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» 2017 Offensive Personnel Analysis

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?

11 Jan 2017

Scramble: Scrambled for the Playoffs

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew: So this is an interesting outcome for what has been a bit of a random hodgepodge of a season overall: we have reached the divisional round of the playoffs, and for the first time that I can remember there is very little doubt that every one of these teams deserves to be here: that this is, in fact, as close as we can get to the best four teams in each conference as it is currently constructed.

Bryan: Um. Houston is still alive.

Andrew: See, I knew Houston would be the supposed counterpoint. Here's my justification: the Texans went 5-1 in the AFC South, including a sweep of the Colts and their only loss coming on the road in Week 17 with the division already won and a playoff game looming large. They have six other losses: five of those were on the road, all to either the reigning champions (Denver) or other good teams (New England, Minnesota before they all went to the hospital, Oakland before they all went to the hospital, and Green Bay around the time that Aaron Rodgers found his Scooby Snacks). That's a challenging schedule even for a powerhouse like the Patriots, much less a second-tier squad missing its best player. Their only slightly embarrassing defeat was at home to the Chargers who, let's face it, can find a dramatic way to either beat or lose to anybody depending on the weather and the alignment of the planets.

Bryan: Counterpoint: the Texans are terrible. They have scored the fourth-fewest points and gained the fourth-fewest yards. They're ranked 28th in DVOA; they are starting the second-worst quarterback in the league according to our numbers (congratulations, Jared Goff!); they can establish neither a passing attack nor a running attack; and they have had rumors that their head coach would have been fired had they not won their first playoff game.

Andrew: And yet, they won said playoff game 27-14. Yes, Oakland was an injury-addled mess, but you can only beat what's in front of you. That applies doubly to the Texans when you consider their division. Division winners deserve a playoff spot, and wild cards get one chance to show that they would have been strong enough to win a different division. The admittedly ruined Oakland team that played on Saturday wasn't.

Bryan: Oh, I'm not arguing that the Texans shouldn't have been in the playoffs. I'm saying that if you think the Texans are a better football team than, say, the Broncos or Ravens, well… you're free to believe that. As crazy as you are!

Andrew: They're all basically the same team though, just stratified. Baltimore has a better quarterback and special teams, Houston the better front seven, and Denver the better secondary; they're otherwise much of a muchness. The resemblance by DVOA between Kubiak's 2016 Broncos and his former employers in Houston is particularly uncanny.

Bryan: You have a much higher opinion of the vast majority of the Texans roster than I do! I think the AFC South, as a unit, might be able to produce one of the top four teams in the conference, and I'm not even entirely sure the Texans would have a plurality of the starters on that squad.

Andrew: Well maybe, but there's at least an extent to which you can say that for almost every team: Seattle could take the offensive line off just about any other team in the league and be better for it, while you could replace Green Bay's defense player-for-player with Minnesota's and improve at almost every spot.

Bryan: That is the one downside of the playoffs; it means the end of the season for some great players. Joe Thomas is a perfect example. ESPN had a piece on his workmanlike experience and excellence, and how he has never gotten to make an appearance in the playoffs because he has the misfortune to play for the Cleveland Browns. If he could just pop on down to Pittsburgh for a month, he'd get to experience the postseason and the Steelers would be better for it.

Andrew: Can you imagine putting Aaron Donald on the Seahawks, or Greg Olsen on the Falcons? Or giving the Patriots ... actually, the AFC East may be a notable exception to this thought experiment.

Bryan: Heck with imagining; let's do it. Since we have the eight division winners still alive and, thus, the "best" *cough* team from each division still playing, let's see if we can make them even better by letting them borrow one player from each other team in their division.

Andrew: Or, in New England's case, make them worse by forcing them to?

Bryan: Someone's got to pass out the Gatorade and cut the sleeves off of Belichick's sweatshirts.

AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

Baltimore: Sean Davis was the Steelers' rookie of the year, but he was also benched at midseason and is still learning safety after transitioning mid-year to the position. So instead, we'll give them a veteran safety here -- Bryan liked Eric Weddle, Andrew liked Lardarius Webb, so we compromised, and went with Lardarius Weddle.

Cincinnati: Tyler Eifert is the obvious choice from the Bengals, at least unless we're trolling Steelers fans by picking Vontaze Burfict. Eifert missed a chunk of this season due to an injury he suffered in last year's Pro Bowl, but still managed two more games, 13 more targets, and 10% better efficiency by DVOA than Steelers free agent acquisition and ostensible starter Ladarius Green. Green isn't going to make the Terrible Towelholders forget Heath Miller any time soon, especially as he missed the wild-card round with a concussion and "has suffered a setback ahead of the divisional game. A healthy Eifert would be invaluable throughout the playoffs as Ben Roethlisberger's big middle-of-the-field target.

Cleveland: Danny Shelton has really come on in his second season along the defensive line. You can never really have enough depth, and the big 335-pounder would be a great disruptive force whenever Pittsburgh goes to its base package. Cleveland may be allowing 4.49 adjusted line yards, but Shelton's one of the reasons they ranked 12th in power success.

AFC East: New England Patriots

Buffalo: The Patriots aren't the best at providing consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks; they rank 25th in the league in pressure rate by our charting numbers, getting pressure on 20.4 percent of their plays. Buffalo had significantly more success, so we'll send Jerry Hughes over -- Hughes' 26 pass pressures were six more than anyone on New England was able to put up this season, so he would provide an instant boost there.

Miami: If New England has shown a clear, recurring weakness throughout this season, it has come with the ball airborne in the direction of punt returner Cyrus Jones. Jones was so bad during portions of the regular season that he managed to get himself benched from both cornerback and punt return duties as a healthy inactive in mid-December. Jarvis Landry has averaged more than 10 yards per return for the Dolphins as a solid contributor in the return game, while he could also add another dynamic (if inconsistent) weapon to Tom Brady's already loaded arsenal.

N.Y. Jets:: As bad as New York was this season, they were phenomenal at stopping the run -- the ninth-best DVOA of all time! New England wasn't bad against the run themselves, but adding Jets MVP Leonard Williams to the mix would be a fantastic pickup; he could slide right in ahead of Malcolm Brown and really do some damage.

AFC South: Houston Texans

Indianapolis: This could not be a more obvious choice. When the consensus best quarterback in the division doesn't play for the division winner, he's the obvious choice for a loanee. Andrew Luck is the consensus best quarterback in the AFC South, and not even Kalispell, Montana's proudest resident could resist putting him onto the Texans to start ahead of Brock Osweiler (or Tom Savage, for that matter).

Jacksonville: While the defensive side of the ball is Houston's strong point, that doesn't mean we can't give them a bit of a boost. Both Vince Wilfork and Antonio Smith have seen better days on the inside, so we'll import Malik Jackson from Jacksonville -- a consistently disruptive force who set a career high in sacks this year. He's going to be a key part of the foundation for Jacksonville's rebuild, and he can bring his playoff experience from Denver over to help Houston out.

Tennessee: Tight end has been a rotating cast of bit-part plugins for Houston this year, so we'll give their shiny loanee quarterback a shiny loanee tight end target. Delanie Walker ranks 12th by DYAR, and would fit right in with a quarterback who has made lemonade out of Jack Doyle, Dwayne Allen, and Coby Fleener among others in his four-year career.

AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

Denver: The Chiefs' offense, while solid (a surprising 10th overall in passing DVOA this year!) is bland, and there's an argument for adding multiple receivers to their corps. It hasn't been Emmanuel Sanders' best season, but that may have something to do with the quality of players throwing him the ball. It's still his third-straight 1,000-yard receiving season, and he's still a high-volume target to whom opposing defenses would have to devote serious resources, helping free up Jeremy Maclin and giving the Chiefs a little bit more offensive spice.

Oakland: You could make an argument for Amari Cooper here, even with Sanders already on the team, but instead we'll go with one of the Raiders' many, many offensive line studs, taking Kelechi Osemele to shore up Kansas City's line; they could use it after Parker Ehinger tore his ACL halfway through the season.

San Diego: This may be a surprise given what we wrote above about Andrew Luck, but here we'd take Joey Bosa for two reasons. Firstly, we argued back and forth about how much better Philip Rivers really is than Alex Smith at this point in their careers -- Smith leads Rivers in most metrics, and Bryan argues that Smith has actually been the better quarterback for a few years now. What is less arguable is that Rivers is more boom-and-bust, while Smith is usually what he is regardless of what's happening around him. Kansas City's entire philosophy is built specifically around that consistent, if conservative, philosophy. Secondly, even if Rivers is better, Joey Bosa is a potentially transcendent player at a position -- edge rusher -- where you can never have too many good players.

NFC North: Green Bay Packers

Detroit: Darius Slay was hurt at the end of the regular season, and missed the team's 42-21 defeat in Dallas. Green Bay's multitude of cornerbacks have been hurt all year long, in and out of the lineup and on (and back off, in the case of Makinton Dorleant) injured reserve. With Sam Shields out for the year, another starting-caliber cornerback would be a welcome addition to the Packers backfield even if only for three games. Slay is the one guy on the Lions who clearly fits the bill.

Minnesota: Despite their issues in the secondary, the Packers have the sixth-best adjusted sack rate by our pass-rush numbers. That doesn't mean they wouldn't benefit from an upgrade, however; somebody to pair with 11-sack team leader Nick Perry. Enter Minnesota's Everson Griffen: with 30 sacks in his last three seasons and four forced fumbles over the same period, he would improve the pass rush of just about any team in the league and help take some pressure off the depleted Packers backfield.

Chicago: The Packers have been drilling into the tundra to try and find a running back, going with wide receivers and fullbacks and what have you to try to shore up the position. It actually has been working out OK, all things considered, but Chicago has the fifth-best running back in the league by DYAR in rookie Jordan Howard. Howard fought his way to the top in a crowded Chicago backfield, jumping over Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey to set a Bears all-time rookie rushing record. He has been ultra-consistent and exceptionally prolific -- and that's with the Bears' motley crew of quarterbacks. I'm sure he'd love taking advantage of the holes opened up by Aaron Rodgers' arm.

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

N.Y. GIants: This isn't to dump on Byron Jones or Barry Church, both of whom have played well this season. However, in his second year, Landon Collins has been one of the best safeties in the NFL. No other player in NFL history has recorded 100 solo tackles, two sacks, five interceptions and 12 passes defended in the same season -- that's a lot of cherry-picking for thresholds, but it's also a heck of a lot of production. He's simply one of the NFL's best.

Philadelphia: Dallas doesn't really have that many weaknesses, but you could make an argument that the defensive line is one of them. They're 25th in the league in allowing opponent's power rushes to succeed, with opponents powering through jammed boxes 69 percent of the time. That's not nice! We'll loan them Fletcher Cox, a Pro Bowler who commands double- and triple-teams even when hobbled by an ankle injury. He's an incredibly disruptive force and would make the rest of his linemates that much better.

Washington: By DVOA, the biggest weakness of any Cowboys unit relative to the rest of the league is their 25th-ranked punt return unit with its minus-2.7 points worth of value. Washington has the second-best punt return unit behind only the Dave Toub and Tyreek Hill combination in Kansas City. Jamison Crowder may not supplant Cole Beasley as the Cowboys' slot receiver for the playoffs, but he sure could supplant Lucky Whitehead as their punt returner.

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons

Carolina: Austin Hooper has done a fine job as a receiving tight end for the Falcons this year, and there's an argument that Atlanta would benefit more from a defender like Luke Kuechly than from another receiving threat. That said, Greg Olsen has established himself over several years as one of the best tight ends in the league. Carolina's run-heavy offense needs a good blocking tight end, but Olsen has doubled as Cam Newton's top target over several seasons and could work wonders as a dual-threat option in Kyle Shanahan's Falcons offense.

New Orleans: Instead, we'll add to the Falcons defense from the Saints in an admittedly counter-intuitive move. Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks this year with 15.5, but nobody else on the roster managed more than 4.5 and the team's adjusted sack rate ranked a mediocre 24th. Cameron Jordan would provide immediate help with his ability to both play the run and rush the passer, whether lined up on the edge or as an interior defender in Dan Quinn's 4-3 scheme.

Tampa Bay: One of the drums we have been beating for quite some time is "Lavonte David is very good." This is the bold, cutting-edge analysis you have come to expect from Scramble for the Ball. The second-team All-Pro actually had something of a down year this year as he adjusted to Mike Smith's system, but turned it on over the past month looking like his usual, dominant self. Conversely, De'Vondre Campbell had some growing pains as a rookie, and certainly doesn't yet have the on-field instincts of David.

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks

San Francisco: This is probably the easiest selection of the entire exercise. Seattle is going with a combination of George Fant and Garry Gilliam at offensive tackle and it has been an issue all year long. The 49ers are almost completely devoid of talent, but Joe Staley remains one of the NFL's top tackles. This isn't a difficult decision.

Los Angeles: Aaron Donald is the best defensive lineman in football at the moment -- a declaration easier to make now that J.J. Watt is hurt, but still. The Seahawks' interior line could definitely stand to be improved; neither Ahtyba Rubin nor rookie Jarran Reed is a particularly threatening inside pass rusher. Putting Donald on a defense with Cliff Avril, Frank Clark and Michael Bennett on passing downs almost seems unfair.

Arizona: Seattle's Legion of Boom is in serious trouble at the moment. Earl Thomas' broken leg is the big story of course, but they also aren't solid across from Richard Sherman at cornerback. The Cardinals have four defensive backs who would be very much appreciated in Seattle right about now, so take your pick. We went with Tyrann Mathieu because of his versatility, but Patrick Peterson, D.J. Swearinger or Tony Jefferson would all be entirely justifiable picks.

The Rambling Returns

Andrew: So what do we think? How much difference, if any, would something like that make to the playoffs?

Bryan: I think you're crazy for thinking the Houston Texans are any good.

Actually, I think it would make a huge difference to the playoffs, and not necessarily for the better. Part of the Texans' identity has been their struggles at quarterback; importing Andrew Luck for a postseason run suddenly changes the entire dynamic of the team. Making a change of that magnitude means the team you're watching in the postseason really isn't the team you have been watching up until that point.

Andrew: Yeah, that's something I mentioned when we were debating Philip Rivers versus Alex Smith: Kansas City's identity as a team is built around their offense's conservative approach, and adding a less predictable quarterback may actually hinder them as a team even if the quarterback was an inherently superior player.

Bryan: In addition, despite the neat idea of giving players who have never sniffed postseason glory a chance at January football, most of the added players here ... actually aren't strangers to the playoffs.

Andrew: Really, what we have been discussing is more of a glorified divisional Pro Bowl playoff than the NFL postseason, and should probably remain that way.

Bryan: So, are we ready to toss this concept in the big bin of Dumb Scramble Ideas?

Andrew: Well it was obviously never going to happen anyway, but it was fun to think about. Maybe it'll also be fun to argue about in the comments.

Staff Playoff League Update

Bryan: Sterling's strategy of "pick all the Packers and nothing but the Packers" looked really bad for the first quarter and change of the Green Bay-New York matchup, but then Aaron Rodgers really kicked it into gear. Rodgers' 34 points led all scorers, and quite a bit of that went to Jordy Nelson (18 points). Sterling also had Lamar Miller, who had a big day in Houston's win over Oakland. As such, he jumps out to an early lead -- and he still has every player on his roster available. So far, so good. He only has a two-point lead over Vince, but Vince saw Jarvis Landry's Dolphins go down -- he won't complain about those 10 points, but it leaves him a position short going forward. Still, watching Le'Veon Bell go off in a big way, as well as the Seahawks clicking on full cylinders (including a pilfered Doug Baldwin touchdown!) has him riding pretty high at the moment.

Your next tier down in points scored are your humble Scramble writers. The Ben Roethlisberger/Antonio Brown stack paid off great for me in the first quarter alone, and I'm sitting at 41 points, down just Michael Crabtree going forward. Andrew's right behind me with 40 points, but both Latavius Murray and Odell Beckham will be sitting the rest of the competition on the sidelines.

Then there's Scott and Aaron, who haven't gotten out of the starting blocks yet. Aaron at least has the excuse that eight of his nine players had a bye in the first round, so he joins Sterling with the only complete lineup remaining. Scott, on the other hand, had three players going this week, and all three lost. Jay Ajayi, Robbie Gould, and the New York defense combined to give Scott just 12 points, putting him in probably the worst position going forward.

Still, it's early -- it's anybody's race. We'll get a clearer picture where we stand after this week, when everyone gets into action.

Scott Aaron Sterling Vince Bryan Andrew
QB Tom Brady Matt Ryan Aaron Rodgers Russell Wilson Ben Roethlisberger Dak Prescott

0 0 34 19 14 0
RB Jay Ajayi Ezekiel Elliott Ty Montgomery Le'Veon Bell LeGarrette Blount Spencer Ware

4 0 6 28 0 0
RB Dion Lewis James White Lamar Miller Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman Latavius Murray

0 0 13 0 0 10
WR Julian Edelman Julio Jones Jordy Nelson Doug Baldwin Antonio Brown Odell Beckham

0 0 1 16 24 2
WR Dez Bryant Chris Hogan Davante Adams Jarvis Landry Michael Crabtree DeAndre Hopkins

0 0 18 10 3 12
WR Cole Beasley Tyreek Hill Eli Rogers Taylor Gabriel Malcolm Mitchell Mohamed Sanu

0 0 1 0 0 0
TE Travis Kelce C.J. Fiedorowicz Jimmy Graham Ladarius Green Martellus Bennett Jason Witten

0 3 3 0 0 0
K Robbie Gould Stephen Gostkowski Mason Crosby Chris Boswell Matt Bryant Steven Hauschka

8 0 8 6 0 9
D New York Kansas City New England Seattle Atlanta Houston

0 0 0 3 0 7
Total 12 3 84 82 41 40

Best of the Rest

Bryan: Hey, did you know Thomas Rawls played football? A lot of our readers did!

If you drafted Thomas Rawls, you're feeling pretty good right about now, as he racked up 22 points. AlanRLD currently sits in the lead thanks to Rawls, as well as Eli Manning's 15 and Pittsburgh's 10. He has 62 points so far, putting him ahead of Roguerouge's 52 and Smilerz's 47.

All three of those teams were fairly loaded up on Giants, though -- Roguerouge's team is now completely dead; Smilerz just has Michael Floyd, Dan Bailey, and Pittsburgh; and AlanRLD lost Eli Manning, Rashad Jennings, Sterling Shephard, and Will Tye when the Giants went down. It might be better to be a team like Surebrec, who got Rawls' 22 points, but also boasts a completely intact lineup. With just 27 points, they're well off the leaders for now, but I'd rather have all my players at this point than an early lead.

Top 5:

  • 1. AlanRLD (62 points) (Still alive: Thomas Rawls, Jermaine Kearse, Tanner McEvoy, Cairo Santos, Pittsburgh)
  • 2. Roguerouge (52 points) (Still alive: none)
  • 3. Smilerz (47 points) (Still alive: Michael Floyd, Dan Bailey, Pittsburgh)
  • 4. Puffbronman (46 points) (Still alive: Alex Smith, Thomas Rawls, Aaron Ripkowski, Jared Cook, Cairo Santos, Green Bay
  • 5. Rjsen (46 points) (Still alive: none)


Keep Choppin' Wood: Another week, another special teams gaffe for the awards section. After Green Bay's first touchdown of the second half made the score 21-13 in favor of the Packers, Mason Crosby angled the ensuing kickoff toward the right sideline of the Giants kick return team. There lurked Bobby Rainey. Rainey has experience returning kicks, but he is not Big Blue's primary kick returner -- as was quickly apparent. He was able to field the ball near the sideline, but he was unable to retain his balance without stepping out of bounds. If Rainey had allowed the ball to bounce with the Packers coverage team nowhere near him, it was almost certain to either bounce into the end zone (good) or out over the sideline (great); instead, his gaffe set his offense up at their own 3-yard line. A three-and-out ensued, Green Bay got the ball back well into Giants territory, and the score gap only increased from that point forward.

John Fox Award for Conservatism: The Jacksonville Jaguarzzzzzzz ... ack, where was I? Oh, it's meant to be on-field conservatism? Then Ben McAdoo is our winner this week. McAdoo coached the first half of this week's playoff game like his Giants squad was a heavy favorite who just needed to minimize mistakes against an overmatched opponent. The field goal on fourth-and-3 to take the lead was at least defensible, but PUNTING on fourth-and-5 from the opposition 35? All in all, the Giants faced fourth-and-6 or less in opposition territory five times in their first eight drives, as well as fourth-and-1 in their own territory twice, and kicked the ball every single time. Against Aaron Rodgers. By the time McAdoo actually went for a short fourth-down conversion, the Giants trailed 38-13 and there were only two minutes left to play. The Giants, of course, converted a short pass to Tavarres King for 18 yards; that would have been a whole lot more useful earlier in the game.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: By contrast, the usually-conservative Mike McCarthy made several atypically aggressive calls against the Giants. Firstly, expedient use of his first-half time-outs bought his Packers enough time for another drive at the end of the second quarter -- we all saw how that turned out, with a Hail Mary to Randall Cobb on fourth-and-2 giving the Packers an eight-point lead at halftime. Then, in the most direct contrast with his opposite number, McCarthy DID have his team go for it on fourth-and-1 in their own territory while leading 14-6 in the third quarter. The play call was awful, right enough, and the Giants scored a touchdown off the short field, but actually going for it was an undoubtedly aggressive call uncharacteristic of McCarthy's tenure as Packers head coach.

Mike Martz Award for Confusing Coaching: Mike Tomlin, the competitive portion of your win over Miami really was over before the first quarter ended. You had a 30-6 lead entering the fourth quarter, and were holding on to a 30-12 lead for most of it. While you obviously can't sit down all your starters, having Ben Roethlisberger throwing passes -- and more importantly, taking hits! -- late in the fourth quarter isn't a great look. Roethlisberger left the stadium in a walking boot, though he has shed it since then. We have seen teams flounder when forced to turn to their backup quarterback this very week. I know this hasn't been Big Ben's best season, but protect your star player a little bit better -- at least, call more runs and fewer deep pass patterns.

"We Are All Idiots" Fantasy Player of the Week: The Staff Fantasy Playoffs saw six supposedly clued-in writers from Football Outsiders take 12 running backs, including three from the New England Patriots alone. Not taken? Thomas Rawls who had a Beast Mode-esque day against the Detroit Lions, rumbling for 161 yards and a touchdown. The lesson, as always, is fantasy sports are terrible. Is terrible? Fantasy sports :: terrible.

Jon Snow (We Know Nothing) Lock of the Week

Once again this year, 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.

Records so far:
Bryan: 8-8-1
Andrew: 6-9-2

Bryan: You know, Andrew, if you somehow win the season series after your terrible start, that would be a Frank Reich-ian comeback.

Andrew: Well, we're all out of third-string rookie quarterbacks for me to pick against (and you to pick for), so I'm not exactly expecting miracles here. This week's lines are also a little intimidating: New England ought to crush Houston, but 16 points is an enormous line for garbage time not to overcome. I'd ordinarily have taken Green Bay without a second thought, but Jordy Nelson's fractured ribs are providing those second thoughts. I love Kansas City's defense way more than DVOA does, but the Steelers may be able to run all over them and thus deny the turnovers on which they feast. In light of all that, I'm going with my preseason Super Bowl pick of Pittsburgh (plus-1) to win in Kansas City.

Bryan: I could go a number of ways on this, but let's keep this head-to-head thing going. I'll take Kansas City (minus-1) over Pittsburgh. I know Pittsburgh beat the Chiefs 43-14 back in October, but that was several lifetimes ago now. Pittsburgh has been far less efficient on the road this season, Arrowhead is a very tough place to play, and now Big Ben is hurt, if only mildly. I don't buy the "defense wins championships" malarkey for a moment, but I will take the Chiefs here, due to both a lack of very tempting options and in the spirit of head-to-head competition.


All four wild-card teams lost in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, meaning we have to say goodbye to some of the season's best turnaround stories.

Oakland fans, the season ended in the worst possible way for you -- forced to turn to an unprepared third-string quarterback due to injury and watching an early-season success story slip away at the end. Still, once the immediate pain of the loss has gone away, 2016 was a reason to celebrate, not mourn. It was a fantastic run from an up-and-coming team; one that they can build upon in the future. Lock up Derek Carr to a long-term extension, bolster that secondary, work on the inside line and enjoy -- your team is in its best position since American Idol was fresh and interesting.

Miami, you too should be pleased with your first season under new head coach Adam Gase. Yes, the loss in Pittsburgh is a bitter pill to swallow, but very few people had a 10-6 season projected after the way the Dolphins have performed over the past few seasons. Optimism is the watchword of the day! For teams that have gone so long without tasting postseason glory, a wild-card loss is disappointing but shouldn't be crushing.

Detroit should be a little more disappointed, considering they had the division in their grasp and don't have the same quarterback injuries to point to. However, their strategy this year seemed to be counting on Matthew Stafford to make insane fourth-quarter comebacks week after week, which just wasn't sustainable. The talent gap between them and Seattle was readily apparent. The Lions have to work on their defense if they want to contend in the future; being bullied by Seattle's offensive line is not something that should happen. Frankly, making the playoffs at all was massively overachieving for Detroit and should be celebrated -- the other shoe was bound to drop after a record-breaking eight fourth-quarter comeback wins.

Then there's the New York Giants. It's funny; bouncing back from three straight losing seasons to go 11-5 and earn a playoff berth in the first season under coach Ben McAdoo is a good thing; the defense, in particular, had a great turnaround this season, jumping from 30th to second in our DVOA ratings. The offense, however, continues to underperform -- don't blame it on a boat trip; the offense has been an issue for the Giants for four years now. They failed to score more than 28 points in a single game this season, and that doesn't really cut it in the modern NFL; their 19.4 points per game place them alongside teams like Jacksonville and San Francisco. They have major decisions to be made this offseason on Jason Pierre-Paul and Victor Cruz, a question mark at left tackle, and a 36-year-old quarterback who, while still more than serviceable, has his best days behind him. Despite the turnaround this year, it feels like the Giants have far more questions than answers going into this offseason.

Still, even Giants and Lions fans need to remember that 20 teams would have loved to be in their shoes right now. Successful seasons all around! This calls for a celebration.

Football Outsiders doesn't answer fantasy questions on Twitter, so if you don't have a Premium subscription and access to the 24-hour Fantasy Answering Service, the Scramble mailbag is one way to get a Football Outsiders answer to your fantasy questions! Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, suggestions for running gags in the last header, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter on 11 Jan 2017

27 comments, Last at 16 Jan 2017, 8:20am by Mr Shush


by Joseph :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 3:36pm

Several scores in the chart seem to be wrong-specifically, Vince, Sterling, and Andrew's totals/players.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 3:56pm

Good catch -- the totals were correct; but their kicker scores were listed incorrectly (I accidentally copied down the defensive scores twice). It's been corrected.

by techvet :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 3:37pm

Packers fans also remember McCarthy using timeouts at the end of the first half of the Cowboys game in order to get the ball back but instead the Cowboys used the extra time to march down the field on a lengthy drive for a touchdown. I support McCarthy's confidence in his defense but that one hurt.

And yes, just why was Big Ben still in there throwing passes when the game had already been decided?

by Jerry :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 6:49pm

For the same reason Rodgers was in Green Bay? (Not a great idea in either case.)

by Eddo :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 4:12pm

Sammy Watkins would be a good options for the Patriots to grab from the Bills.

by RBroPF :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 3:22pm

From Buffalo I'd take LeSean McCoy for sure. God help the NFL if the Pats could stumble onto a truly dynamic, all-purpose, workhorse running back. Sammy Watkins is a good option too, but since we're assuming the new player fits seamlessly into the offense and begins contributing right away, we've already added Michael Floyd for the big, physical, downfield presence.

From the Dolphins, I'd take Wake or Suh. I'd lean towards Suh because I think him crashing the pocket from the interior would do more for the pass rush than any upgrade at end. And you don't lose anything against the run with Suh either.

From the Jets? I'd take Mangold in a heartbeat if he wasn't on IR. Since he is, I probably still have to go with Leonard Williams. At least he wouldn't make the team worse.

by Anon Ymous :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 5:46pm

McAdoo coached the first half of this week's playoff game like his Giants squad was a heavy favorite who just needed to minimize mistakes against an overmatched opponent. The field goal on fourth-and-3 to take the lead was at least defensible, but PUNTING on fourth-and-5 from the opposition 35? All in all, the Giants faced fourth-and-6 or less in opposition territory five times in their first eight drives, as well as fourth-and-1 in their own territory twice, and kicked the ball every single time.

I think the 3-and-out on their 3rd drive was even worse. At that point in the game, GB had displayed no ability to cover NY's wide receivers and yet, presumably because of the field position, NY ran on all three downs, including 2nd and 12 and 3rd and 11.

Then, in the most direct contrast with his opposite number, McCarthy DID have his team go for it on fourth-and-1 in their own territory while leading 14-6 in the third quarter.

I still think that was a bad decision. It's not like it was a high leverage first down situation, like you might see at the end of the game or in the "maroon zone". Beyond that, GB had figured out NY's offense and the odds of a long TD drive seemed remote. All told, the upside didn't offset the risk of granting NY pretty much their only shot at getting back into the game. IMO, anyway.

by BearDown103 :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 11:38pm

I think we should also include McAdoo's decision to kick the extra point down 14-12 in the third quarter.

by Jerry :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 6:54pm

The Steelers benched Sean Davis because they'd been using him in the slot due to others' injuries, and it gave him a chance to learn what he needed to know at safety. Once he was made starting safety, both he and the defense played well. If you want to use a Ravens safety, replace Mike Mitchell.

by Sixknots :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 6:58pm

As well as giving the Seahawks the 49ers best offensive lineman, I would have also given them the Rams and Cardinals best offensive linemen (whoever they are) and called it a day.

by Andrew Potter :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 7:37pm

We briefly toyed with that when putting this together, but the Rams and Cardinals lines aren't exactly premium quality beef either.

by Alternator :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 9:51pm

They might only be high-end hot dogs, but that's still better than the vat of pink slime you'll find in Seattle.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 11:26am

In Minnesota, that stuff would be viewed as, at a minimum, choice ribeyes.

by RBroPF :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 3:25pm

Comments like this are what make this one of the few internet message boards worth reading! Oh, and the smart football commentary is nice too.

by wrbrooks :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 7:35pm

Bryan liked Eric Weddle, Andrew liked Lardarius Webb, so we compromised, and went with Lardarius Weddle.

Obviously, this should have gone to Lardic Webble.

by Raiderfan :: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 11:13pm

An edge rusher for KC and you chose Bosa over Mack? SMH

by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 12:41am

No, we chose Osemele over Mack. We chose Bosa over whoever-the-heck else isn't on IR in San Diego.

by Jeff M. :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 2:29am

I think for some of those "draft a player from each divisional rival" there's one so obviously best player on his team that you grab him and worry about the fit later. If KC has a chance to add Von Miller, they add Von Miller. If PIT can get Joe Thomas, get Joe Thomas, etc. Then figure out how you reshuffle the guys you have to get them on the field.

For the Seahawks that works out pretty well as SF and ST-uhhhh-LA's clear best players are at positions of need. Matthieu to fill in for Thomas would be a boost, too, but I think from ARI they might have to go for David Johnson to bolster their banged-up (record # of ball-carriers, used, I think I heard) RB crew.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 2:44am

The Texans are pretty damn bad at garbage time. I don't even like them at +16 (and I speak as a Texans fan who thinks they're quite a bit better overall than DVOA suggests).

by SFC B :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 2:39pm

I don't know if there's a line great enough that would make me bet on the Texans to cover vs NE in Foxboro. I say this as a Houston Pro Football fan going back to Bum Philips's days. I have zero faith that they will put out an effort that even vaguely resembles competitive.

by RBroPF :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 3:33pm

I'd probably take them +35. You know, if the bet wasn't for a lot of money.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 01/16/2017 - 8:20am

Well, I can join you in wrongly anticipating an uncompetitive performance, but I do feel slightly smug that they failed to cover precisely because Osweiler got picked off in the red zone in garbage time...

by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 11:28am

I think I'd give the Packers Xavier Rhodes, off the Vikings roster.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 11:57am

Packers --
DET: Golden Tate
MIN: Xavier Rhodes
CHI: Howard

by bingo762 :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 2:49pm

I'm confused about the reader playoff fantasy results. I thought were only allowed to take 1 player from each team? How could teams be "fairly loaded with Giants"? How can a team have Rawls and Kearse?

by bingo762 :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 2:52pm

Nevermind. Just reread and realize this is different. Anywho, will the reader scores be posted?

by RBroPF :: Thu, 01/12/2017 - 3:30pm

For some reason, every comment I make needs to be verified with a Captcha (I guess I write very robotically). The visual Captcha never, ever works even when it's really clear what the letters are and I've entered them correctly. The audio Captcha works, but the audio is spoken by some guy with a very strong, really weird accent. Maybe I'm the only one with these issues, but man, it makes trying to comment pretty unappealing.