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13 Dec 2017

Scramble for the Ball: A Bowl of Pros

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball, as the NFL regular season begins its final wind down. The last three weeks are crucial to many teams, with playoff berths, seeding possibilities, and in some cases jobs all hanging in the balance. While every week counts the same in the final standings, these last three weeks have some of the highest-leverage games of the season.

Which is why the NFL ignores them and ends Pro Bowl voting this Thursday. Hurray!

Andrew: It makes sense to me. Nobody ever gets injured late in the season. Nobody can explode onto the scene now that we'll have five nationally televised prime-time games for the next two weeks instead of the usual three. It's not like the contest for the running back spots has more than six candidates anyway, and of course they're perfectly divided evenly between the two conferences.

Bryan: To be fair, the official ballot doesn't require you to pick an even number of players from each conference. To be less fair, as we've gone back to the AFC-NFC format, not picking an even number of players means you just water down your votes, essentially. There are many, many questionable things about this entire process, but I suppose that appropriately reflects the many, many questionable things there are about holding a bonus football game the week before the Super Bowl with all the best players! ... who are not in the Super Bowl. Or hurt. Or have something better to do.

Andrew: On holiday in Guam. Dancing with the Stars. Anything but playing in the Pro Bowl.

Bryan: The Pro Bowl: It's A Thing That Happens™.

Andrew: Without further ado, we present to you the totally-not-debatable absolutely-consensus no-we-didn't-fall-out-over it Definitive Scramble Pro Bowl Ballot!

Bryan: Unlike other columns which may produce one of these, we've taken the time to make sure that ours is correct, so take this with you to the polls.

Andrew: And no, Alex Smith is not our AFC West representative quarterback.

Bryan: I demand a recount!


AFC: Tom Brady (NE), Ben Roethlisberger (PIT), Philip Rivers (LACH)

NFC: Drew Brees (NO), Matt Ryan (ATL), Carson Wentz (PHI)

Andrew: I think we're on fairly solid ground with at least five of this sextet, though of course Carson Wentz will not be participating in the game itself.

Bryan: He is still on the ballot, however, and remember that almost none of these players will actually participate in the game, thanks to the aforementioned "reasons." We're trying to pick the most deserving players here; it's not like we're actually going to watch the game or anything. With that in mind, I think Wentz's play has definitely earned him his first Pro Bowl spot, ACL or no ACL. We've poured a little bit of cold water on Wentz MVP talk, but he's still a top-10 DVOA quarterback atop the top team in the NFC. That's a Pro Bowl slot in my book.

Andrew: Wentz wasn't who I considered the debatable one. It's actually Matt Ryan, who ranks behind both Jared Goff and Case Keenum in DYAR, and who is probably less integral to his team's success than, say, Russell Wilson. Matt Ryan leads the Falcons offense. Russell Wilson is the Seahawks offense. That said, there are a number of deserving candidates here, and Ryan isn't necessarily the wrong one. I just think he's the most arguable. Make Wilson the injury replacement for Wentz, and I'd say we're set.

Bryan: Keenum was a really hard name to leave off; third in DYAR and second in DVOA. If we were just going by the FO stats tables, there's no way that he could be left behind. But the success of Sam Bradford in the same system; the quality of his supporting cast compared to, say, Wilson's; and the relative magnitude of what each team asks them to do, and he just, just slips off the back end. If he was in the AFC, he'd probably be in -- a phrase we're going to be saying a lot, because the AFC is terrible.

Running Backs (And Fullbacks!)

AFC: Dion Lewis (NE), Alex Collins (BAL), Le'Veon Bell (PIT), FB James Develin (NE)

NFC: Alvin Kamara (NO), Ezekiel Elliott (DAL), Devonta Freeman (ATL), FB Kyle Juszczyk (SF)

Andrew: This might be the most contentious section of the ballot. There are a lot of names missing here, but we were limited by the number of available slots. That means no Patrick DiMarco, no Derrick Coleman, and no Roosevelt Nix. Sorry, guys. We tried.

Bryan: We still have to pick two fullbacks, because apparently it's 1973 in the NFL offices and Larry Csonka is still roaming the Earth. Sixteen fullbacks have had more than 100 snaps this season. Sixteen! And they get two Pro Bowl slots! It should really be a flex spot for other positions. We ended up taking the only two fullbacks with more than 250 snaps this season. That's it. That's our criteria. And that's terrible.

Andrew: But then you might end up with, say, Mike Mularkey and Ron Rivera coaching the game. Without a fullback, how would they cope? "I know your position says tight end, but bro, do you even block?"

Bryan: That just further emphasizes my point! Neither Carolina nor Tennessee have even 100 snaps from the fullback position; Tennessee just released their fullback. No, the only ones using fullbacks nowadays are stodgy offensive minds like, uh, Josh McDaniels and Kyle Shanahan. Still. Group them in with the running backs and let us have room for more good football players, thank you and good night.

Andrew: At least Doug Marrone could just do what he usually does and throw out a defensive lineman. It's totally the same position.

As for the actual running backs, I did not expect to see Dion Lewis atop our list, but there he is: third in DYAR, first in DVOA, and second in success rate. Alex Collins has that late surge thing going on, and looked great against the Steelers in prime time on Sunday night. Le'Veon Bell, of course, is Le'Veon Bell.

Bryan: The fact that we left Kareem Hunt off the list would have seemed unthinkable after Week 4, but we meet our amazing rookie quota with Alvin Kamara, the only new Pro Bowler on the NFC side of the ball.

Andrew: Disclaimer: that was Bryan's pick. I had Kamara as rookie of the year, but was not convinced that he should be in the Pro Bowl ahead of Mark Ingram. He does, however, lead all running backs in DYAR despite not even qualifying for the main leaderboard, and is having an historically incredible season in New Orleans.

Bryan: Ingram is very, very good, and would make the Pro Bowl if he was in the AFC (drink!). Alvin Kamara is made of magic. Advantage: Kamara.

Andrew: Ingram is the only glaring omission from the NFC selection, but Kamara more than makes up for his absence. I'm happy with that ballot, too.


Receivers & Tight Ends

AFC: WR Antonio Brown (PIT), WR DeAndre Hopkins (HOU), WR Keenan Allen (LACH), WR A.J. Green (CIN), TE Rob Gronkowski (NE), TE Travis Kelce (KC)

NFC: WR Julio Jones (ATL), WR Adam Thielen (MIN), WR Michael Thomas (NO), WR Golden Tate (DET), TE Zach Ertz (PHI), TE Cameron Brate (TB)

Andrew: By contrast, this might be the least arguable section of the ballot. The AFC selections are close to no-brainers: the best receiver in the game, the two best receiving tight ends in the game, and a bunch of DYAR leaders in the other receiver spots.

Bryan: The AFC tight end race is actually really interesting, with Delanie Walker and Hunter Henry making strong cases as well, but there's a reason Gronk and Kelce have the reputation they do. No need to be contrary when you have that level of talent there.

Andrew: The NFC is more debatable. Cameron Brate is a touchdown machine, but he is also probably the fourth option on the Buccaneers offense outside the red zone. I'd take either of our AFC honorable mentions over him. Michael Thomas is wonderful, but a few other NFC receivers have a case.

Bryan: There's also the issue of which Detroit receiver to take. Marvin Jones has more yards and touchdowns; Golden Tate has the receptions and catch rate. If you want to split the difference and just take Larry Fitzgerald due to his legendary status and production despite horrible quarterback play, we won't protest too strenuously.

Andrew: Interesting that we have both Tate and Jones on the ballot, but not Matthew Stafford. I'm not saying we should change that; it's just interesting to me. Really, this list is a solid fusion of yardage totals with advanced statistics, and nobody looks particularly out of place.

Bryan: For drama's sake, then, I'll be sure to nominate Pierre Garcon next year.

Offensive Linemen

AFC: T Alejandro Villanueva (PIT), T Taylor Lewan (TEN), T Ronnie Stanley (BAL), G David DeCastro (PIT), G Kelechi Osemele (OAK), G Kevin Zeitler (CLE), C Rodney Hudson (OAK) C Brandon Linder (JAC)

NFC: T David Bakhtiari (GB), T Lane Johnson (PHI), T Andrew Whitworth (LARM), G Zack Martin (DAL), G Brandon Brooks (PHI), G Josh Sitton (CHI), C Jason Kelce (PHI), C Alex Mack (ATL)

Bryan: No, we can't go ahead and vote for Joe Thomas anyway, despite him deserving it more than any of those AFC tackles. I know. I tried. There's not even a write-in slot or anything, unless I print the dang thing out and staple it to Roger Goodell's face.

Andrew: Thomas not being on the roster is weird. I keep looking at the list trying to figure out what's missing. It's like when you finally change a piece of furniture in your front hallway, and you keep chucking your keys on the floor because you still expect it to be there. But Joe always catches the stunting tackle!

Bryan: "Pro Bowl Offensive Lineman" is usually a legacy award; people vote for a lineman because, hey, they've heard his name before! We've tried to avoid that somewhat, though Trent Williams sliding in as an NFC tackle would be far from the end of the world.

Andrew: He is not on our ballot though, because he has been on and off the field all year with a knee injury. He left yet another game this past weekend, and I believe is scheduled to have surgery at approximately 4.30 p.m. Eastern on December 31. Maybe earlier, if Steve Spagnuolo can resist punting for long enough to let some time run off the clock first.

Bryan: Yeah, in general, we prefer players who can actually, y'know, play, though no Williams, no Thomas, and no Jason Peters just feels sort of wrong. Like, with the universe, not with the ballot. Injuries are a hell of a thing.

Andrew: Don't forget Marshal Yanda, who will miss the Pro Bowl this year for the first time since 2011. Tyron Smith, arguably the best left tackle in the league last year, has been playing hurt all of this season. It has been a rough year even for the good offensive lines, and injury is a big reason why.

Bryan: He'd make it in the AFC (drink!). If you're looking for reasons not to panic about Philadelphia, though, you can look at the three offensive linemen we're sending to Hawaii and catch your breath.

Defensive Front Seven

AFC: DE Khalil Mack (OAK), DE Joey Bosa (LACH), DE Calais Campbell (JAC), DT Ndamukong Suh (MIA), DT Geno Atkins (CIN), DT Jurrell Casey (TEN), ILB Wesley Woodyard (TEN), ILB Demario Davis (NYJ), OLB Von Miller (DEN), OLB Telvin Smith (JAC), OLB Jadeveon Clowney (HOU)

NFC: DE Demarcus Lawrence (DAL), DE Cameron Jordan (NO), DE Everson Griffen (MIN), DT Aaron Donald (LARM), DT Fletcher Cox (PHI), DT Kawann Short (CAR), ILB Bobby Wagner (SEA), ILB Luke Kuechly (CAR), OLB Lavonte David (TB), OLB Mychal Kendricks (PHI), OLB Sean Lee (DAL)

Bryan: The hardest part about picking the front seven is figuring out where everyone is on the dang ballot. Edge rushers are scattered across the defensive end and outside linebacker positions. Outside linebacker is a mix of pure pass-rushers and 4-3 cover guys. It doesn't really reflect modern usage at all.

Andrew: Which is why this positional list is so massive and grouped together. It makes no sense to talk about Joey Bosa separately from Jadeveon Clowney, but they are listed at totally different positions. Our three NFC outside linebackers play a completely different role than two of our three AFC outside linebackers. Calais Campbell probably has more in common with Aaron Donald than with a pure edge rusher like Everson Griffen. We could really do with "interior linemen," "edge rushers," and "linebackers" as categories, but we say that every year.

Bryan: Things we don't say every year: I tried my hardest to get two 49ers on this ballot, and would have been justified in doing so.

Andrew: I completely agree with you, actually. I tried, too. I just can't see how to get Ray Ray Armstrong in there, though. Er, I mean Reuben Foster and DeForest Buckner, obviously.

Bryan: Again, both would have made it in the AFC (drink!). I'm sensing a pattern -- a pattern where 75 percent of the talent plays in one conference. And we wonder why one playoff race has been much more entertaining and high-quality than the other this year!


Andrew: I'm not convinced that Buckner would have, actually. Mack, Bosa, and Campbell are all outstanding players. Foster ... well, I think the AFC interior linebackers are debatable as it is, but without Ryan Shazier ... I mean, after him and Woodyard, Joe Schobert is next in defeats. Schobert's Pro Bowl candidacy is not an argument I would like to advance.

Bryan: Buckner's actually a defensive tackle, per the NFL! Once again, this ballot is a disaster.

Andrew: Suffice it to say, when we pick our All-Rookie Team (spoiler alert!) we will not be using the NFL's Pro Bowl position designations.

Defensive Secondary

AFC: CB Jalen Ramsey (JAC), CB Casey Hayward (LACH), CB Tre'Davious White (BUF), CB A.J. Bouye (JAC), SS Jahleel Addae (LACH), FS Tashaun Gipson (JAC)

NFC: CB Patrick Robinson (PHI), CB Marshon Lattimore (NO), CB Darius Slay (DET), CB Desmond Trufant (ATL), SS Adrian Amos (CHI), FS Harrison Smith (MIN)

Andrew: The Jaguars finally have overtaken the Seahawks as the best complete secondary in the NFL ... just after their former Seahawks defensive coordinator was fired as head coach.

Bryan: Speaking of Seahawks, our editor Vince Verhei is going to murder us for putting Harrison Smith in over Earl Thomas, but Smith's the best tackler in an NFL secondary, so I die with honor.

Andrew: Again, the ballot confuses me. Why do we pick eleven front-seven defenders, but only six in the secondary? Most teams nowadays line up with six in their front seven and five in their secondary! That means five front seven backups, and only one on the back end.

Bryan: Because we Love Da Sack, baby. Also, because you are not allowed to run dime defenses in the Pro Bowl. No, seriously. You only started to be able to play Cover-2 or press coverage in 2014.

Andrew: I'm not even talking about dime though; I just mean nickel!

Bryan: Each offense is required to have a tight end and running back on the field at all times and can't run trips formations, further reducing the need for defensive backs. You may begin to see the issue with conflating acknowledgement of the league's best players with the desire to have a "safe" game of football they all play in.

Andrew: Still, I would be happier to pick two fewer edge rushers and two more defensive backs. Free safeties in particular get ridiculously jobbed by these roster limitations. Earl Thomas versus Harrison Smith is one example, but in the other conference we can also either have the third member of the best defensive backfield in the league or the league leader in interceptions, not both!

Bryan: I am impressed by your restraint in not fanboying out over Marshon Lattimore, unless that ultrasonic squeal I'm hearing from across the Atlantic is coming from you.

Andrew: No, I'm pretty sure that's actually [political comment redacted, writer duly disciplined - Ed.]

Curses! Foiled again!

You have no idea how happy I am to see a Saints defensive back in a positive team selection article rather than manning the hole in their zone on the All-KCW Team. Also, in a year of few outstanding candidates, Marshon Lattimore for MVP.

Special Teams

AFC: K Justin Tucker (BAL), P Rigoberto Sanchez (IND), RET Michael Campanaro (BAL), ST Austin Ekeler (LACH)

NFC: K Greg Zuerlein (LARM), P Chris Jones (DAL), RET Jamal Agnew (DET), ST Budda Baker (ARI)

Andrew: The Colts should have a player going to the Pro Bowl! A rookie, no less! All is well in Indianapolis!

Bryan: You'd hope Sanchez was good at punting. After all, he gets plenty of reps.

Andrew: You and I both know it does not work like that. He is, however, the punter on by far the best punt unit in the AFC, according to our special teams ratings. He and Jones are the only two punters with more than 10.1 expected points of field position value added; they have 16.4 and 16.2, respectively.

Bryan: Justin Tucker remains the most valuable special teamer in football. He may not be having quite the season he had in 2016 (He has already missed three field goals! Shock and awe!), but he has produced by far the most value on field goals and extra points this season, as well as being above average on kickoffs. He's one of the big reasons Baltimore is a legit playoff contender, despite their offense.

Andrew: Another is Michael Campanaro, who is the best punt returner in the AFC this season. Special teams are, yet again, a big contributor to the success of John Harbaugh's Ravens. Detroit's Jamal Agnew, meanwhile, is the primary returner on the best punt return unit in the entire league, so he is our NFC punt returner. Then it's the random special teamers, meaning guys with cool names or interesting back stories.

Bryan: To be fair, Ekeler and Baker are both in the top three in special teams tackles, so it's not JUST cool names and backstories. I will admit, though, being named Budda Baker draws the eye more than if he was Rod Smith.

Andrew: So there you have it, folks. THE definitive Pro Bowl ballot, no further argument required! I'm sure nobody who reads this will find any reason whatsoever to disagree, so it's off to the voting page you go!

Loser League Update

Quarterback: Josh McCown was having arguably the best season of his career at age 38, so it's a little disheartening that it all came to an end like it did on Sunday. McCown broke his left hand and hurt his back against Denver, ending his season and contributing to a nightmare day. He ended with just 46 passing yards and two turnovers, thudding to the ground with -2 points before giving way to Bryce Petty.

Running Back: After topping 50 rushing yards in five of his last six games, Latavius Murray came crashing back to Earth just in time to ruin people's fantasy playoffs. Carolina held him to just 14 rushing yards on nine attempts, which isn't exactly the model of efficiency. That's just 1 point for you.

Wide Receiver: Five new additions to the Goose Egg Brigade this week. Mike Williams, Jermaine Kearse, and Chris Hogan all had one reception for less than 10 yards. Chester Rogers had two. But Cordarrelle Patterson somehow had three. It's the first three-reception Goose Egg game since ... Cordarrelle Patterson did it back in Week 8. The king of the zero-yard screen pass, there.

Kicker: Nick Rose was the low man, missing an extra point and ending up with a score of -4. Ka'imi Fairbairn, Adam Vinatieri, Dan Bailey and Ryan Succop also ended up in the negatives.

Check your team's score and the Part II leaderboard here!


Keep Choppin' Wood: Browns will be Browns. DeShone Kizer had one of his better games of the season against the Packers, completing more than 70 percent of his passes and accounting for all three of his team's touchdowns. And yet, his play in this game will be remembered most for his terrible, terrible overtime interception: a moonball heave while falling backwards with pass-rushers in his face, landing perfectly in the waiting arms of rookie Packers safety Josh Jones. To make matters worse, it did so a mere 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, gifting Green Bay outstanding field position for a walk-off game-winning drive. Sometimes, you really should just take the sack and live to play another down.

John Fox Todd Bowles Award for Conservatism: Steve Spagnuolo. You have been given the keys to an NFL franchise for the second time -- not a guarantee by any stretch of the imagination after putting up a 10-38 record as the coach of the St. Louis Rams and making a strong case for worst coach in that franchise's history. This is your chance to shine, to show ownership not only in New York but around the league that you're ready for a new full-time gig. And what do you do? You punt on fourth-and-3 from the Cowboys 37. You punt on fourth-and-2 from your own 45. You punt on fourth-and-2 from your own 48. Thanks for making the eliminated Giants must-watch football, Steve!

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: To your humble Scramble correspondents, one of the most exasperating aspects of fourth-down and two-point strategy is how it seems to catch so many coaches off guard. So many of these strategic decisions seem like random, spur-of-the-moment calls with very little forethought attached to them -- or worse, exist only in the context of desperation. Mike McCarthy gave us a welcome break from this malaise against the Browns, when he had the Packers go for -- and convert! -- two fourth-and-short plays on the team's opening drive. Both instances looked planned, with a 4-yard gain third down setting up a fake punt on fourth-and-2, and an aggressive fourth-and-1 in long field goal range following an incompletion on a third-and-1 pass. Green Bay's win in Cleveland was far from the most convincing, but McCarthy's aggressiveness at the start, and the resultant touchdown, made a major contribution to the eventual victory.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: Choose Your Own Adventure: You are the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, and your team is trailing by five points when you face fourth-and-10 late, needing a win to keep pace at the top of the AFC South. What do you do? If you guessed "call a play you did not practice during the previous week, designed to target a rookie cornerback on a slant pattern 2 yards short of the line to gain," you might be Mike Mularkey. The pass fell incomplete, and Adoree' Jackson wasn't open anyway. There's exotic offense, there's quixotic offense, then there's just plain daft.

'Playoff Pickup' Fantasy Player of the Week: If you're still alive in your fantasy playoffs, congratulations! Go pick up Rod Smith who, at press time, was only taken in about 13 percent of leagues. He had a career day against the Giants -- six carries for 47 yards and a touchdown, plus five receptions for another 115 yards and a touchdown. These are, of course, wildly out of character for the 2015 UDFA (yards coming into this season: 15), but Ezekiel Elliott is still on suspension for one more week. Smith has scored in three consecutive games and he gets the Raiders' porous rush defense next. If you're looking for a replacement in case Alvin Kamara fails to clear the concussion protocol, you could do far worse.

Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: The Bengals looked out of sorts and out of sync after a very rough Monday night game last week, as the Bears blew the doors off of them. If you were in your fantasy playoffs and were starting Giovani Bernard, however, you wouldn't have known that Cincy laid an egg. Bernard ended with 130 yards from scrimmage, and 66 of them came in the fourth quarter, with the Bengals down at least three scores on all five of Bernard's late-game receptions.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: The Houston Texans were finally eliminated from the AFC playoff stumble this weekend, as the visiting San Francisco 49ers won their second consecutive road game for the first time since November 2014. Since Deshaun Watson was lost for the year with a torn ACL -- following J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus to injured reserve -- there has been little cause for celebration in Houston. Jadeveon Clowney is the notable exception, as the former No. 1 overall pick continues to excel from his outside linebacker spot. Entering Week 14, Clowney ranked second in the league in our defeats statistic, only two short of leader Ryan Shazier. Though he recorded no further defeats, nor any sacks, on Sunday, it was Clowney's pressure that forced Jimmy Garoppolo into an early interception as he worked around backup right tackle Zane Beadles. With Shazier now on injured reserve, Clowney is in prime position to lead the league in defeats at the close of the regular season.

Game-Changing Play of the Week: We have been harping all week about just how big the DVOA Bowl between the Eagles and Rams was, and that goes double in terms of playoff seeding. The Eagles' win wasn't just big because it gave them a win. It also gave them a huge tiebreaker boost -- not only the head-to-head win over the Rams, but also clinching the common-games tiebreaker against both Minnesota and New Orleans. A loss would have put them behind all three in tiebreakers. Win, and they're the 1 seed in all but name. Lose, and they were looking at a 4 seed. Huge, huge win. And it doesn't happen without Chris Long's sack-fumble midway through the fourth quarter.

Jared Goff had Cooper Kupp open for a 20-yard gain if he could have stepped up in the pocket. Instead, Long beats backup tackle Darrell Williams and gives the Eagles great field position, and they capitalize to take the lead and never look back.

Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Andrew: Deoxyribonucleic acid. The building blocks of life, determining everything from eye and hair color to bone structure and physical abilities. It's DNA (with a splash of luck and maintenance) that dictates that Tom Brady is tall and handsome; that Mike Glennon is ... um, tall; and that the Detroit Lions will invariably let their fans down in an ultimately predictable manner. Well OK, not so much that last one, but they will. The Lions are six-point favorites at home against the Bears in a game they absolutely must win to stay on the fringes of the playoff hunt. You can see it coming. I can see it coming. Lions fans can definitely see it coming. Chicago (plus-6) at Detroit.

Bryan: The Vikings haven't been double-digit home favorites since 2010, so they're treading in unfamiliar waters as they host Cincinnati. A few weeks ago, I'm not sure I would have picked them to cover it, but the Bengals' defense has been close to nonexistent. It's one thing to watch the Steelers march up and down the field. It's quite another to let the Bears blow the doors off of you. 868 yards in two games is pretty much the definition of a defensive cold streak. I'll give Vikings fans a mea culpa for not putting Keenum in the Pro Bowl and go with Minnesota (minus-11).

Records to date:
Andrew: 9-4
Bryan: 5-8


It was a busy week for eliminations, as five more teams hit the rail, finishing off pretty miserable seasons for all of them.

Elimination No 5: Tampa Bay (eliminated when they lost to Detroit): The Buccaneers simply can't get off the field. They have allowed opponents to convert on 48.3 percent of their third-down attempts, last in the league. That's not going to get better with Gerald McCoy possibly out for the year with a bicep injury.

Elimination No. 6: Indianapolis (eliminated when they lost to Buffalo): This fanbase is so depressed, they have turned to the NFL equivalent of Elvis spotting to try to cheer themselves up. Andrew Luck has been spotted in Europe! He's in contact with Chuck Pagano by email and text! A little less exciting than seeing Aaron Rodgers warming up pregame, to say the least.

Elimination No. 7: Denver (eliminated when Buffalo defeated Indianapolis): Hey, the Colts and Broncos were eliminated in the same game, so it makes perfect sense that they get to play tomorrow night, the first game of the season between two eliminated teams. Hurray! I'm going to go see Star Wars instead.

Elimination No. 8: Washington (eliminated when they lost to L.A. Chargers): Washington was saved from a rather dubious achievement when the Jaguars beat the Seahawks. Had Seattle won, all three of Washington's remaining games would be against other eliminated opponents. Instead, this week's game against Arizona is massively important! Or, at least, theoretically minorly important, which is more than can be said about the Broncos or Giants matchups.

Elimination No. 9: Houston (eliminated when Miami beat New England Monday night): I really, really thought we were going to get a week of T.J. Yates: Potential Playoff Quarterback. Jay Cutler ruins everything.

Up till now, all the eliminations and playoff qualifying teams have been pretty much obvious. Of course the Browns were going to be eliminated; it wasn't a matter of "if" so much as "when." Of course the Eagles were going to make the playoffs; the exact matter of their qualification mattering mainly to, well, nerds like Bryan. This week, however, is different -- amidst the usual inevitable scenarios, there are some real interesting ones. One competitive team with a real postseason hopes could be eliminated, and one team who's had something of a rocky road could clinch.

We currently give the Lions a 12.2 percent chance of making the playoffs; they currently sit in eighth place in the NFC, a game out of the wild card. Their schedule isn't exceedingly tough down the stretch -- they get the already eliminated Bears on Saturday, the dead-in-the-water Bengals in Week 16, and then the potential of being Aaron Rodgersed on New Year's Eve. A couple wins, plus some tough luck for Atlanta, could easily see the Lions into the playoffs as a wild card. However, if they manage to blow it against Chicago this weekend, and both the Falcons and Panthers have success (against the Buccaneers and Packers, respectively), Detroit could find themselves abruptly on the outside looking in. With seven losses, they would lose the tiebreaker to nine-win Atlanta or New Orleans thanks to head-to-head losses back in Weeks 3 and 6, respectively. That means, yes, they might have to root for Rodgers' return this week, which may require a long, hot shower afterwards for hardcore Lions fans.

A sixth-seed Lions might end up facing the Rams, who we give a 95.8 percent chance of making the playoffs. That's far from a lock, though, making this week's matchup against Seattle a crucial one. If Seattle wins, they will have swept the Rams and earned the divisional tiebreaker. Couple that with a loss to, say, Tennessee on the road in Week 16, and the Rams could easily find themselves on the outside looking in even at 10-6; their 6-4 conference record is the worst among the NFC's divisional leaders. That being said, the Rams have a five-team parlay to go ahead and clinch a playoff berth this week. They would need a win, as well as losses by all three NFC South competitors (including Jets over Saints) and Detroit. It wouldn't clinch the division (Seattle could still take it with a 5-1 record in the NFC West), but a head-to-head win over New Orleans and a better conference record than Carolina would assure them at least a 6 seed. Get that nailed done early and focus on your Christmas shopping.

Once again, if you'd like to see some of the less relevant scenarios (how New Orleans could be eliminated from home-field advantage!) click here.


  • Cincinnati can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Minnesota d. Cincinnati
  • Jacksonville can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Houston d. Jacksonville AND Pittsburgh d. New England
  • Tennessee can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF New England d. Pittsburgh
  • Buffalo can be eliminated from the AFC East IF Miami d. Buffalo OR New England d. Pittsburgh
  • N.Y. Jets can be eliminated from the playoffs IF New Orleans d. N.Y. Jets
  • Kansas City can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF L.A. Chargers d. Kansas City OR New England d. Pittsburgh
  • L.A. Chargers can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Kansas City d. L.A. Chargers OR Jacksonville d. Houston OR Miami d. Buffalo OR New England d. Pittsburgh
  • Oakland can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Dallas d. Oakland OR Jacksonville d. Houston OR Tennessee d. San Francisco
  • Oakland can be eliminated from the AFC West IF Dallas d. Oakland AND Kansas City d. L.A. Chargers
  • Detroit can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Chicago d. Detroit OR Minnesota d. Cincinnati OR TWO OF Carolina d. Green Bay OR New Orleans d. N.Y. Jets OR Atlanta d. Tampa Bay
  • Detroit can be eliminated from the NFC North IF Chicago d. Detroit OR Minnesota d. Cincinnati
  • Detroit can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Chicago d. Detroit AND Atlanta d. Tampa Bay AND Carolina d. Green Bay
  • Green Bay can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Carolina d. Green Bay OR Minnesota d. Cincinnati OR BOTH New Orleans d. N.Y. Jets AND Atlanta d. Tampa Bay
  • Green Bay can be eliminated from the NFC North IF Carolina d. Green Bay OR Minnesota d. Cincinnati
  • Green Bay can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Carolina d. Green Bay AND Atlanta d. Tampa Bay
  • New Orleans can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF N.Y. Jets d. New Orleans AND Minnesota d. Cincinnati AND L.A. Rams d. Seattle
  • Atlanta can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Tampa Bay d. Atlanta AND Minnesota d. Cincinnati
  • Dallas can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Oakland d. Dallas AND Atlanta d. Tampa Bay AND Carolina d. Green Bay AND New Orleans d. N.Y. Jets AND Chicago d. Detroit
  • L.A. Rams can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Seattle d. L.A. Rams AND Minnesota d. Cincinnati
  • Seattle can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF L.A. Rams d. Seattle AND ONE OF Carolina d. Green Bay OR Minnesota d. Cincinnati OR New Orleans d. N.Y. Jets
  • Arizona can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Washington d. Arizona OR Seattle d. L.A. Rams OR BOTH Atlanta d. Tampa Bay AND Carolina d. Green Bay


  • Pittsburgh can clinch Home Field Advantage IF Pittsburgh d. New England AND Houston d. Jacksonville
  • Pittsburgh can clinch a First-Round Bye IF Pittsburgh d. New England
  • Jacksonville can clinch a Top-Five Seed IF Jacksonville d. Houston
  • Jacksonville can clinch a playoff berth IF Jacksonville d. Houston OR Cleveland d. Baltimore AND EITHER Miami d. Buffalo OR L.A. Chargers and Kansas City DO NOT TIE
  • New England can clinch a Top-Three Seed IF New England d. Pittsburgh OR BOTH L.A. Chargers d. Kansas City AND Miami d. Buffalo
  • New England can clinch the AFC East IF New England d. Pittsburgh OR Miami d. Buffalo
  • New England can clinch a playoff berth IF New England d. Pittsburgh OR Miami d. Buffalo OR Cleveland d. Baltimore
  • Minnesota can clinch the NFC North IF Minnesota d. Cincinnati OR BOTH Carolina d. Green Bay AND Chicago d. Detroit
  • Minnesota can clinch a playoff berth IF ONE OF
    • Minnesota d. Cincinnati
    • Carolina d. Green Bay AND Chicago d. Detroit
    • Tampa Bay d. Atlanta AND L.A. Rams d. Seattle AND ONE OF Green Bay d. Carolina OR N.Y. Jets d. New Orleans OR Chicago d. Detroit
  • Philadelphia can clinch Home Field Advantage IF Philadelphia d. N.Y. Giants AND Cincinnati d. Minnesota
  • Philadelphia can clinch a First-Round Bye IF Philadelphia d. N.Y. Giants
  • Philadelphia can clinch a Top-Three Seed IF Philadelphia d. N.Y. Giants OR ALL OF Green Bay d. Carolina AND N.Y. Jets d. New Orleans AND L.A. Rams d. Seattle AND Tampa Bay d. Atlanta
  • L.A. Rams can clinch a playoff berth IF L.A. Rams d. Seattle AND N.Y. Jets d. New Orleans AND Tampa Bay d. Atlanta AND Carolina d. Green Bay AND Chicago d. Detroit

Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, better ideas than the Pro Bowl for honoring players, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter on 13 Dec 2017

41 comments, Last at 25 Feb 2018, 3:47am by CarRepairing


by Travis :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 1:38pm

Kicker: It's a Hanukkah miracle -- no negative points this week! Instead, Ka'imi Fairbairn (thanks to a missed extra point) and Brandon McManus (with two missed field goals) share top marks with 0 points apiece.

He had a good excuse, but Adam Vinatieri missed two field goals while making just one extra point, which I think adds up to a -3. Dan Bailey had no such excuse and missed two field goals and an extra point. (McManus went 3 of 4 on field goals, so I think something's wrong with the dataset.)

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 3:32pm

Not a problem with the dataset, but a problem with your friendly Scramble writer who was looking at the wrong thing. I'm fixing that (Nick Rose was actually the bottom scorer, with a missed XP and just one XP to make up for it). Thanks for the catch!

The Loser League scores in the database were correct; this one was all me.

by Chuckc :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 2:09pm

Kyle Juszczyk has been useless this year. Any other NFC fullback would be a better choice.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 3:40pm

I've watched every 49ers snap, and he's been far from useless. I wouldn't say he's been ~good~, nor would I say he's worth the massive contract he got, but useless? Nah. He has a positive DYAR as a receiver and has been above average as a lead blocker on running attempts.

That's not a Pro Bowl resume, I admit -- but the NFC has no other good fullbacks. Here are the complete list of NFC fullbacks with at least 90 snaps and are on the ballot:

Derrick Coleman (Atlanta)
C.J. Ham (Minnesota)
Aaron Ripkowski (Green Bay)
Michael Burton (Chicago)
Keith Smith (Dallas)

That's it. A six-person race. Juszczyk has the most usage and is the best by a significant margin in the running game. He also has the most yards -- by a factor of three. He's really the ONLY legit candidate in the NFC.

This is a problem with requiring a fullback in 2017. Juszczyk is the best of a bad lot.

by ssereb :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 2:38pm

How did you pick an entire AFC defense without a single player from the #1 defense by DVOA, but two players from #21?

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:03pm

It was surprisingly easy! We just typed a lot and out it came.

On a more serious note, you're right that there is a surprising amount of Titans on the final roster. Andrew commented on it, too, but every time we looked at a replacement, we weren't thrilled with it.

As for why no Ravens? I think we feel that the Ravens are a defensive unit with no weakness as opposed to one with a few lights out stars, if that makes sense. The only thing approaching a weak spot there is C.J. Mosley -- or, I suppose, cornerback depth now that Jimmy Smith is on IR. But finding individuals to put over the top was surprisingly difficult:

*Jimmy Smith is not on the ballot, and can't be voted for. The Ravens' cornerbacks on the ballot are Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr. Humphrey hasn't really started enough to earn a spot -- though he might well make our All-Rookie team despite some very tough competition -- and Carr is not a Pro Bowler.

*Terrell Suggs would be a worthy pick. He wouldn't knock off Von Miller or Telvin Smith in my book, but if you wanted to slide him in over Clowney, well, I wouldn't blame you. Suggs is 10th in the league in pressures, just ahead of Clowney. Andrew really loves Clowney, though, and I think the argument could go either way.

*Brandon Williams would be the other big choice at defensive tackle. I wouldn't put him in over Suh or Atkins, but placing him in over Jurrell Casey would fix two of your problems simultaneously there. Casey's produced more raw stats (29 pass pressures versus 6.5, 32 total tackles compared to 14, etc) in part because because Williams missed a month. Casey's the better pass rusher; Williams is the better run defender. We went with the player who has played more.

Also, just, philosophically, a defense with the Pro Bowl runner up at each position is better than a defense with five Pro Bowlers and six huge liabilities. Baltimore has a large number of very good players who end up not being one of the top three at their position, in our book. That's fine as long as they're all, like, fourth.

by DGL :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 3:23pm

> "I know your position says tight end, but bro, do you even block?"

You're talking about the Pro Bowl. Nobody blocks.

by techvet :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 3:44pm

You should start calling McCarthy "Riverboat Mike". He also called a timely challenge in the 4th quarter that forced the Browns to punt when the Packers were down by 7.

by theslothook :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:05pm

I think Anthony Barr should get some consideration. Also, I feel like Wilson has been the best qb in the league this year

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:12pm

Taking Barr wouldn't be a terrible pick. I don't think you could justify slotting him in over Lavonte David, but I could hear the argument about going with him instead of Lee or Kendricks; he's roughly their equal in coverage and he's the only of the three who is basically ever tasked with rushing the passer.

I do think his play in run defense, by comparison, leaves something to be desired, but it wouldn't be a crazy pick at all.

by theslothook :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:18pm

I want to add some color to the Wilson commentary I had above. I've listened to Greg Cosel talk about Wilson. How his offense has designed plays where the right read is open and Wilson doesn't throw the ball. They've told him this explicitly and they are at a loss for why.

But then Wilson makes some batshit awesome plays that it more than evens out. That makes judging him hard. I do think the supporting cast gets undersold, specifically receiver because Wilson is such an unstructured player.

All that to say - the qb that has played down to down the best is probably still Tom Brady, but Wilson has just been so magical that I could understand an argument for him as the MVP. But as far as the nfc qbs go, I do think Wilson on net has been the best.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:24pm

It's the whole degree of difficulty thing, aye -- Wilson is basically the entire Seahawks offense to a way we haven't seen in...a very very long time, at least. That's one significant reason why his DYAR and DVOA and all that aren't as impressive as some of the others; there's only so much we can do to separate a player from the situation they're in.

Wilson's ability to pull something out of absolutely nothing is unmatched in the league. So many times, you think he's dead, sacked for a 15 yard loss, and no, he escapes and makes a positive play -- often a great play. And he's doing it with Doug Baldwin, Duane Brown and eight schlubs (for varying values of "schlub"). That's worth a lot.

We basically had the four names for the three NFC QB slots, and there was much gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 5:14pm

Matthew Stafford looks at the Seahawks offense and just chuckles.

They have 400 more rushing yards than Detroit. Detroit's the only team that hasn't made it to 1000 yet.

by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 12/14/2017 - 1:41am

"They have 400 more rushing yards than Detroit"

... because Wilson has rushed for 482 yards. Take out Wilson's yardage and the Seahawks have 892 yards. Take out Stafford's rushing yardage and the Lions have 902 rushing yards.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/14/2017 - 9:20am

Their percentage offense is about the same, with a non-QB rushing performance that's about the same. Seattle has run more plays, so they have more yards (DET has had worse fumble luck).

Point is that when you talk about how much of a team's offense is carried by Wilson as being historic, Stafford is right there with him. DET's offense hasn't been able to run a lick in years.

by InTheBoilerRoom :: Thu, 12/14/2017 - 9:42am

You are correct that Stafford is right there with him (Wilson accounts for 85% of SEA total offensive yards, Stafford accounts for 84% of DET). The point about running game is incorrect, though. Wilson is the only real rushing threat on SEA, so he does not benefit from any more of a running game than Stafford does.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/14/2017 - 10:58am

Specifically for this year. Seattle has outrushed DET every season since 2010, and some of those years (peak Lynch) were nowhere near close. 2013 was the only year DET could sort of run the ball. Seattle was still better than they were that year.

by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 12/14/2017 - 4:47pm

Of course. But you cited data from this year. And this year they're both getting the absolute minimum from their running backs.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 12/15/2017 - 10:57am

Point being, Stafford is right there with Wilson, and has been for awhile.

Other than 2013, I think he's been around 80% of Detroit's offense since 2010.

2013 was the year they somehow went 4-12 despite outgaining their opponents by 1000 yards.

by LyleNM :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 5:29pm

I really don't think Jimmy Graham qualifies for any value of "schlub" but otherwise you're pretty much spot on.

by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:14pm

The Saints' offensive line currently leads the NFL in adjusted line yards and stuff rate, and they're second in open field yards and fourth in adjusted sack rate. Gotta be at least one Pro Bowl player there.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:19pm

We had Ryan Ramczyk in there until the last minute, when Andrew opted for Andrew Whitworth instead. Too many good tackles in the NFC; under the non-conference format they tried for a few years there, Ramczyk would have made it in easily. With Joe Thomas out, the imbalance in talent there between the two conferences is amazing.

by Andrew Potter :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:36pm

The problem in the NFC isn't who to put in, it's who to leave out. Honestly, which C or G do you remove for Max Unger or Larry Warford? Sitton for Warford, maybe? Terron Armstead's been injured a lot, Andrus Peat's been shuffled around, and though I love Ryan Ramczyk he isn't one of the top three tackles in the conference.

(I admit, I may also have overcompensated for my homerism, but we do already have five Saints players on the roster.)

In the AFC, both Unger and Warford are locks.

The NFC this year is absolutely stacked with talent.

by theslothook :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:31pm

Another name to throw out there. I think he's definitely been helped by the incredible supporting cast, but Yannik Ngakoue has been awesome. He tore apart the colts both times and has 11 sacks and 6 forced fumbles.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:41pm

He's competing at DE, and Campbell, Bosa and Mack are a pretty hard trio to break into there.

...Yes, the Pro Bowl ballot says Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue play the same position. There's absolutely zero differences in their game. Never mind that Campbell kicks inside frequently (I'd say "more often than not, but I don't have those exact numbers in front of me). Exactly the same role!

by ammek :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 5:05pm

So, no Redhawks or Giants. All other teams represented. That's very generous!

I'd have supported the Bakhtiari nomination last season, but he's missed a few games in 2017 and been banged up in others. He has been responsible for more hits and sacks than usual – I'm not sure he's even been the best pass protecting left tackle in the NFC North – although he has become the best run-blocker on the Green Bay line.

The Packers' most deserving player has probably been Mike Daniels, but the defensive interior position is strong in the NFC.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 5:09pm

We considered a Giant, too, in Snacks Harrison. Had I known we were so close to full representation, I would have tried to squeeze someone from Washington on, probably on the interior offensive line (Scherff maybe?)

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 5:16pm

How does the NFL define FBs?

Can you repurpose an H-back (hybrid TE/FB)? Can you take an under-center single back and call him a Jim Brown FB (in the technically-correct sense)?

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 5:52pm

They define it as whoever the teams tell them are a fullback, so I suppose some shenanigans could happen behind the scenes, theoretically.

This year, that most notably includes Ryan Hewitt (who Cincinnati lists as an H-back).

by ChrisS :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 6:28pm

Is there any reason injured Joe Thomas is not on the ballot and injured Carson Wentz is? Chris Banjo should get in based on the great name requirement.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 8:29pm

Pro Bowl voting started November 14th. Joe Thomas was injured on October 22nd, so they didn't put someone with an injury on the ballot.

I THINK they can change the ballot whenever they want -- hey, it's their thing! -- but Wentz is still up there as of right now.

by Harris :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 6:29pm

No love of for Doug "Guts" Pederson? He went for it on 4th-and-goal from the 2 (with an injured QB) to get the go-ahead TD. Later, he took three points off the board after a Rams penalty. That decision allowed them to chew up 2 precious minutes that LA desperately needed for their comeback. THEN, he had his backup QB throw for a crucial 3rd-and-9 on the Eagles' next possession. The conversion basically finished off the clock and the Rams got the ball back with only 1 second left. Three enormous decisions that preserved a 2-point win prior to Graham's fumble return TD on the final play.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 7:16pm

I tend to avoid Pro Bowl debates, because if you aren't closely watching at least 8-10 games per week, or doing the equivalent in film room viewing, you really don't have a good idea as to who has played the best.

Having said that, I'm pretty skeptical that there are two better corners in the NFC this year than Xavier Rhodes, much less three.

by theslothook :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 8:02pm

Marshon Lattimore is a lock and probably with Ramsay as the best corner this year. I think Robinson goes in too after resurrecting his career. Rhodes would seem like a fair choice next.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 8:41pm

While Rhodes is having a solid season, his advanced metrics grade out as just solid and not superior. He's 32nd among qualified corners in success rate, 24th in YAC allowed, 23rd in pass yards allowed, etc. Those are under both Slay and Robinson, and while we didn't just grab the top charted CBs (otherwise, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Shaq Griffin would be on our NFC Pro Bowl team), it's worth taking note of.

Subjectively, yeah, I'd say Rhodes is having a very good season, and I'd have few qualms if you slid him into the Pro Bowl over, say, Marcus Trufant.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 12/14/2017 - 9:35am

I would argue that Marvin Jones deserve to be in over Golden Tate. Yes, Tate has more receptions, but that’s only because the Lions throw him a half dozen wide receiver screens per game. It’s a coin flip as to whether they turn into a successful reception or not. Granted, I don’t do charting, or anything, but my eyes tells me he’s had a ton of failed completions. Jones, on the other hand, has been the Lions de facto WR1, and is both a deep threat and red zone target. His 8 touchdowns and ranking 4th best in the league in both DYAR, and DVOA, bear that out.

by ChrisS :: Thu, 12/14/2017 - 11:48am

I think both have had good years. I can see your argument against Tate, but it is not his fault that Jim Bob Cooter over-uses WR screens past the point of diminishing returns. Also if the alternative is a hand-off then I am all in favor of more WR screens. Jones definitely makes more difficult and more valuable catches on average than Tate.

by jinman :: Thu, 12/14/2017 - 7:10pm

Adrian Amos as the best SS in the NFC is laughable, and I'm a Bears fan.

by Raiderfan :: Fri, 12/15/2017 - 3:01pm

Cannot believe no mention of Hekker from the LAR.

by Andrew Potter :: Fri, 12/15/2017 - 10:00pm

I love Johnny Hekker, and he would be the only option for a trick play Pro Bowl, but by our numbers Chris Jones is clearly having the more productive year as a punter. There's a huge gap between the second-place Cowboys' punt team rating and that of the third-place Rams.

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