Scramble for the Ball: Time to Stop and Reflect

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week finds us in our usual spot of thinking, "wow, Week 9 already?" only with added emphasis in this thermonuclear implosion of a year (not a prediction, though given our prediction record you might wish it was). Somehow, we've made it to Week 9 without absolute catastrophe. Slap-bang in the middle of the season, that can only mean one thing here at Scramble HQ.

Bryan: A long, drawn-out argument about which week constitutes the "middle of the season," due to the 17-week schedule and the continued refusal of the Powers That Be to halt Week 9 after the early games so we can write an article?

Andrew: Every single year, one of us (me) says, "I really would prefer to do that a week later." Every single year, we end up doing it ahead of Week 9. Just in case you wondered where the power really resides among your favorite (only) current Scramblers.

Bryan: The benefit of going early, of course, is that we skip ahead of everyone else's midseason awards, rather than holding up the rear. And just in case we were extra busy during the first week of November or something, it provides a nice opportunity to take a deep breath and look back at the year that's been so far.

Thus, the 46.5%-Season Awards are born.

Andrew: At the time of writing, it's early evening EST on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. What could you POSSIBLY be busy with?

Bryan: Look, if I don't save the last frame rule in World 8-2 of Super Mario Bros, someone else will, and then where will we be? Important things come first, Andrew.

Andrew: Oh, I get it, we're apparently only speaking of votes that matter. In that case, let's cast our ballots for the Scramble Midseason MVP (and other awards TBD).


Andrew: Are we doing this bit straight up, or can I cast my midseason MVP vote for Dak Prescott?

Bryan: I mean, there's no reason why you can't make your case, at the very least. The classic "look at the smoldering wreckage" argument.

Andrew: I don't need to "make a case." The last three weeks of Cowboys football are all the evidence anybody should ever need. Part of the case for Russell Wilson is what he's achieving despite the Seahawks defense. Dak Prescott kept the 2020 Cowboys competitive.

Bryan: That's an argument for Dak Prescott's agent, and one I'm sure many teams will be very interested in hearing, if the Cowboys don't slap him with the franchise tag a second time. Once again, I remind you of my thesis that the Eagles and Cowboys believe they have the other team's quarterback situation, and if the Cowboys' reluctance to make room to sign Dak leads to him joining another team -- say, a red-and-gold-garbed team out west, just to spitball -- well, they've made their own bed there.

I would vote for Prescott to the Pro Bowl if we were voting today -- they're not actually playing, so he could make it, ankle or no ankle. That's something, at least!

But I feel this award is coming down to Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, with maybe a few "wow, how is he still doing that?" cases for Tom Brady. I still can't believe Wilson has never received an MVP vote, much less the award itself. With the Seahawks deciding to let their fantastic quarterback actually be the focal point of the offense, Wilson's on pace for career highs in ... well, basically everything.

Andrew: You honestly think people are that Mahomes-fatigued already? He leads all quarterbacks by 200 DYAR, is ahead in DVOA, ANY/A, and QBR, and trails only Wilson in touchdowns and only Matt Ryan in total yards.

Bryan: "Fatigued" might be the wrong word, but if you've just won the award recently, I feel that the bar is a little higher for you -- NFL voters are notoriously fickle and like spreading these sorts of things around. I will also point out that some of his statistical lead is because he just got to play the Jets; a 416-yard, five-touchdown day will boost all your numbers up quite dramatically. That game alone accounted for 203 passing DYAR at the moment -- which should drop as opponent adjustments continue to rise -- and I think voters do realize that playing against the Jets is playing against a JV team. That's not to say Mahomes hasn't been terrific, mind you; I just think that his lead in all these categories comes because of the specific week we chose to do this. His DYAR lead was only 70 last week -- which, I mean, hey, a lead is a lead, but the scale thereof is Jets-enhanced.

Wait, is that what Adam Gase meant by sending offenses into hyperdrive? Well, I'll be.

Andrew: That could be interesting to revisit at the end of the season. I lean toward Wilson as the actual winner at this point, in part because the "never even received a vote" narrative is so strong. It's not a sympathy vote -- Wilson is playing superbly -- but I'm confident that those narratives play into the thinking of voters.

Bryan: Plus, the Seahawks lead the NFC West, which is considered one of the two toughest divisions (along with the AFC North) in the league. Wilson leading the Seahawks atop that nightmare is probably worth more in the minds of voters than Mahomes topping the Raiders or Rodgers getting past the Bears.

Andrew: Brady is an interesting name, because even with these receivers the Buccaneers were a mediocrity last season. This year, the receivers have been mostly banged up, but Brady is still second in DYAR and on track for 4,200 yards and 40 touchdowns. At age 33, that would be excellent. At age 43, it's unbelievable.

Bryan: I do think the quality of his receivers might count against him somewhat, as will the senior moment of forgetting which down it was on a nationally televised game. Still, though, we're all waiting for age to finally take Brady quietly into that good night. Maybe 2021!

Andrew: I do agree that Russell Wilson is the leader at this point in the season. It's remarkable that Patrick Mahomes is the only AFC quarterback even in the conversation here.

Bryan: Lamar Jackson isn't having the same kind of year he did in 2019. DeShaun Watson's Texans are terrible. Josh Allen hasn't turned back into a pumpkin, per se, but he's a little more gourdy than he looked in September. Ryan Tannehill will be forever overshadowed by Derrick Henry -- he's a big man, after all. No, I think the NFC has the monopoly on candidates, and rightfully so.


Andrew: We often begin this conversation with a wry observation that Bill Belichick is apparently ineligible for this award. This year, that is ... not an issue.

Bryan: I am surprised at just how poorly Belichick's Patriots are doing, though I'll wait for a non-crazy year to do any sort of readjusting on the Brady-to-Belichick Successometer. But yeah, Belichick ain't no contender this year. He has already made statements which kind of indicate he's sort of giving up on the season -- a little too early for that sort of sentiment, perhaps, but, well, you see his team.

This award, at the moment, comes down to "can you make an argument for someone other than undefeated Mike Tomlin?" Because having a zero in the loss column is a pretty compelling story!

Andrew: Tomlin also looks very, very good right now as a result of events outside the Steelers -- namely, the career progression of Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. People are beginning to wonder how good a man-manager he must be if he kept those two mostly settled in Pittsburgh. Also, that Steelers defense is nasty, and very much not a one-season wonder.

Bryan: I really thought the Steelers were being overrated by our preseason projections, and I was exceptionally wrong. I thought the defense would come back to the pack and, well, no. I thought that Ben Roethsliberger would show signs of age and while that's not entirely wrong, it hasn't been a significant issue. Tomlin gets credit for a lot, and those man-management skills really do matter in a strange, strange year -- the more chaos, the more a coach needs to work to keep everyone on the same page. Tomlin has done that, and that's worth kudos.

Andrew: I guess the other question is, "who are the other candidates?" Sean McDermott is one -- Josh Allen isn't lighting things up right now like he was in September, but the Bills are still frontrunners to win the AFC East for the first time in forever. Another AFC East coach is a candidate, too: most of us thought the Dolphins were some distance from playoff contention, but Flores too has rapidly built a very good defense. What sinks his case may well be the quarterback switch: if Tua Tagovailoa works out, he looks like a genius. If not, he looks very unwise.

Bryan: Bruce Arians has led a significant turnaround in Tampa Bay, though I think more credit is going to go to Brady than Arians for that one. Andy Reid's Chiefs are always right in the mix, but I don't see anyone voting for last year's Super Bowl-winning coach. Voters want comeback stories, and the Chiefs aren't coming back from anything.

Here's a crazy one for you -- any love for Ron Rivera, if the Washington Football Team ends up winning the NFC East? I think he mostly gets credit for the kinds of things he has done off the field as opposed to Washington's on-field product, which remains less than exciting. But Rivera has done a lot to lead his team through a tumultuous offseason. My respect for him as a person and coach has only grown this year, even though I'd prefer not to have to watch his players.

Andrew: Things he's done off the field include such trivialities as surviving cancer and helping persuade an owner to rebrand a near 90-year-old franchise from its racial epithet nickname to, hopefully, something actually palatable. He'd get my vote, but it would be a vote for a different award rather than Coach of the Year.

Bryan: If Washington gets to 9-7 and saves us from having a losing team win the NFC East, I think he gets some credit -- but no, I think we're just stretching for reasons not to agree it's Mike Tomlin, because it's clearly Mike Tomlin at the moment.


Andrew: Three weeks ago, I would have said this was Brian Daboll without a doubt. Is that still the case? We've seen Todd Bowles' Buccaneers defense stamp their authority on the NFC, leading the league in DVOA. Pittsburgh's defense, I believe, is mainly seen as Tomlin's domain rather than Keith Butler's. Matt Eberflus? My memory of his Colts defense is Gardner Minshew going 19-of-20 against it on opening day, but it's somehow recovered to rank No. 3 in DVOA.

Bryan: Two-years-ago Bryan can't believe I'm saying this, but ... what about Brian Schottenheimer? We make this game so complicated sometimes; turning over more of the game plan to his All-World quarterback shouldn't be cause for celebration, but I mean ... the results do kind of speak for themselves.

Andrew: I guess, like with Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin, I question how much of that decision is actually Brian Schottenheimer versus those above him. Besides, if we're talking offense, aren't we really talking Eric Bieniemy? Oh, and Arthur Smith in Tennessee deserves a mention, too. Ryan Tannehill -- Ryan Tannehill! -- is playing like a fringe MVP candidate.

Bryan: That's always the problem with assistant coaches, yeah? It can be hard to figure out just whose fingerprints are on which results. How much of the Chiefs' offense is Andy Reid's longtime success, and how much is Bieniemy? At least Schottenhemier can point to the fact that Pete Carroll is a defensive guy first and foremost.

Andrew: That's true, and it's also part of the justification for Bowles: Bruce Arians is an offense-focused coach, and Bowles has turned a putrid Buccaneers unit into arguably the best in the league in just a season and a half. He has done so with a lot of young defensive backs, a star edge rusher who was a part-time player in Denver, and only the ever-excellent Lavonte David as a premium player from the previous staff.

Bryan: I can get behind that. Last year's draft class -- most notably Jamel Dean, but also Anthony Nelson, Devin White, and Sean Murphy-Bunting -- are rounding into form, and you have to give Bowles a lot of credit for that. Sure, put me down for a vote on Todd Bowles, who probably deserves another head-coaching shot somewhere after his Jets tenure went, well, Jetsian.


Andrew: I'd like to remind the general public that our criteria for this award is "not a quarterback," so that we aren't just duplicating the MVP conversation. In reality, a quarterback will win this too. This is 2020 though, and reality sucks, so we're doing this our way.

Bryan: Alvin Kamara leads the league in yards from scrimmage, so he's probably the default option. His challengers would include Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, and then a small flotilla of receivers, possibly led by DeAndre Hopkins (Sorry, Rivers).

Andrew: This is the award most blighted by the injury blitz this year. No Christian McCaffrey. No Michael Thomas. No Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott, though in Elliott's case that isn't because he got injured. We're also out George Kittle as a more off-the-wall option, as the top pass-catcher on a good offense with absolutely no wide receivers.

Bryan: If there was an award for most fun player in the NFL, Kittle would be high atop the running there, but even my strong 49ers bias couldn't make an argument for him for OPOY. We'll see you in 2021, George.

Andrew: So let's break those down by position first, shall we? Would you really take DeAndre Hopkins for this award over DK Metcalf right now? Metcalf has 24 fewer yards, but more than twice as many touchdowns and an absurd number of highlights.

Bryan: Metcalf has the better game, too; destroying the 49ers last week -- but then again, Hopkins destroyed the 49ers in Week 1, so maybe that's a wash. Hopkins has four 100-yard receiving days to Metcalf's three, but that's an arbitrary cut-off based on the number of fingers we have -- move that to 90-yard days and it's six-four in favor of Metcalf.

Andrew: There's also dark horse Stefon Diggs, who has been a major reason for the aforementioned improvement from Josh Allen.

Bryan: In September, I would have gone for Diggs, but he has cooled off just a tad along with the rest of the Bills' offense. As it stands today, I do think I'd prefer Metcalf of the trio, though I don't think you could really go wrong with any of them.

Andrew: Alright, so that's receivers. (Yes, we skipped over current DYAR/DVOA-leader Justin Jefferson. I promise, we'll get to him later.)

Bryan: Running backs, then. You're the Saints fan -- is that enough of a bias for us to promote Kamara to the top of the line? Or is Dalvin Cook's demolition of Green Bay, or Henry's demolition of defenders everywhere, worthy of taking that crown?

Andrew: Here's the thing with Kamara: he's the default pass-catching option on an offense that's currently down three of its top four wide receivers. I love him as a player, honestly, but a huge amount of his volume is just that: volume. He has been targeted almost 40% more than any other running back, because many observers suspect his quarterback's arm is all but done. This isn't quite the Kamara of two years ago, when he was smashing records.

Bryan: Drew Brees averages 5.8 air yards per pass, which is somehow, someway lower than Jimmy Garoppolo's All-Screen Pass Jamboree. I know, I didn't believe it either.

Andrew: Cook, to me, is more interesting as both the rushing DYAR and DVOA leader among running backs despite playing behind Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offensive line. I can't fathom how that's even possible. Sure, playing the Packers helps, but the man's at 10 touchdowns. They didn't all come on Sunday.

Bryan: And he only had 50 yards rushing against the Packers the first time out -- it was a 181-yard day against Tennessee and a 130-yard day against Houston that had him riding high, even before he ground the Packers into a fine paste this week.

That all being said, is there any NFL player you would less want to stand in front of than Derrick Henry with a full head of steam? I think I would disintegrate if I even thought about it too hard.

Andrew: Henry's a perfect fit for Tennessee, and Tennessee is a perfect fit for Henry, but he's not quite OPOY for me. Too much of the Titans' improvement came from the switch to Tannehill, rather than Henry who was already in situ. Maybe I'm just bitter about what he does to the Jaguars on a seemingly annual basis.

Do we have a clear frontrunner among the backs? I think I lean Cook, but I wouldn't object strongly to Kamara.

Bryan: No, I'll go with your lean -- and then I'd lean all the way over and pick him for the whole shebang. Let Dalvin Cook.


Bryan: The top defenses this year are Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, so it kind of feels like we should take someone from one of those two teams. The Steelers have kind of a clear leader in the clubhouse in T.J. Watt; the Buccaneers are more spread out over multiple guys, which hurts them all for this award.

Andrew: I do think the Buccaneers have a better chance at the defensive rookie of the year -- no spoilers there! -- than overall defensive player. The Colts have been greatly improved with the addition of DeForest Buckner -- oh, how the 49ers could use him -- but he doesn't have the headline stats that this award demands.

Bryan: Or we could just go Aaron Donald, as always -- he's leading the league in sacks, and he's doing it as an interior lineman. Just Aaron Donald things, as always.

Other sack leaders -- and thus high-profile candidates -- include Myles Garrett and Khalil Mack. Both their teams do have winning records, though they feel more fraudulent than Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh, and less All-Worldy than Donald.

Andrew: Garrett is tied with Donald for the league lead with 9.0 sacks, on pace for 16, and to me that gives him the edge over T.J. Watt here. Among the leaders in tackles, Bobby Wagner is probably the major candidate as an off-ball linebacker, but people will justifiably point to how bad the defense around him is. There's no stud cornerback making a case for himself the way Stephon Gilmore did last year. I think we're stuck on Garrett and Donald, and of those two I'd still probably lean Donald. I do wonder right now whether voters are getting a little fed up of Donald.

Bryan: I still lean Watt -- Pittsburgh's defense has been so dominant, and I think the voters will want to reward someone from that unit, and Watt is a nice lightning rod for that sort of praise. We'll have to agree to split the vote here.

Andrew: No, your reasoning is solid enough, I'll defer to your judgement. We'll award T.J. Watt at the halfway point, and see what the rest of the season brings.


Andrew: This is Justin Jefferson, right? He leads all receivers in DYAR and DVOA. He leads all rookies in receiving yards, 49 ahead of CeeDee Lamb. He's already considered Minnesota's No. 1 receiver ahead of Adam Thielen.

Bryan: Jefferson is certainly the non-quarterback option, and by a wide margin. The question is whether Jefferson's tremendous success overcomes the quarterback bias, with both Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert off to solid starts -- Herbert with the better DYAR and DVOA; Burrow doing it with less talent around him.

Andrew: Burrow's doing well and seems to be improving week by week. Herbert's delayed start still counts against him a little, but he has also impressed quickly. I do think he's harmed by the team blowing leads, especially most recently against the Broncos. Meet the new quarterback, just as cursed as the old quarterback.

Bryan: But not as cursed as the transitional quarterback. Poor Tyrod Taylor.

It takes an extraordinary season for a non-quarterback, non-running back to draw enough attention from the headline players to win an award like this, but I really do think Jefferson is pulling it off, at least so far. It's the best rookie receiving season since, what, Odell Beckham in 2014?

Andrew: Michael Thomas in 2017 was roughly as good as Beckham in 2014, but yes, Jefferson is in touching distance of the rookie trinity -- currently Beckham, Thomas, and another Vikings receiver in Randy Moss.

Bryan: I think he'll come back a little to earth, rather than hitting those sort of numbers, and improved second-half performance from either of the quarterbacks could still steal this one, but for now, I don't see how we can pick anyone else.

Andrew: Jefferson is boom and bust -- three 100-yard games, three sub-30-yard games, but the booms have outweighed the busts sufficiently that I'm comfortable making him the pick. So that's Justin Jefferson for one rookie spot, and ...


Bryan: The default option is "highest drafted defender," as long as they're having a semi-competent season. Does Chase Young's year qualify? He had a couple sacks in his first two games but has been quieter on the stat sheet since then. That's not to say he hasn't been playing well; far from it. But he hasn't had the kind of instant impact that last year's winner, Nick Bosa, had.

Andrew: Young is helped by the fact that neither Jeff Okudah, Isaiah Simmons, nor even Derrick Brown have made a big impact yet. CJ Henderson was great in Week 1, but the Jaguars defense is now the worst in the league. I think the current leader is probably Antoine Winfield, who is leading the No. 1 defense in snaps at defensive back. There's also a case for Patrick Queen, who went No. 28 overall to the Ravens. This hasn't been a vintage year for highly drafted defenders.

Bryan: Queen's coverage numbers are terrible (67.7% completion rate allowed, 6.0 yards per target), but there's not really anyone who has taken this one yet. I think I'd still lean Young by default, but maybe the seat is just ... open, waiting for someone to have a great second-half to take it. Of all these awards, this probably is the easiest for someone to come out of nowhere to grab.

Andrew: I liked Young's initial impact, and he's still making an impression on the field if not so much on the box score, but Winfield's having the bigger impact on an actual winning team. No, he doesn't have the big stats -- just one interception and one forced fumble -- but this is a franchise that has been a punching bag for its safety play for most of the past decade. He has come in, started straight away in a difficult year for rookies, and played 98.7% of the snaps for the best defense in the league. That swings me his way over Young.

Bryan: Alright, you've made your case. It's not a lock or anything, but we'll lean towards Winfield for now, and hope that someone can make a big impact down the stretch and give us a clear winner.


Andrew: Time and word count is getting on a bit, so let's hit these last few quickly. We already mentioned in preseason that any action at all for Alex Smith would get him this award. What about any action at all for Aldon Smith, who had been out of the league since 2015?

Bryan: I have a hard time voting for Smith ... wait, no, that's confusing. I'd have a hard time voting for A. Smith … uh, the ex-49er Smith...

... no, I'm not a big fan of Aldon here at the moment; I feel, fairly or not, that I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. CPOY is a feel-good award, and while I very, very much hope that Aldon has turned his life around from where it was a few years ago -- as recently in 2018, he was dealing with assault and domestic violence issues -- I'm still a little nervous there. I'd look towards Jason Verrett maybe, if I didn't want to just go for Alex Smith.

I do just want to go for Alex Smith, mind you; just saying.

Andrew: It's -- and I say this very, very thankfully -- not often you get the chance to give an award to somebody who almost lost a limb, and could have died from complications of an on-field injury, yet managed to return to take actual live snaps. He's a much-beloved teammate, and somebody who's easy to root for as a fan -- certainly easier than the other Smith -- so again, I defer to my wiser counterpart. Alex Smith for comeback player of the year. Just ... feel free to play it safe with the rest of the comeback season.


Andrew: Do you have a favorite game so far? Mine might have been this past weekend, Ravens-Steelers. It was everything you'd want from the AFC North, but a little less brutal than the usual fare. There was also a wild Falcons-Cowboys game featuring (what else?) an incredible comeback against Atlanta, and a Seahawks-Patriots classic from Week 2 featuring a last-gasp goal-line stand. Texans-Titans from Week 6 was also a barnburner at the end.

Bryan: I think I have to go Seahawks-Cardinals, which was chock filled with twists and turns down the stretch -- two offenses neither team could stop, followed by a rare four-drive overtime; the Cardinals never leading for the first 69:40 of the game but pulling out a win in the end, all on national television. I like offense, and I don't think any game this year has had more offense from both sides than that one, though Texans-Titans has to be close.

Worst game was Eagles-Cowboys from last Sunday Night, in case you're keeping track at home, though the Steelers dismantling the Browns was boring in a "non-competitive stomp" sort of way.


Andrew: Play of the year is so difficult to remember without a specific list of highlights, but I'm going for Derrick Henry's blockbuster of a touchdown in the previously mentioned Texans-Titans game.

Bryan: Yeah, Henry would be my first choice, but DK Metcalf running down Budda Baker is a close second. Men that big should not be able to run that fast, but I suppose that's why we watch.

Andrew: We'll see how those stack up at the end of the season, but that's a good snapshot of where we stand at the almost-halfway point. Now, to the awards that really matter...

Weekly Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood

We've noted before in this spot the absolute stupidity, for a person whose livelihood depends on his hands, of punching a helmeted opponent in the head:

That was Bears backup receiver Javon Wims assaulting Saints defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson during Sunday's overtime defeat. We understand that this was an ongoing feud between the two, triggered by Gardner-Johnson ripping Wims' mouthpiece off his helmet earlier in the game. (Twitter user Evan Saacks' minute-by-minute breakdown of the entire affair is must-see stuff.) Even so, Wims' actions were damaging both to his team -- a 15-yard penalty on offense in the third quarter of a game that finished tied in regulation -- and himself, as he now faces a two-game suspension without pay and must survive calls from the Bears' own fans for the team to cut him. The fight was idiotic regardless of his roster status, but backup receivers simply can't afford to do this sort of thing.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game

Whether it was a consequence of the windy conditions, the injury that had kept kicker Mason Crosby out of practice during the week, or a combination of the two factors, the Packers were very, very aggressive against the Vikings. Twice, they attempted fourth-and-9 or longer in what would have normally been long field-goal/borderline punt range. Unfortunately, neither attempt succeeded, but the Packers did succeed with a more interesting strategic decision later in the game. When Davante Adams' third touchdown reception of the day brought the score to 28-20, Matt LaFleur correctly went for two instead of kicking the extra point. The conversion was good, which meant that when they got the ball back after the Vikings punted, they were driving for a touchdown and extra point to win, not just to tie. We're delighted to see more teams follow the clear and simple logic in these situations, and remain hopeful that it will one day be standard practice to see teams go for two there.

John Fox Award for Conservatism

It was always going to take a miracle for the talent- and coaching-starved Jets to compete, never mind to actually win, in Kansas City. We'd like to have at least seen them try, though. Every first-half Jets drive ended in a field-goal attempt from medium range on fourth-and-8 or longer, but two of those followed 1-yard completions on third-and-9 or longer. Every second-half drive, apart from the lost fumble, ended on a punt on fourth-and-manageable or fourth-and-short while trailing by at least 12 points. That included fourth-and-6, fourth-and-3, and fourth-and-1, all down 21-9; fourth-and-5 down 28-9; and fourth-and-4 down 35-9. The Jets have hardly been competitive this season under Adam Gase; they hardly even pretended to compete in Week 8.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching

Matt Nagy has busted out interesting formations throughout his head coaching tenure -- his first offensive play call brought back the T-formation, for goodness sake. That being said, bringing in Mitchell Trubisky to run the read-option might go several steps past interesting and into Crazytown. Nagy brought his now-backup quarterback into the game against the Saints to run a read option -- perhaps he was dazzled by the Saints' continued use of Taysom Hill? While it's true that Trubisky is more mobile than Nick Foles is -- and we here at Scramble do not recommend a Foles read-option in 2020, though we are morbidly curious -- I don't believe this is the formation that will strike fear into the hearts of defenses everywhere. Burn this formation, Coach Nagy.

'Starting is Easy, Young Man. Scoring is Harder' Fantasy Player of the Week

Garbage-Time Performer of the Week

There are a couple of good choices this week, depending on exactly where you draw the line for when garbage time begins. Nick Mullens briefly gave the Seahawks a scare, and Corey Davis' last touchdown reception at least gave the Titans a fighting chance if their defense could have gotten a quick stop (they could not). Both would be more than deserving winners, though I think a significant chunk of both of their production actually got their teams back into interesting scenarios, which would exclude that from being garbage time. So, to avoid controversy, we're going with Matthew Stafford as the Lions were not in danger of winning at any point in the last 13 minutes of the Colts game. Stafford had a hell of a bomb to Marvin Hall; one of six completions that racked up 127 yards and a touchdown of absolutely meaningless action. That's the kind of stuff we're looking for here; none of these "sparks of hope" things Tennessee and San Francisco put together. Production in abject misery is the name of the game.

Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week

The biggest losers in Week 8 were teams familiar to us: the Jets, the Lions, and a Cowboys team that we somehow haven't yet needed to discuss in this segment. Forced to start third-string quarterback Ben DiNucci against the Eagles, the Cowboys succumbed to yet another blowout loss -- their third straight defeat by at least 14 points. The defense has been terrible all year, and since the loss of Dak Prescott, the offense has not come close to keeping up. One crumb of comfort has been the performance of edge rusher Aldon Smith, who picked up his fifth sack of the season against Philadelphia. Smith had not played a single game in four years before joining the Cowboys this summer, but looks like he had never been away. Hopefully, he is finally over the substance abuse and anger management issues that led to that four-year absence.

Game-Changing Play of the Week

In the first half of the Steelers-Ravens game, Baltimore was having their way with Pittsburgh's top-ranked run defense. That calmed down a little in the second half, but the Ravens still ended up with 265 yards on the ground, second this year to only the Browns' 307 against the Cowboys back in Week 4. With all due respect, the Steelers' defense is just a wee bit more impressive than Dallas', so Baltimore's ground force was easily the most impressive rushing effort we've seen in 2020.

So, you can understand, with the game on the line, facing fourth-and-3 from the Steelers' 8-yard line, at the two-minute warning, trailing by four, why the Ravens would lean on that performance to keep the game alive. As I said, they picked up 265 yards against the Steelers. They needed 266.

Nose tackle Isaiah Buggs -- and how many names would you have to go through on the Steelers defense before you came up with that one? -- sheds the center, wraps up Lamar Jacksons' feet, and brings him down. It was absolutely the right play call; it was just a better defensive effort to stop them.

That wasn't quite ballgame -- the Ravens forced a quick three-and-out and had a couple of final shots at winning the game from just outside the red zone -- but this was their biggest and best chance to overcome the Steelers' comeback. This was for first place in the division, too -- had they won, the Ravens would be sitting atop the AFC North at 6-1 with the head-to-head tiebreaker. Instead, the Steelers continue their undefeated season and are the clear favorites to earn the coveted bye week in the AFC. Nice tackle, Buggs.

Weekly Predictions

Bryan: Not quite our greatest week of picks. We both had Carolina beating Atlanta -- did you know that the Falcons like to blitz? It certainly surprised the Panthers' offensive line! Andrew also fell victim to the classic Packers blunder of "having to stop an even semi-competent rushing attack." Ah well -- we're both over .500 in Lock of the Week and having very solid Double Survival seasons, so we'll take that at the halfway point.

At the halfway point in Double Survival, Andrew is sitting on a two-game lead over me -- a curse on both the Bears' and Jaguars' houses. But, of course, that's going to be somewhat dependent on the teams already chosen -- a lead based on using all the good teams early puts one in danger of a late-season comeback.

My 16 remaining teams are 60-57, a .513 winning percentage. Andrew's final 16, however, are 48-70-1, just at .408. I've already found wins for the Bengals, Cowboys, and Football Team -- tall tasks all, though certainly not impossible. Andrew does have a Chargers win under his belt, which normally requires the presence of an old priest and a young priest, but he has also already blown through the Cardinals, Colts, Rams, Seahawks and Buccaneers, all of whom I still have as options. I regret somehow finding the one time the Bears managed to lose in the first month of the season, and I no longer can rest on the Browns' laurels (imagine Cleveland being an asset!), but on the whole, I think I'm in remarkably better shape.

In other words, game on.

Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week

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

Records to Date:
Bryan: 6-2
Andrew: 5-3

Bryan: Hello darkness, my old friend

I've come to talk to you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence.

San Francisco (+5.5).

Andrew: I'm slightly stunned by the 49ers line, given that the Packers were just taken apart by another rushing-focused offense. I don't think Nick Mullens instead of Jimmy Garoppolo moves the needle that much. I'm not doubling up with you on that pick, though. Instead, I'll grab the league's only undefeated team against a squad who doesn't yet know for sure whether they're starting their third- or fourth-string (and current practice squad) quarterback. Against the second-best defense in the league. Yeah, good luck with that, Dallas. The Cowboys haven't kept a game closer than 14 points since they lost Dak Prescott. That isn't going to change this week, even against a Steelers side with a reputation for disappointing as heavy road favorites. Pittsburgh (-13.5) at Dallas.

Double Survival League

Current Standings:
Andrew: 14-2
Bryan: 12-4

Remaining Teams:

Andrew: CAR, PHI

Andrew: On the subject of the teams I have remaining, it's time to start tearing off some band-aids. I noted a few weeks ago when I successfully picked the Giants that I would probably take the Washington Football Team in the return matchup, and it's time to do just that. Ron Rivera's squad is somehow on the fringes of the NFC East race (albeit likely to lose out to the Eagles) and a home game against the Giants is a great opportunity to establish themselves as the second-best team in the division. A dominating performance from the defense should be enough against a Giants team coming off a tough loss on Monday night.

My other pick is one I have very little confidence in, despite their recent resurgence. Raheem Morris' Falcons are one Todd Gurley Woodchop away from being 3-0 since the firing of Dan Quinn, and I regret not trusting my instinct to grab them last week instead of the Panthers. Denver is not as bad as their record, but they're without most of their best players as they deal with the growing pains of their young quarterback. That gives me hope ahead of what should be the easiest game on Atlanta's dangerously back-loaded schedule. Now is the time to grasp the random nettle that is the Atlanta Falcons.

Bryan: I'll join you on taking the Falcons, for most of the reasons you have already stated. My other real choice for Atlanta would be against the Raiders in Week 12, and the Broncos are just not as good as a team. Plus, I look at that secondary, see Calvin Ridley coming back, and wonder how Denver will manage to cover anyone. I mean, it's the Falcons we're talking about, and if anyone can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, it is them, but I like them repeating what they did against Carolina, bringing a heavy pass rush and overwhelming Drew Lock.

My second pick? Well…

I do not believe the New York Jets are going to win a football game. Well, scratch that -- I think they'll get one or two upsets along the way, because they're run-of-the-mill worst in the league, not all-time bad. I just don't believe the Jets are going to win any particular football game. That means I have to pick them in a game I think they will lose, just to meet the requirements of this game. Week 17 is ineligible, while Week 14 and 15 are right out -- those are road trips to the Seahawks and Rams, who should grind the Jets into a fine powder. I'm also not fond of the Week 11 road trip against the Chargers, though at least that comes after a bye and against a team who got on the wrong side of a hedge witch sometime in the mid-2000s. Hosting the Dolphins is a little more palatable, but the Jets were completely shut out against that defense in the home fixture, so ... no. Pass.

That leaves home games against the Patriots, Raiders, and Browns -- one of these things is not like the others. I am assuming Andrew will take one of the latter two, so I'll bite the bullet and grab the Jets over the Patriots on Monday Night. I might have changed my mind if there was a gimme-putt game this week, but I've already used the Chiefs. I'm expecting this to be a loss, but, hey, you never know.

Elimination Scenarios

Bryan: This is a weird section to write this year. We don't actually know, for sure, how many teams will make the postseason. News broke on Tuesday that, if COVID causes games to be cancelled, the NFL may move to a 16-game postseason. For the time being, we're going to assume that we'll have the scheduled 14 teams in the playoffs and go from there.

So, as we sit right now, every team can still reach any playoff seed. Yes, the seasons for some teams ended basically within the first 30 seconds of Week 1, but everyone can still earn not only a playoff berth, but that coveted bye week as well. New York football may still reign the roost.

That could come to an end this week as we have our first full elimination scenarios of the season, all of them focused on MetLife Stadium. The end is nigh for our New Jersian friends, as the improbable edges of hope begin to be eaten away by the cold reality of not being very good at football.

"But wait," you might ask. "The Football Outsiders Playoff Odds Report gives the Jets a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs. Surely they've already been eliminated from everything of note!"

Not quite! Yes, we give them a 0.0% chance, but we only do 30,000 simulations -- extraordinarily rare scenarios can slip through sometimes. So yes, there does exist a mathematical path for the Jets to stand atop the entire AFC. It's really quite simple -- all the Jets have to do is enter hyperdrive, as Adam Gase put it.

Winning all their remaining games would get the Jets to 8-8. That would be enough to win a tie with the Patriots atop the AFC East, thanks to the necessary head-to-head sweep, and they'd likely beat the Dolphins too based on their common games performance. They would need the Bills to drop to 7-9 or worse thanks to already losing to them twice, but that remains possible.

The 8-8 Jets would only have a 6-6 conference record, which is less than ideal -- they'd have to win a logjam at 8-8 thanks to head-to-head victories. This is a problem when it comes to the AFC South, as they've already lost their matchup against the Colts -- they'll need the AFC South winner to clock in with seven or fewer wins. They can absorb an 8-8 Raiders atop the AFC West and an 8-8 Browns atop the AFC North; the 8-8 Jets would have swept both teams with this theoretical second-half charge. Thus, they wouldn't be playing on wild-card weekend -- they'd be sitting at home, sipping a cup of warm chocolate, as they prepare for their divisional round clash.

Or, they could just get crushed into a fine paste once again this week, and be sitting at home on wild-card weekend pouring over draft guides. Y'know, either/or.

  • The N.Y. Jets can be eliminated from the bye week IF New England d N.Y. Jets OR BOTH Pittsburgh d. Dallas AND Buffalo d. Seattle
  • The N.Y. Jets can be eliminated from a top-two seed IF New England d. N.Y. Jets AND ONE OF Denver d. Atlanta OR Miami d. Arizona OR Kansas City d. Carolina OR Indianapolis d. Baltimore AND EITHER Tennessee d. Chicago OR BOTH Las Vegas d. L.A. Chargers AND Houston d. Jacksonville
  • The N.Y. Jets can be eliminated from the AFC East IF New England d. N.Y. Jets AND Buffalo d. Seattle
  • The N.Y. Giants can be eliminated from the bye week IF Washington d. N.Y. Giants AND Seattle d. Buffalo AND Arizona d. Miami AND EITHER Tampa Bay d. New Orleans OR San Francisco d. Green Bay


22 comments, Last at 07 Nov 2020, 7:08am

1 That all being said, is…

That all being said, is there any NFL player you would less want to stand in front of than Derrick Henry with a full head of steam?

Vontaze Burfict? You know he's leading with his head/

2 Worst game was Eagles…

Worst game was Eagles-Cowboys from last Sunday Night

Denver has played the Jets, if you recall. That game was so bad if you google those terms you get flight data.

6 Both QBs were serviceable in…

Both QBs were serviceable in that game, and at least there was a decent amount of scoring. The QBs in the Cowboys-Eagles game were terrible, and the biggest highlight was a crazy 59-yard field goal.

Though personally, I love watching offensive trainwrecks like that, especially while following a live thread ripping both QBs to shreds. It's difficult to get that balance where both offenses are spectacularly bad (in a self-inflicted multi-turnover way, not a boring puntfest way), but the game is still competitive so neither coach is going to change their game plan.

7 you are obviously not…

you are obviously not related to the rypien clan. i thought that game was actually plenty more entertaining than the Eagles/Cowboys game. I mean, when the third stringer noone has heard of (even if they consider his uncle to have an overrated resume, but hey, SB man!) makes throws and wins the game, it's like an entertaining hollywood script. When the third stringer noone has ever heard of makes people scour through AAF QBs wishing any single one of them could be playing instead (i mean, Cardale Jones would have had a WAY better chance, amiright?), well that's a game that starts making you thinking of changing over to the Bachelorette for some drama.

4 Schottenheimer should be…

Schottenheimer should be dinged for finally doing something he should have done years ago, especially with the defense steadily getting worse throughout his tenure, meaning that the run-heavy, defense-oriented play style at the start of Wilson's career couldn't be maintained.

Also, joking about giving the MVP to Prescott reminds me when people wanted to give the 2011 MVP to Manning.

5 Ummm....

if COVID causes games to be cancelled, the NFL may move to a 16-game postseason.

I'm thinking you meant 16 team postseason...


8 interesting thing about a 16…

In reply to by serutan

interesting thing about a 16-team postseason, it works out to a 15 game postseason. But if they're opening it up to an extra two teams to help disadvantaged teams for COVID, might they also need to have game for the top draft pick? Imagine the Jet go 0-15, while the Giants and Jags go 1-15. If I'm the Giants or Jags, I'm hollering mad! Shouldn't the Jets have to play one more game and lose to secure that spot? In which case, 16 game postseason!

(I know, this is ridiculous, but I will argue it again, even more loudly, in the event it or something similar happens!)

19 I think the reason to not…

I think the reason to not bother with an extra game in that scenario is because, even if the NFL prohibited a forfeit, that would be the clearest case ever for doing anything and everything possible to intentionally lose. Do the rules require Gase to run offensive plays, or could he simply punt on any down? And I know we talk about players not tanking because their careers are so short and the game is so dangerous, but in this scenario I could imagine the front office/coaches making it very clear (at least to the players under contract) that they must not win this game, or else.

Of course, we're talking about a hypothetical in which either team might secure the #1 pick with a loss, so why would the other team try either?

Has there ever been a final week game that basically played out this scenario (2 teams playing each other, and loser secures the #1 pick)?

21 It would be more akin to the…

It would be more akin to the current situation if there had been a clear #1 pick for 1982 that both teams really wanted. Looking at the 1982 draft, the first two picks were Kenneth Sims (DE) and Johnie Cooks (OLB). 

Even now, if the two last place teams weren't clearly in the market for a highly drafted QB, both teams may not be motivated to not try. So if it was the Jets and, say, the Giants, I could see the Giants trying while the Jets don't.

10 Death, Taxes and...

an awards based article on FO not even giving a hint of a whiff of a mention of Pete Carroll as being a worthy candidate for Coach of the Year.

13 Well

Neither, then, should be getting Roethlisberger back from injury.

In my opinion, Flores should be the choice, but my point is that not having the leader of the best division in football on your short list is Peterman level decision making.

15 Carroll is a defensive guy…

In reply to by LyleNM

Carroll is a defensive guy. His defense is putrid now. The team wins when Russ delivers, period. If Russ gets MVP for that (which I'm not arguing against) then Carroll doesn't get COY for that. With Tomlin, he's melding a cohesive unit, mostly with young guys on offense and a mix on defense, and different guys making major contributions each week.

16 I don't think voters…

I don't think voters necessarily care about whether the unit that the coach is known for does well or not. They generally give it to coaches of teams that significantly improve on their preseason expectations. That's why McCarthy and Tomlin have never won it, despite their teams' typically great offenses and defenses, respectively, because their teams are expected to contend every year.

17 I still think Stefanski…

I still think Stefanski should be in the COTY conversation, and it looks like Vegas oddsmakers agree with me.

That the team may have finally found a long-term HC solution is comparably significant to Baker *probably* being the long-term QB answer.

They are 5-3 while mostly running back last years' Freddie team.  Huge improvements in gameday preparation, timeout/challenge management, team discipline, and OL play.  Even though there is still room to improve in team situational awareness and unforced errors.

Even though people are starting to really turn on Joe Woods with the defensive struggles.

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