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13 Jan 2016

Scramble for the Ball: Wide Open

by Andrew Healy and Sterling Xie

Sterling: The NFL's playoff structure gives bad division winners a fighting chance, but all the stragglers are already gone from the field this season. With one or two possible exceptions -- depending on how you feel about Aaron Rodgers' superpower capacity and Pittsburgh's skill position health -- every team is a legitimate threat to win the Super Bowl.

So let me start this way: who do you think should be the betting favorite right now? And is that different from who you see as the best team?

Andrew: Call me a huge homer, but I think it's los Pats. I don't think they're the best team, but the three best teams are all in the other conference where they can kill each other off. With the players that they'll field on Sunday, I think the Pats are almost the equal of the Cardinals (the NFC's "most likely to succeed" team). Degree of difficulty makes the Pats the favorite. It's pretty shaky with the Pats needing to get so many guys playing at their peak from injury, but it is in play for them to be just as good as last year. If any of Vollmer, Gronkowski, Edelman, Jones, McCourty, and Hightower were out, I might not feel that way. If those guys are all reasonably functional, I think they're actually a little undervalued. Definitely a lot of ifs. Still think the Chiefs matchup is a bear. Man, I don't know. This year is insane. Can't remember ever seeing a year where no team was 3/1 or lower at this point.

So I'm wavering a bit, but give me Pats for betting favorite and Seahawks for best team. Can't go against the DVOA. Your picks, monsieur?

Sterling: I thought you might go with Denver or New England as the favorite given their clearer paths. Like a lot of people, I think Seattle is the best team with probably the least clear path of anyone remaining (with the possible exception of Green Bay). But what about the team the Packers are playing this weekend? Models like FO's playoff odds and FiveThirtyEight's Elo system have the Cardinals as the clear biggest favorite of the divisional round. I think that's probably a fair assessment -- the big storyline is that the Packers offense is "back," but really, Green Bay just happened to run the ball well against the worst run defense in the playoff field and make enough plays through the air against Washington's dilapidated secondary.

I also recall you debating between Carolina and Seattle as the NFC favorite a couple of weeks ago, conspicuously omitting Bruce Arians' crew. So tell us: do you have some irrevocable grudge against Kangol hats, or is there something about Arizona you just can't get behind?

Andrew: Irrevocable grudge against Kangol hats. I really thought those hats were just called berets. And now I find out it's a trademark. It's confusing.

But it's not just the hats. I have supported the Cardinals' under win total two years in a row. Last year, I lost with I think seven games remaining. This year, it wasn't much better. That's certainly enough for a grudge. Instead, I've come around and seen that you don't want to bet against Arians. I do like them as the NFC favorite because they get the still mostly-dead Packers offense this week. But no I can't put them ahead of Seattle. I might have gone for even with them if not for the loss of Tyrann Mathieu.

All right, let's see if we can predict each other's best bets for the Super Bowl odds. Pick your most favorite team and your least favorite if a reformed Jimmy the Greek demanded that you put money on one of the remaining contenders:

  • Cardinals +380
  • Patriots: +400
  • Panthers: +450
  • Broncos: +550
  • Seahawks: +550
  • Chiefs: +900
  • Steelers: +1100
  • Packers: +1500

Sterling: Ugh, I want to back Arizona, but not at those odds. Honestly, I could talk myself into Kansas City here. The Chiefs may be underdogs in Foxborough, but I think that game largely rests upon how effective the likes of Edelman, Vollmer, Amendola, McCourty, etc., are in returning from injury. We know what the Chiefs are at this point, but we aren't sure which version of the Patriots is going to show up. I do think Kansas City's hyperconservative offense is most likely going to catch up to them, but I also think their front seven can dominate the trenches against shaky O-lines in Denver and New England. The Chiefs would be my pick to win the AFC if an unhealthy Patriots squad shows up. What say you?

Andrew: I think the winner of Pats-Chiefs should make the Super Bowl. I find the Chiefs' odds intriguing. But while I thought you might go that way, I'm going Seattle. And I would fade the Panthers. I'm finally off my wildly inaccurate anti-Panthers belief, but the Seahawks are one very tough draw. If I was advising the niece and nephews this week, I'd be pushing for Seahawks plus-3. Kudos, by the way, on being way closer to that spread last week than I was (you said Panthers minus-2 and I had Seahawks minus-2). I think the Seahawks are getting too little support in the betting markets just because they struggled a bit in Ice Bowl-lite conditions. If you switched the order of their two wins over the Vikings, I think the spread is at least a couple points more towards the Seahawks.

Speaking of betting, I need to tell my friend's Fitzgerald Toussaint "under 57.5 yards" story. My friend decided to make up for my disaster picking DeAngelo Williams in our staff playoff fantasy draft by fading Toussaint against the Bengals. As the game went, the Steelers were ahead, which pumped up Toussaint's carries. But even though he got to 16 carries, he had just 54 yards when Vontaze Burfict intercepted Ben Roethlisberger to seemingly end any chance the Steelers would run again. Jeremy Hill's fumble created some small chance of a run, particularly after they crossed midfield, but we were very surprised to see them hand off on their own 37-yard line with 0:32 left. Toussaint then proceeded to get tackled on the 40-yard line.

But some side judge who will forever live in infamy -- and who almost certainly bet Toussaint over 57.5 yards -- gave him a full extra yard. Here's where they started the next play.

That extra yard gave Toussaint 58 for the game. My question for you: can my buddy appeal this? What would Dean Blandino say?

Sterling: Blandino would tell your friend to stuff his sorries in a sack, then start veering off into a new revolutionary algorithm he's developed which will once and for all tell us what a catch is. At the same time, anyone who loses money on the exploits of Fitzgerald Toussaint deserves some level of sympathy. I don't know if your friend is an Ohio State fan remembering Toussaint's mediocre Michigan days, but no money should be changing hands based on a third-string running back and the haphazard ball-spotting of an NFL referee.

Andrew: Man, if Toussaint was mediocre at Michigan, him starting ahead of Thomas Rawls is almost as bad as Scott Dreisbach for a time starting ahead of Brian Griese and Tom Terrific. There is no justice in third-string running back bets, and there's no justice for fans of the Bengals and Vikings. (And pretty unfair to tar all the Bengals fans because some small minority threw debris or cheered Roethlisberger's injury.) Stats would have a hard time explaining how those two teams lose in the most improbable ways. For the fanbases, the Vikings might have the most total heartbreak since the merger. And the Bengals are almost certainly on top in weighted heartbreak given what's happened in the last decade.

FO Staff Playoffs Update

Sterling: Oh the havoc a Minnesota upset would have wreaked. As it is, Vince and Aaron narrowly avoided losing multiple players and ended up riding the Chiefs to the two highest point totals. Scott also keeps two starters, and gets a chance to see some return on his Marshawn Lynch investment. Tom is a close third after his Packers gambit paid off. Meanwhile, I'm marveling at how DeSean Jackson might play a 10-year career without taking a single hit.

Andrew: I still can't believe I took DeAngelo Williams with my second pick. I was pretty excited about getting Jordan Reed and it would have been pretty enticing to get some garbage time stats from him in a loss to the Cardinals this week. I think Vince's team had some serious potential to be in the driver's seat if Jeremy Hill didn't fumble, although he did also get bailed out by Blair Walsh. In the Spencer Ware-Charcandrick West derby, things worked out well for Aaron's side. And if Ware ends up rolling to 50 fantasy points, we can't let him convince anyone that he was honing in on West the whole way. We know from the draft-day chatter that he was hoping to get AARP member Steven Jackson before I scooped him up.

Sterling: We'll have a lot more clarity after this weekend, since most of us are invested in teams that had a bye. I'm definitely finishing in last if the Seahawks beat the Panthers this weekend; if that scenario leads to a Seattle-Arizona rubber match, Scott is probably in the driver's seat.

Andrew: My ridiculous blunder feeds into Scott's team, too. As I emailed you later, I would have stacked Cardinals with Pats if I had it to do over again, saving running back for the very end. So I might have had Larry Fitzgerald with a running back like West or something. And I love Fitz and all his world-traveler tendencies. Always good to have a team you can root for. Safe to say I won't be drafting Ryan Shazier or Burfict anytime soon in any IDP league.

Scott Vince Andrew Aaron Sterling Tom
QB Carson Palmer Russell Wilson Tom Brady Alex Smith Cam Newton Ben Roethlisberger

0 11 0 15 0 15
RB Marshawn Lynch Jeremy Hill DeAngelo Williams Jonathan Stewart David Johnson C.J. Anderson

0 11 0 0 0 0
RB Ronnie Hillman Charcandrick West Steven Jackson Spencer Ware James White Eddie Lacy

0 2 0 12 0 10
WR Larry Fitzgerald Jeremy Maclin Julian Edelman Antonio Brown DeAndre Hopkins Demaryius Thomas

0 2 0 11 6 0
WR John Brown A.J. Green Michael Floyd Doug Baldwin Ted Ginn Jr. Randall Cobb

0 13 0 10 0 11
WR Emmanuel Sanders Jermaine Kearse Markus Wheaton Tyler Lockett DeSean Jackson Martavis Bryant

0 1 0 3 1 8
TE Heath Miller Tyler Eifert Jordan Reed Travis Kelce Greg Olsen Rob Gronkowski

0 5 18 12 0 0
K Chandler Catanzaro Cairo Santos Steven Hauschka Stephen Gostkowski Graham Gano Mason Crosby

0 14 5 0 0 10
D Seahawks Chiefs Cardinals Patriots Panthers Packers

4 18 0 0 0 6
Total 4 77 23 63 7 60

Best of the Rest

After the wild card round, Alec B is in the lead with 68 points. However, like a few other entries, he benefited from Kirk Cousins' 24-point day. Cousins is no longer around, of course, so the majority of the field who went with Aaron Rodgers (18 points) or Peyton Manning will look to make up the ground. Lots of you got burned by Adrian Peterson (3 points) and Giovani Bernard (0 points), though some of you will get a chance for redemption with Richard Rodgers (1 point). The majority are just waiting around for players who were on bye. Danny Amendola, Devin Funchess, Brandon McManus, and the Broncos Defense were the most popular selections. You can see the full results here.

Jim Tomsula Award

Always possible we're missing something, but we saw it as a pretty quiet week in coaching blunders. So we'll give out a Bizarro Tomsula to Nick Saban for a sublime surprise onside kick tied at 27 in the fourth quarter of the national championship game. With Clemson in a tight formation off Alabama's own tight set, the widest player leaked out to the outside and made one of the easiest onside recoveries you'll ever see. It almost didn't look risky the way it came off.

Keep Choppin' Wood

Blair Walsh's shank was far more tragic than tragicomic, which seems to be the spirit of KCW. Ditto for the Bengals' breakdown, which ties them with their feline friends in Detroit for the longest playoff losing streak at eight. When two of the five most snakebitten franchises each suffer top-five gut punch games, there's no need to kick them while they're down.

The Texans, on the other hand, aren't old enough to deserve our respect. Brian Hoyer's five-turnover day trailed only Bobby Kramer of the 1980 Vikings for most turnovers in a playoff debut. Perhaps Hoyer could have been spared had Bill O'Brien followed DeAndre Hopkins' advice at halftime:

The good news for Hopkins is that he may very well get his wish next year. The bad news is that Houston may grant his wish by starting Tom Savage and/or Brandon Weeden.

Posted by: Andrew Healy and Sterling Xie on 13 Jan 2016

6 comments, Last at 13 Jan 2016, 11:40pm by dbostedo


by JFP :: Wed, 01/13/2016 - 2:19pm

It's pretty shaky with the Pats needing to get so many guys playing at their peak from injury, but it is in play for them to be just as good as last year.

Pretty much nailed why I'm regretfully pessimistic about the Pats. Not much cohesion from them for the last half of the season. Not saying they can't do it, but tough to ask them to put it together in the playoffs.

by techvet :: Wed, 01/13/2016 - 3:01pm

On the Jim Tomsula Award, the score was tied at 24 when the onside kick was made.
On Keep Choppin' Wood, it was Tommy Kramer, not Bobby Kramer.

by jtr :: Wed, 01/13/2016 - 3:13pm

I bet person who titled that youtube video "ALABAMA DOES ONSIDE KICK TO CLEMSON" is one of those folks who yells ROLL TIDE when the cops take his mugshot

by JimZornsLemma :: Wed, 01/13/2016 - 3:44pm

I'm expecting no such lack of Tomsula award material next week, as I can only assume Andy Reid is saving his best for the Divisional Round.

by Joshua Northey :: Wed, 01/13/2016 - 5:15pm

"Speaking of betting, I need to tell my friend's Fitzgerald Toussaint "under 57.5 yards" story. "

I think the "" marks are around the wrong section of that sentence.

by dbostedo :: Wed, 01/13/2016 - 11:40pm

Can someone better at lip reading please tell me what the heck Hopkins is saying?