National Confirmation Bias Month.

Mike: I think the most accurate name would be the Dennis Green Week.

Tom: Who are we letting off the hook, though?

Mike: Everyone loudly talks about how every team was exactly who they thought they were, without actually knowing who anyone is.

Tom: To be fair to Dennis, I think the Bears were probably one of the most predictable teams in the league. We're still not sure who will be that predictable this year, but we're pretending like we know anyway. Everybody, you're still on the hook.

Mike: In addition to this welcome feature resuscitation, Tom and I have made it our goal to turn the screws and return this column to its former laser-like focus on … laser-like … OK, I can't finish. We'll be talking more fantasy football this year, at least, so keep sending questions in, and please do leave questions and comments in the comments section below.

Lessons Learned

Tom: We're changing up Scramble a bit this year. Unfortunately, we can't force Jason Beattie to draw more cartoons.

Mike: At least, that's what Aaron and "the law" tell us. I'm not convinced this is the case.

Tom: What we can do without any risk of jailtime or violating the 13th Amendment, though, is bring back a feature from the early days of Scramble, Lessons Learned, where your Scramble co-authors try to pick a lesson or two from the previous week's games. Mike, what did you learn in Week 1?

Mike: The way the offensive environment in the NFL is tuned, you can never, ever stop scoring. About 15 years ago you would look at a lead of 17 or 25 points and think that the leading team had it made, that they could grind out some tough yards, maybe put together some unsatisfying but clock-killing drives, and keep things more or less under control.

After last year and especially the first week of this year, I think I'm ready to retire the term garbage time, because I'm not sure any team is ever really out of it anymore. Both the Broncos and the Steelers built up leads whose quality, should they be squandered, would result in mandatory seppuku for the entire coaching staff, yet at the end of each of these games, the teams were playing for their lives.

Week 1 just reinforced the pattern that we've seen emerging for a while now, a pattern with reliable results and familiar faces like Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford.

Tom: For which Steelers coach would you most gladly serve as second, if he were forced to commit hara-kiri?

Mike: The greater the warrior, the greater the honor, so of course Dick LeBeau.

Tom: Good answer. I was worried you'd pick Todd Haley given your past misgivings of him, but LeBeau is the better choice.

Mike: The ironic bit about this much-needed realignment of coaching strategy is that the coach overseeing the most trustworthy defense in the league has already internalized the "score early and score often" mentality that is needed nowadays, because that mentality, albeit for different reasons, has long been a staple of NCAA football.

So the lesson from Week 1 is that coaches still do not get it. Even the most celebrated and cerebral players, like Peyton Manning, still do not seem to get it. Taking your offense offline for a half or a quarter isn't helping you win when every team is capable of driving down the field in three minutes; you're just betting that you can flick a switch and score at will at the end of the game when the buzzards start circling. No offense can do that.

Tom: My first indication is that Seattle may finally have a real offensive line, as opposed to just two offensive linemen. If that's the case, the rest of the NFL needs to watch out and KUBIAK's Marshawn Lynch regression projection may not come to pass. The running back usage questions are based on the entire season, though, and Lynch's physical style is bound to wear him down eventually, right?

Mike: Almost an inevitability.

Tom: For my lesson, though, I'm going to go with "rookie running backs are not going to save your fantasy team." Bishop Sankey was the fourth back to see playing time for the Titans; please, keep telling me about how he is going to take over sooner rather than later. Jeremy Hill got four carries for the Bengals, while Giovani Bernard got even the goal-line carries. Carlos Hyde had a good fantasy day, putting up 50 yards and scoring a touchdown. He looked good, granted against Dallas. He got seven carries. Frank Gore is the lead man in that committee. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West were both double-digit scorers for the Browns, but they're in a committee with each other and Ben Tate, whom the Browns paid in the offseason and who has a history with Kyle Shanahan.

I could go through the rest of the list, but these players are not going to seize a stranglehold on jobs and save your fantasy team when this year's equivalent of last year's Steven Jackson or Ray Rice first-round pick happens. (And if you took Jackson early last year, well, that was your fault.)


KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Despite Derek Anderson's attempt to seize this away by throwing the ball to Dashon Goldson for what would have been a game-losing pick-six, it still belongs to Josh McCown for his hot potato impression with a football. Honorable mention to Joe Flacco successfully denying the Ravens a field-goal attempt at the end of the first half, but that was bad and exasperating instead of bad and funny. And somewhat predictable.

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Jamaal Charles is one of the best running backs in the league, capable of creating something out of almost nothing. The Kansas City Chiefs were playing without their best wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe, and without their right tackle, Donald Stephenson, due to suspensions. Andy Reid had choices: he could try to run the ball with Charles, or he could let Alex Smith throw the ball to a receiving corps highlighted by Donnie Avery. He chose option (b), even in the first half, calling 20 passes to only eight runs (five to Charles) despite never trailing by more than four points. Charles finished the game with seven carries, the Chiefs with 10 points and the fourth-worst offensive VOA of the week.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: "What the Shaun Hill's going on out there?" "Oh, just the normal offensive dysfunction, Coach Schottenheimer." Hill's numbers were almost respectable, a 61 percent completion rate and 10.1 yards per completion, aside from the interception, until he departed the game with an injury and 2 Loser League points.

Running Back: The Curse of Logan Mankins hit Loser League running backs who played in the state of Florida. First, it hit Stevan Ridley in Miami, whose Wheel of Belichick spun for just enough carries to avoid the penalty and 21 yards for 2 points. Later on Sunday, it hit Tampa, when the man himself was injured after playing 10 snaps and Doug Martin gained only 7 yards on nine carries for 0 points.

Wide Receiver: The SEC was the king this week, with Rueben Randle, formerly of LSU, and Denarius Moore, formerly of Tennessee, having multiple catches but failing to crack the 10-yard mark for 0 points.

Kicker: "I am become Watt, Destroyer of Opponents." So proclaimeth the great J.J., whose dominance this week extend the basics like a sack, two tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits to blocking Kai Forbath's sole kick attempt, an extra point, giving him -5 Loser League points. Perhaps it is time to repurpose the sobriquet "The All-Conquering Warrior Who Because of His Endurance and Inflexible Will to Win Goes from Conquest to Conquest Leaving Fire in His Wake" on J.J. Watt since it's not like Mobutu has any need for it these days.

Lock of the Weeek

Tom: Once again, we will try to discern our one favorite game wager of the week, involving (as usual) no actual money on it. Lines are courtesy of Pinnacle Sports and were accurate as of time of writing. Picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks.

Mike: I remember last year commenting that I would basically just keep picking the Broncos. However, I feel Pinnacle has heard that and this week's line of Broncos -13.5 over Chiefs is a trap

Tom: Any line more than one score feels like a trap to me, vulnerable to things irrelevant to the outcome of the game.

Mike: I'd like to think that the near-debacle on Sunday night has taught Peyton Manning to never take his foot off the gas, but he hasn't learned that lesson yet. So two-touchdown lines are off the table, even with that offense. Instead, I will go with the other conference champion.

Tom: And pick against them?

Mike: It's still early days, so it's hard to get a handle on how the league's offenses will pan out this year, even those that are strikingly similar to last year's version. That said, I like how Seattle matches up against San Diego in nearly every aspect. I think a touchdown is just about right, so I'm happy with Seattle Seahawks -5 over San Diego Chargers.

Tom: So, the Cardinals are traveling across the country to play at 10 a.m. local time after playing a late Monday night affair, and they're giving points? I know, the Giants also played on Monday night. I know, New York's offense looked dysfunctional against Detroit. I know, Arizona's defense played better than I thought they would. I know I have to reset my expectations after Week 1, but I thought the Giants defense was OK until late outside of a couple plays. I'll take the points at home. New York Giants +2 vs. Arizona Cardinals.

Scramble Mailbag

Mike: Was wondering if you would comment / give your thoughts on the following Week 2 waiver RBs. Do you think any are worth rostering?
Bobby Rainey – TB
Justin Forsett – BAL
Ahmad Bradshaw – IND
Bennie Cunningham - STL
Thank you, I value and appreciate your advice.

Tom: Week 1: Rainey 4-12, 2-8-1 receiving. Forsett 11-70-1, 5-14 receiving. Bradshaw 3-15, 5-70 receiving. Cunningham 5-21, 4-30 receiving. So, one guy got almost twice as many carries as the other three. Two of the other three teams have a recent first-round pick on their roster, and the third had a guy who was their lead back last year who's now in his second season. The other guy plays on a team that just lost one of their two committee backs and saw the other guy benched for him in Week 1. Isn't this a no-brainer?

Mike: No? He's not asking us to pick one. He's asking us if any of them are rosterable. Based on their expected production and projections, I don't think Rainey or Cunningham are serious candidates.

Tom: Whatever possibilities Doug Martin's injury may open in Tampa, I see the offensive line closing. Ditto Cunningham and St. Louis' offensive dysfunction.

Mike: Forsett had a decent first week, but keep in mind that Bernard Pierce is playing injured right now, which skews his opportunities, even if Harbaugh is publicly swearing he's dedicated to a committee approach post-Ray Rice.

Tom: Bradshaw is a better passing-game back than Trent Richardson, but the Colts want to run the ball to protect Andrew Luck from getting hit every third play. Bradshaw's going to be an unpredictable performer, I think, until he gets hurt.

Mike: I agree, which is why I would not start Bradshaw, but I would definitely roster him, because he's a great vulture candidate when you need to take a gamble. Richardson is scared of running in power situations (with good reason, based on last year's offensive line performance), so Bradshaw has some potential for goal-line carries and his receiving skills are going to play well on a team likely to spend a significant portion of the season airing it out.

Tom: Forsett is a known quantity. He'll be a committee back, but he has a history with Gary Kubiak and a committee so unthreatening he can get work in it.

Mike: Personally, I don't think the Ravens' running game is strong enough to make the likely lesser half of a committee a palatable option. I'd pick up Bradshaw and keep him in my back pocket, especially against the very plausible scenario that the Colts run out of patience with the Richardson project. Don't think anyone else is worth a sniff.

Tom: Obviously, I like Baltimore. Week 1 was disconcerting, but I'm not giving up on them yet. If this is PPR, I see Bradshaw as having some injury/bye week replacement value, but I like Forsett better overall, at least until Kubiak settles on one guy.

Send your questions, concerns, hopes, dreams, and disturbing fantasies to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 10 Sep 2014

12 comments, Last at 14 Sep 2014, 3:32am by Jerry


by serutan :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 2:39pm

Doing nicely - Shogun and Trinity Test references. Just to be more economical
with the words, let's shorten the Watt nickname to 'Godzilla'.
Was wr

by Travis :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 2:41pm

Maurice Jones-Drew (11 rushing yards, 12 receiving yards, 1 fumble) also scored a 0 in Loser League.

Doug Martin had 9 carries, not 7.

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 4:53pm

Transposed the Martin numbers in the writeup. Fixed.

MJD didn't lose his fumble, so no penalty points. On his yardage, there's a discrepancy between the play-by-play and his totals, which I'm guessing is related to his fumble.

by Travis :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 7:20pm

MJD didn't lose his fumble, so no penalty points.

The rules posted on the site don't distinguish between fumbles lost and not-lost, but I'll take your word for it.

by TimK :: Thu, 09/11/2014 - 2:00pm

I think MJD cost 15 points as he only got 9 carries ( yup, I drafted him for my team )

by Travis :: Thu, 09/11/2014 - 3:26pm

8 is enough to avoid the penalty.

by Kevin from Philly :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 5:21pm

Dumb question, but I'm a first timer in the Loser League. Where do you find the standings? I don't see a link anywhere.

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 5:24pm

Try here. I'll also stick it in the column when I get a chance and keep it there in future editions.

by Jerry :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 11:20pm

I'm not seeing individual player scores for my team.

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 11:36pm

Don't worry, we haven't singled you out. Back-end issue, I'll see if I can't get it resolved.

by Jerry :: Sun, 09/14/2014 - 3:32am

The good news is that it looks like it's fixed. Thanks. The bad news is that it looks like the team totals are for the entire roster, not "1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR and 1 K". (It'll be worse news if correcting this lowers my excellent week 1 standing.)

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 8:16pm

"every team is capable of driving down the field in three minutes"

There speaks a man who didn't watch Texans-Redskins...