Scramble for the Ball: World Travelers
by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week your humble Skramblemänner would like to invite you to take a minute and join the rest of the world in somber mourning for the hopes of the Washington NFL franchise.
Alternatively, we could mock them. We could really, really mock them. Jay Gruden was my value pick to be fired last season, and this barely qualifies as outlasting that. I feel bad for Gruden, who appears to be a legitimately good coach -- if he didn't exactly prove himself as a good head coach, he at least wasn't the total disaster Washington's ownership and front-office situation merited. The rest of the Washington higher-ups though? Bruce Allen, so adept at finding scapegoats that it's only appropriate we be writing about him on Yom Kippur? Dan Snyder, who made his fortune in telemarketing and thus deserves every piece of scorn and derision we could pour on him? The Epithets franchise itself, by virtue of simply being the Washington Epithets? At least the Dolphins got themselves into their situation somewhat willingly.
Bryan: While about a quarter of the league, give or take, is already looking longingly at 2020, Washington always has a certain panache about their trips into utter disarray, don't they? I'm a little surprised that Gruden was only the second coach Snyder has fired midseason, considering his well-deserved reputation for having a quick trigger at the head coaching position. I don't know if Gruden is a legitimately good head coach or not; while he has been slammed with injuries over his tenure, he still produced only one playoff appearance in five and a half seasons, which is somewhat less than ideal. Still, he'll land on his feet as a creative offensive mind somewhere, while Washington's malaise continues. The Snyder reign isn't yet as bad as Washington's quarter-century of irrelevancy from World War II to the Disco Era, but I'll be darned if he isn't trying to top it. That run ended with owner George Marshall's death; Washington fans hope the ending to their current suffering will be slightly less macabre.
Andrew: The one downside to this, from our selfish perspective, is that it happened so early in the season. Sure, it's nice to have one of our preseason predictions confirmed already, but we would normally use the first firing as a prompt to talk about the other potential vacancies and worrisome situations. For the second year running, we haven't even made it to the halfway point before the first firing -- we have very little idea what other spots will be vacant in January, and we aren't going to blow a full article on the Dysfuncskins. Sadly, that topic will have to be left to simmer a little longer, while we delve into our freezer for a ready meal.
Bryan: Way back when we started our tenure as Scrambleistas, we tried to think up exciting alternatives for the Pro Bowl, considering briefly a U.S. versus The World matchup. That idea was somewhat stifled in its tracks by, well, a lack of solid players for The World team -- American football is, as the name suggests, still very much a colonial affair. But it has been three years since then -- three years of the NFL continuing to attempt to stretch its reach overseas. We now have a stadium in the UK built to NFL standards. We have a proposal on the books for a 17-game schedule where, presumably, a huge chunk of games would be exported to strange and exotic places like "Manchester." And we still have a Scramble columnist who lives somewhere I only know as "NotAmerica." So, perhaps it's time to dust that old chestnut off and see how the Rest of the World Select is doing?
Andrew: We start, as any would-be contender should, with the offense. Three years ago, we determined that the strength of the unit was the offensive line, backs, and tight ends, but the passing game -- Robert Griffin throwing to Chris Conley and Nelson Agholor -- was sorely lacking. Now, that latter position group has exploded. Not only do we get T.J. Jones (Winnipeg, Canada), who was a borderline contributor in 2016, we get Patriots first-round pick N'Keal Harry (Toronto, Canada), DaeSean Hamilton (Okinawa, Japan) of the Broncos, and highly touted Eagles rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (Utebo, Spain). All three were drafted in the past two years. We could even possibly get away with including Equanimeous St. Brown of the Packers, who was born in California but holds German dual nationality, but it's a very pleasant surprise to discover we no longer need to consider such borderline qualifiers. Also, given that Puerto Rico can compete in international sports separately from the rest of the United States, I consider Jaron Brown fair game. While the jury is still out on how much of an upgrade they will prove to be over Conley, Jones, and Agholor, we can at least make a formidable six-man roster now.
Bryan: Frankly, that's not a terrible group of skill position layers. Nelson Agholor would probably be the best receiver on a replacement level team -- let's call them the "Golfins," because a replacement-level team would be golfing in January and not playing football. The running back situation is fairly dire, with Jay Ajayi (London, England) still looking for a team and ex-rugby international player Christian Wade (Slough, England) on Buffalo's practice squad as he learns the game, but you can run with Agholor-Conley-Jones-Harry as a group in four-wideout sets. You can also replace Jones or Harry with a tight end, and run some classic 11 personnel stuff, assuming Ajayi will eventually find a home.
Andrew: For those 11 or 12 sets, the tight end spot is still OK, though we probably lost our best individual with the retirement of Ladarius Green. We still have Canadians Luke Willson and Antony Auclair, but it would be nice to have an established starter in there. The biggest issue here is still that the only possible quarterback is Robert Griffin (Okinawa, Japan).
Bryan: So, obviously, our team won't stand up to a full 16-game schedule; you've seen how many backups have been forced into action already this season. That being said, while RGIII would probably be the worst scheduled starter in the league, it wouldn't be by much -- and he'd be better than a lot of the actual quarterbacks who have started games so far this season. I don't think an NFL team would be happy with RGIII as their starter in 2019, but the Ravens seem quite content with him as a backup on their roster. Honestly, the skill positions could be significantly worse. I give a slight edge to our entirely theoretical Golfins, even though they may be starting a castoff former first-round pick from another franchise under center or something equally ludicrous, but I don't think this theoretical team would be very far behind.
Andrew: Give me my pick of NFL coaches, and I suspect we could make quite an effective offense out of that lot, especially when we look at the offensive line. Three years ago, the trenches were the strength of the team, on both offense and defense.
Bryan: If Agholor isn't the best player on the offense, that award probably goes to Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Canada). LDT, M.D. is a very solid player who can handle either guard or tackle for our international select, and maybe hold down a role in the training room as well. Mike Iupati (Vaitogi, American Samoa) counts as well -- American Samoa can field its own Olympic team, so it's good enough as an international unit for our purposes. That gives us two real, factual, NFL-quality starting guards.
Andrew: I think we'll need LDT, M.D. at tackle rather than guard, because our pickings at tackle have thinned with the retirement of Sebastian Vollmer and the unemployment of Menelik Watson and Austin Pasztor. Now, it's Duvernay-Tardif, Jordan Mailata (Bankstown, Australia; currently on injured reserve), or Steelers 2018 third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor (Nigeria).
Bryan: Don't forget Caleb Benenoch (Lagos, Nigeria), who was picked up by Carolina just in time for their trip abroad!
Andrew: Benenoch played guard for the Buccaneers all of last season, so I guess he's another tweener. We're going to need a good line coach to mold those five, including Vikings center Brett Jones (Weyburn, Canada), into a cohesive unit. We still have Patriots backup guards Hjalte Froholt (Svendborg, Denmark) and Jermaine Eluemunor (London, England) to add to the rotation, but we've lost a fair bit here over the past three years.
Bryan: Still, just like at Miami ... err ... the Golfin's starting offensive line. If an NFL team were crazy enough to, I don't know, trade away a first-round tackle just before the season started, they could easily be left with a less accomplished group than our international unit's. Benenoch is probably our weak link on the line, whether we start him outside or in, but all in all, I'd take this offensive line over the very worst in the NFL. And, because the skill position group was relatively close, I think we've got a better offense than one you might find in the Gateway of the Americas.
Andrew: The defensive line is where I really expect this team to shine. We've lost Tamba Hali from our 2016 select, and Domata Peko is not on a roster. In their stead, Margus Hunt (Karski-Nuia, Estonia) has emerged into a legitimate starter and Adam Gotsis (Melbourne, Australia) joins our interior line. Danielle Hunter (St. Catherine, Jamaica) wasn't a starter in 2016 but is now a legitimate stud at edge rusher; we still have Tyrone Crawford (Windsor, Canada) and no-relation Jack Crawford (London, England); Ziggy Ansah (Accra, Ghana) is still around albeit struggling with injuries; and we still have a bunch of rotational guys such as Emmanuel Ogbah (Lagos, Nigeria) and Brent Urban (Mississauga, Canada). This unit is even stronger than it was three years ago, when it was already the strongest and deepest of the lot.
Bryan: Don't forget David Onyemata (Lagos, Nigeria). This team can win in the trenches, and has a not-terrible pass rush to go along with it. We're not just better than our fictional Golfins here; quite a few actual NFL teams would like to have this kind of roster up front, even if Hunter's the closest thing we have to a superstar on the roster. If we stopped looking at everything right here, you'd have a ... well, honestly, a below-average defense, but a below-average NFL quality defense to brag about.
Sadly, it's probably a poor idea to have 11 edge rushers and interior linemen make up your defense, and that's where we're going to see some holes open up.
Andrew: Even linebacker is probably in a better place now than it was three years ago, though that should go in the FO glossary under "damning with faint praise." Jacksonville's Leon Jacobs (Enugu, Nigeria) is arguably the best of our off-ball linebackers. 49ers backup Mark Nzeocha (Neusitz, Germany) does have an interception of Jameis Winston to his credit (as do many, many other people), but beyond that we're dredging up the likes of Kasim Edebali (Hamburg, Germany) from the unsigned free agent pickings. Efe Obada (Nigeria) is technically a linebacker too, but he fits as more of an edge in our 4-2 base.
Bryan: Nzeocha is also a core special teamer, so he has his uses -- but yes, this is clearly a weak spot in the lineup. But hey, we have warm bodies to fill out all the roles in the front six. We have a bigger problem when it comes to the secondary.
Andrew: Buccaneers corner-turned-safety-turned-corner Ryan Smith (Augsburg, Germany) returned to the active roster from suspension this past weekend, which helps us out enormously here. When Ryan Smith's return from anything helps you out enormously, you know you are in dire trouble. Oh, the secondary lineup starts out just fine, with Patriots safety Patrick Chung (Kingston, Jamaica). After that, however ... ouch.
Bryan: Wikipedia lists precisely five active defensive backs born outside the U.S. … and one of them is Mike Jenkins (Neuenburg am Rhein, Germany), who hasn't played since 2015. Pierre Desir (Port-au-Prince, Haiti) isn't a bad third corner, but he has to be our top guy. Corey Ballentine (Montego Bay, Jamaica), has nine career defensive snaps; he has to start for us, alongside Smith. And heaven help us trying to find a second safety -- we might have to stick in the long-retired Jenkins and go four corners and one safety in a bizarre defensive snarl.
Andrew: Smith has experience playing safety in Tampa Bay. If you've ever watched Tampa Bay's safeties, you'll understand why we don't feel safe reliving that experience. Also, just as we got done writing this article, the Raiders activated former Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson (Kingston, Jamaica). He can walk straight into our team ahead of Ballantyne, meaning we at least have four players who have started a game as a pro.
Bryan: I suppose we could make like the 2017 Browns and never, ever flip out of base defense, Gregg Williams style. Heck, all we need for that is one deep safety. One deep, deep, deep safety.
Andrew: Honestly, I'm kinda surprised that we don't at least have a smattering of Canadians in some of these spots. Delvin Breaux held down a spot in New Orleans for a little while, and the last I knew he was still playing for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, so I guess we could maybe rope him back in. Is there some reason I'm missing why so few of those guys get into the NFL? There are more former AAF guys in the secondaries than CFL.
Bryan: Not going through the NCAA is a major problem for people trying to even get scouted, much less drafted, in the big leagues. U Sports Football is the top level of amateur football in Canada; they've had only 12 players drafted since 1976.
Andrew: Reason No. 493 for me to despise the NCAA. That's almost enough individual reasons for me to pitch a slideshow to the new owners of Sports Illustrated.
Bryan: It's not just that, though -- international football in general is kind of in disarray at the moment. There was supposed to be a World Cup this year, but that was cancelled -- pushed all the way to 2023 because of internal politics and schisms in the International Federation of American Football. The Eurobowl hasn't been won by a team outside of Germany since 2014; no non-German speaking country has even competed in the big game since 2009, when La Courneuve Flash fell to the borderline dynastic Swarco Raiders Tirol -- and the Big6 European Football League is down to just four teams, making it numerically questionable. Football outside of a few small pockets is kind of at a low-tide, worldwide.
Andrew: I guess we'll just have to content ourselves with a pioneering 5-2-4 defense, and hope our front five gets to the quarterback before our back six gets away from the receivers.
Bryan: Eh, it's not that crazy of an old-school 3-4 setup; just more than a tad out of place in the modern NFL. Still, beggars can't be choosers.
|All-World Starting Lineup|
|QB||Robert Griffin||BAL||Japan||EDGE||Danielle Hunter||MIN||Jamaica|
|RB||Jay Ajayi||FA||England||DL||Tyrone Crawford||DAL||Canada|
|WR||Nelson Agholor||PHI||Nigeria||DL||David Onyemata||NO||Nigeria|
|WR||Chris Conley||JAX||Turkey||DL||Adam Gotsis||DEN||Australia|
|WR||N'Keal Harry||NE||Canada||EDGE||Ziggy Ansah||SEA||Ghana|
|TE||Luke Willson||SEA||Canada||LB||Leon Jacobs||JAX||Nigeria|
|LT||Laurent Duvernay-Tardif||KC||Canada||LB||Mark Nzeocha||SF||Germany|
|LG||Mike Iupati||SEA||American Samoa||CB||Pierre Desir||IND||Haiti|
|C||Brett Jones||MIN||Canada||CB||Nevin Lawson||OAK||Jamaica|
|RG||Caleb Benenoch||CAR||Nigeria||S||Patrick Chung||NE||Jamaica|
|RT||Chukwuma Okorafor||PIT||Nigeria||S||Ryan Smith||TB||Germany|
Could be Worse
Bryan: For all the problems in the secondary, there are some decent players on this roster. A lack of depth, for sure, but the starting lineup isn't as embarrassing as it could be, and it's a marked improvement over three years ago. In a normal year, no, I don't think they'd end up being all that competitive, but 2019 isn't normal. I think they'd be, oh, 32nd out of 33 teams, if they were to join the NFL as new franchise. That's better than last time, where they probably could have been taken by a few of the top college programs. Baby steps!
Andrew: That's really the question I was interested in, when we discussed this article idea. How does this situation compare to the last time we looked, and is there an identifiable trend? A generation in the NFL is generally considered around four years. In roughly that time, we've seen a huge improvement at receiver and defensive line, and I think a lot more backup talent coming in through the international development programs. Practice squad spots are more often going to guys such as Christian Wade and Efe Obada, and sometimes it's paying off. We also didn't look at kicker and punter, where a genuinely huge number of foreign-born players are now plying their trade. There, at least, we'd be spoiled for choice.
Bryan: Let's say the NFL does get their hallowed 17th game, and has a full 16 games in Europe -- probably all in the UK, but maybe one or two in Germany or something similar. Do you think that would speed up the movement? That perhaps, in a decade's time, we'll be able to trot out a full roster or two of non-American footballers, possibly even dropping Canada off the list? Or is it going to continue to be something of a novelty -- mostly either children of American parents, or people immigrating to the US at a very young age, who end up filling the international ranks?
Andrew: Based on what I've seen here, my guess would be that even a decade is still too soon for a full roster of competitive-caliber players. Maybe 53 players coming from the backup ranks and practice squads, but the starting lineup would still be one of the worst four or five. The biggest problem spot is always likely to be quarterback, unless some Canadian emerges as a generational talent. I doubt even expanding to 16 games in Europe, the way that has been under discussion, would make that much of a dent. What might make a difference is placing a franchise here. That is a prospect fraught with issues, but it would at least mean a greater investment both ways -- from the franchise into the local game, and from the locals in the franchise.
Bryan: I do wonder if we might see some more crossovers from other football codes, like Christian Wade coming from rugby to the NFL. We've seen some people try it in recent years, but outside of Nate Ebner, it hasn't really become A Thing yet. Ah well.
Well, we'll keep our eyes peeled for the next Mark Rypien to lead our team of internationals, and you can keep your eyes peeled for the next Raiders player to feature in our weekly awards.
Keep Choppin' Wood
The Oakland Raiders have been far from the worst team in the NFL this season, but they continue to rack up appearances in this specific spot for reasons that go beyond mere marine mammalian awfulness. Two events from this weekend's London victory over the Bears stand out. First, they gave us arguably the worst pitch play in NFL history:
The comedy of this Derek Carr terrible toss, leading to Khalil Mack getting a gift from his former team.
— Oddschecker US (@OddscheckerUS) 6 octobre 2019
However, the real winner completes their headcase signing trifecta: Richie Incognito picked up the most predictable personal foul of the weekend with this piece of idiocy on the opening drive:
Richie Incognito was flagged for slamming a Bears players head into the ground. What are your thoughts on the Raiders? pic.twitter.com/zP7HrNU0Vd
— Belly Up Football (@BellyUpFootball) 6 octobre 2019
The 15-yard penalty made a potential 39-yard field goal into a 54-yarder, which meant the Raiders chose to punt instead. Incognito's return to the league remains a mystery to us, and it would be no surprise to see him in this spot again before the end of the season.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
We thought Kickin' Kliff Kingsbury had seen the error of his ways early against the Bengals, when his Cardinals went for it on fourth-and-2 inside the Cincinnati 10 and Kyler Murray scrambled for a 6-yard touchdown. Sadly, he reverted to type for the rest of the game: Zane Gonzalez kicked three field goals of 25 yards or shorter, all with five yards or less to gain. Not to be outdone, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor also had Randy Bullock kick two field goals from the Cardinals 5-yard line, one of which came down 13-6 in the second half. A game between two bad teams became an orgy of short field goals, so it was only fitting that the final two plays were a 2-yard dive and a 31-yard game-winner on second-and-8. I guess one of them had to win it.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
Colts head coach Frank Reich gave us a vivid demonstration of his strategic understanding in the fourth quarter, with the Colts leading 13-10. Twice on that drive, the Colts faced fourth-and-1 in long field goal range, twice they went for the first down instead of being tempted to kick, and twice they converted. Though the drive ultimately ended in a field goal anyway, it was a much higher-percentage kick thanks to the longer drive, and the Colts drained a heap of extra time off the clock, helping to deny the Chiefs the extra possessions they needed to mount a comeback. Many, many coaches in that spot would have been tempted by the 45-yard field goal; credit to Reich for understanding that going for it had a far greater positive effect on his team's chances.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
A field goal attempt is supposed to be the safe play -- the conservative play call that salvages some points after a drive sputters out and fails. The calculus changes somewhat when your kicker can't hit the broad side of a barn -- or, at least, it should. Instead, get someone who trusts you like Mike Vrabel trusts Cairo Santos. The first half saw Santos miss a 50-yarder -- tough luck, but it happens sometimes -- as well as honking a 36-yarder wide by, and this is a conservative estimate, 973 miles. After the game, Santos would say that "nothing felt right after the first one." Was that information relayed to Vrabel? Because if it was, it makes Vrabel's second-half decisions even harder to parse than they already were. Santos' first attempt in the fourth quarter, a chip shot to take the lead, was blocked. And yet, Vrabel still had Santos trot out there for a 53-yard field goal, losing by seven, on a fourth-and-4 with less than seven minutes left in the game. It's a questionable play call with a dialed-in kicker; it's a downright inexplicable one with a kicker who can't find the uprights on a map. Mike, you have an offense. Use it.
'Once You Pop' Fantasy Player of the Week
You had to be a pretty hardcore Chiefs fan to have paid much attention to Byron Pringle before Sunday night. Yes, he had a nice preseason as a speedy UDFA deep threat two years ago, but was ultimately stashed on IR. And yes, he had a nice preseason again this year, but was released to make room for the return of De'Anthony Thomas. The Chiefs have enough playmakers to make a prospect like Pringle expendable -- theoretically. But with Tyreek Hill still hurt and Sammy Watkins going down early against the Colts, Kansas City was forced to pop Pringle into their three-wide sets, and Pringle responded beautifully. He caught six of his nine targets for 103 yards, with a touchdown on one of Patrick Mahomes' patented scramble drill plays. His night would have been perfect if he had picked up one extra yard on third-and-27 rather than cutting back to the outside, but all in all, Pringle had quite the breakout game.
— D Brown (@DBrownFF88) October 7, 2019
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
There weren't a lot of garbage-time fantasy studs in Week 5, honestly. There were only two touchdowns scored on Sunday by a team trailing by at least three scores. One went to Michael Gallup, but the Cowboys fired back enough to make a game of it late, so we hesitate calling that "garbage time," strictly speaking. Instead, we'll turn to Vyncint Smith, who took his first career carry 19 yards into the end zone for the first Jets' offensive touchdown since Week 1. Sorry, Le'Veon Bell owners.
— Justin Allen (@justinallen_13) October 6, 2019
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week
We skipped over the Browns in this spot in Week 1, when their 30-point home defeat against the Titans was slightly overshadowed by Miami's annihilation against the Ravens. On Monday night, Cleveland suffered their second four-touchdown defeat in their opening five games, a deeply worrying figure for a team that was riding a wave of offseason hype until the meaningful games started. Almost nothing went right against the 49ers: Baker Mayfield's 17-game touchdown streak ended and he threw four interceptions; Odell Beckham lost a fumble on a fourth-quarter punt return (Why was ODELL BECKHAM handing a fourth-quarter punt return down by four scores, the reader may ask? We got nothin'.); and the defense allowed 275 rushing yards, including an 83-yard touchdown on the opening play. Still, at least the Browns Established the Run: they picked up over 100 yards on the ground for the third time in five games. (Never mind that two of those games were the aforementioned four-score blowout defeats. No, don't you mind that one tiny bit.) The real comfort, of course, is that the general collapse of the remainder of the AFC North means the Browns are still only one game out of the division lead, and already have the tiebreaker over the current leaders. The back half of their schedule softens up considerably, so Cleveland still has a chance to put a playoff run together ... assuming they don't continue playing like they did against the Titans and 49ers.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
The single most game-changing play of the week was Greg Zuerlein missing the game-winning field goal at the end of Thursday Night Football. In his career, Zuerlein is 24-of-28 from 42 to 46 yards out, so decently above league average. The winner of this game was going to slide into the NFC's fifth seed, just a half-game back of the 49ers in the NFC West, so the miss was brutal -- especially in a conference where a 10-win team might well be staying home come January. It was a must-make kick that could come back to haunt Los Angeles.
Greg Zuerlein misses 44 yard field goal and turns it over to Seahawks with 11 seconds left
Rams: 10 plays, 67 yards, 1:27 seconds to win the game#TNFonESPN #ThursdayNightFootball #TNFonPrime #TNF #TNFonFOX #NFL #NFL100 #GoHawks #LARams @RamsNFL #LARvsSEA #Seahawks @Seahawks pic.twitter.com/HAFh3V8DxV
— Hunter W (@HW_Report46) October 4, 2019
But before you get too mad at Greg the Leg, let's go back a play, with the Rams facing third-and-10 from the 30. It was a stopped clock after an incompletion, with 20 seconds remaining. And yet, even with the full play clock to work with, the Rams couldn't get the snap off in time. Trouble getting the play in? Difficulty being heard over the roar of the CenturyLink crowd? Losing track of the play clock? Whatever it is, it was a mistake that a team with Super Bowl aspirations can not make. It didn't lose the game singlehandedly, but considering Zuerlein's kick only barely missed the uprights, 5 additional yards could have been the difference between winning and losing this one.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date:
Bryan: My picks this year have been, how do you say, hot garbage. I'm floundering around .500 because a lot of my initial predictions on who would be good or bad have been roughly pulled out of alignment throughout September. No use crying over spilt milk, I suppose, but ugh. One thing that should help me get back on my feet is taking Kansas City (-4.5) against the Texans. Only 4.5 points? That shot all the way down from 8.5 since the beginning of the week, in response to the Chiefs' poor outing against the Colts and concerns about Kansas City injuries. This seems like a massive overreaction from a team that was on pace to shatter every offensive record in the books over the first few weeks of the season. Kansas City may be getting Tyreek Hill back, and Patrick Mahomes should still play and presumably be in a bit better health than he was against Indy, assuming no one steps on his ankle again. I like the Texans, I do; the Chiefs are on a different level.
Andrew: The sheer number of Chiefs players who will probably miss that game makes it a tempting pick in the other direction, but I'm returning to a slightly different well. The Philadelphia Eagles already picked up a big win for me as road underdogs against a team from the NFC North; I like them to repeat that feat this weekend. Doug Pederson's Eagles have two big wins against Mike Zimmer's Vikings, versus one very narrow defeat. Carson Wentz consistently outperforms Kirk Cousins, and the Eagles are much more confident in their own identity than the Vikings. A Minnesota win is likely to be very tight indeed; if the margin is more than three points, I expect it to be in Philadelphia's favor. Philadelphia (+3) at Minnesota.
Double Survival League
Bryan: In a classic head-to-head matchup, Andrew's winless Cardinals managed to overcome my winless Bengals on a last-second field goal. It was close, it was a toss-up -- and it's a big win for Andrew, as Cardinals wins are likely to be somewhat hard to find this season. Maybe not as hard to find as Bengals wins, but still.
Andrew: The Bengals, at least, play Miami later in the year. I don't trust them to win that game, but they have better odds for that right now than Arizona does against most of their remaining schedule. That schedule begins this weekend with them hosting the Falcons. The Cardinals might well be Atlanta's easiest remaining opponent, so this week I'm picking against the team that just threw me a valuable bone last week -- Atlanta to win this time in another game that defense forgot.
Bryan: Since you picked up an Arizona win last week, I'm going to have to try to match you by taking them this week at home against Atlanta. Yes, they're technically underdogs, but I think that's mostly on reputation -- Atlanta is floundering at the moment, and while Arizona has improved, week to week, Atlanta has gone screaming in the other direction as fast as possible. I suppose I could save the Cardinals for their AFC North run towards the end of the season, hosting Pittsburgh and Cleveland, but Atlanta is floundering now; who knows how those northern teams will look in December? I'll also take Washington over Miami. I have no faith in the culture in Washington; I think they're starting the wrong quarterback; I think they fired their coach too early; I think the team is a walking disaster. I still think they should be able to handle the Dolphins with minimal problems.
Andrew: My second pick is also Washington over Miami. I have no idea how this former Gruden squad will look under Bill Callahan -- probably not as good as the last one, but it should be good enough to beat the exceedingly talent-starved Dolphins.