Cardinals, Rams, Cowboys Head Up Midseason Awards

Arizona Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury
Arizona Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 10 - Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week finds your humble Scrambleteers startled at the realization that we're now exactly halfway through the regular season. Sure, this time every year it feels like we have reached Week 10 awfully quickly, but this year's even more perplexing: the halfway point of the regular season usually occurs in the middle of Week 9, not at the end of it. So instead of our traditional 47%-season or 53%-season awards, we can do honest-to-goodness midseason awards. This is a big deal for us!

Bryan: Of course, it means no individual team is at their halfway point, because that would require stopping teams at halftime of their ninth game, and the NFL has yet to agree to our policy of "ease in article writing" over "competitive integrity" or "even the tiniest bit of logistical sense." Maybe next year.

Andrew: Before we get sidetracked into a two-person tirade about the insanity of 17-game schedules, let's get straight to the point.

Most Valuable Player
Andrew: I'm not sure I have ever seen the race for the MVP award look this uncertain this far into the regular season. Usually, even if there's not a runaway leader, there is at least a narrow field of two or three candidates. This year, I'm not 100% confident we could narrow it down to a single-digit field.

Bryan: Vegas has seemed to settle on Josh Allen and Tom Brady being co-favorites at this point in time, followed by a group of Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford, and Lamar Jackson, with the Rodgers-Prescott-Herbert-Tannehill-Carr class lagging behind but not out of things just yet.

Andrew: Derrick Henry's injury is made even more unfortunate by the lack of a clear frontrunner among the quarterbacks. If ever there was a route to a running back recapturing this award, it would have been Henry going for over 2,000 yards while Josh Allen loses to his namesake, Patrick Mahomes loses his mojo, and Aaron Rodgers loses his mind.

Bryan: It's a particularly odd week to be talking about the MVP as well. Allen just had the worst quarterback game of the season by our numbers. Stafford and his Rams laid an egg. The Cardinals romped without Murray. Prescott's Cowboys flopped on his return from an injury. The biggest winners of Week 9 were teams that didn't play, which helps Old Man Brady's MVP odds.

Brady leads the league in passing DYAR. He's third in passing DVOA behind Prescott and Murray. It baffles belief that a 44-year-old could be playing at Brady's level, but, well, there it is.

Andrew: I would have thought that Murray would have been the clear favorite, as the quarterback of the last undefeated team. Even though his team lost to another potential favorite the last time he took the field, and then he got hurt and backup Colt McCoy led Arizona to a very convincing victory in San Francisco, I'm struggling to figure out why Murray's behind Allen and Brady in the sportsbooks. Allen especially seems to be living off residual goodwill from last year. Murray would be my choice if I had a vote and had to post it tonight.

Bryan: The Cardinals definitely deserve a lot of acknowledgement and credit for what's gone on this season, and Murray has taken notable steps forward to the point where you can make the argument that he has been the best quarterback in football this year. I think I'd give more credit elsewhere—like, say, in our next award?—than to Murray specifically, though he's a more-than-cromulent choice. I'm also with you that Allen shouldn't be co-favorite after that egg in Jacksonville, and even without it, his numbers haven't been awe-inspiring—17th in DYAR and 18th in DVOA is fine and can be an important part of a winning team, as we have seen, but he's behind Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo in our stats. That doesn't scream MVP to me, though it may scream that Wentz and Garoppolo are being slightly overrated by the systems they play in.

No, I think I have to side with our DYAR numbers and go with Brady. I know that he's in the best situation of any of the passers in question, but he's also doing the most with it at the moment.

Andrew: Brady's palatable, but even that choice feels a bit milquetoast. It's not his finest season. He's playing with his best ever supporting cast—wait, can I say that? This receiving corps is deeper than that of the 2007 Patriots, and the tight ends and running backs are far superior, so even accounting for prime Randy Moss I'd give the edge to the 2021 Bucs. He's having a good season, and it's bumped up for being the best season ever by a quarterback over the age of 44, but there's a chalk aftertaste to that selection.

(Ed. Note: Hey, I wrote about whether Brady had a better supporting cast this year or in 2007 over at ESPN+ a couple weeks ago! -- Aaron)

Bryan: I think what we can agree with is that this award hasn't been won yet, as it were. Some years, you get to midseason and it's "oh, well, of course Patrick Mahomes/Peyton Manning/Kurt Warner is going to run away with this thing." That's not the case in 2021; no one has made themselves a clear and obvious frontrunner.

Andrew: Right. Somebody will separate themselves from the pack in the second half of the year—take that sentence with any capitalization of "Pack" that you like—but for now, it's well up for grabs. I think I'd still lean Murray, but Brady's an acceptable response.

Coach of the Year
Andrew: Am I right to infer from your responses in the previous segment that you have a Kickin' opinion on this Kategory?

Bryan: I do indeed. The Cardinals were the last undefeated team; they are the last one-loss team. They have done so by hitting basically the 95% percentile of everything—everything that could have gone right has, for the most part. And I have to give a ton of credit to someone we have often been very critical of: Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury's offense has developed significantly since even last season, when our Almanac essay critiqued it for being overly simple and underdeveloped. It has now become incredibly dynamic, threatening at all levels. Kingsbury clearly and obviously was the best coach on the field this week, where he managed to spin not just a victory, but a blowout, from the likes of Colt McCoy and James Conner. He has revitalized A.J. Green's career, which we thought was dead in the water, and he has helped Murray take that next step into MVP consideration. It's possible that the house of Cards will fall down over the last half of the season, but until I see that actually happen, I have to give no end of credit to Kingsbury for what his team has done this year.

Andrew: I'm not totally convinced that he's the best coach in that division, but he is the one who has exceeded expectations the most, and that counts for plenty in award voting. On that note, let me offer you a name you're going to hate: Mike Vrabel has the Titans—the TITANS—with the best record in the AFC, having beaten six straight playoff teams from last season. Sure, there's a loss to the Jets on that record, but that was with basically no wide receivers. They have been vastly exceeding expectations, and I say that as somebody who had higher-than-average expectations for them. Even the much-maligned defense stepped up big time against the Chiefs and Rams.

Bryan: I don't hate it at all, actually, and if Vrabel can keep the Titans competitive going forward without Derrick Henry, that's going to up his profile quite sharply. It helps that there's not a dominant team in the AFC, so the Titans could win the conference without being quite as good as conference-winning teams generally are, but if you're talking about coaches who exceeded my expectations, Vrabel is a very good shout.

Both Brandon Staley and Sean McVay feel like they deserve to be mentioned as well; McVay for reinvigorating the Rams and Staley for the traditional "new coach with the best record" slot. I think I'd give more credit to the Goff-for-Stafford swap for the Rams than McVay specifically, and the Chargers have yet to fully convince me of, well, anything at 5-3, but neither guy is a crazy pick at this point.

Andrew: If the Chargers can kick on and seal the AFC West, which they lead on tiebreakers right now, that would vault Justin Herbert into the MVP discussion too. I like the approach Staley has taken, though I don't think he's quite award-worthy yet. However, like the above award, nobody has really set themselves apart just yet. Kingsbury is the favorite for good reason, but it's far from an insurmountable lead.

Bryan: I also want to point out, for our entertainment purposes, that the fifth-highest coach of the year odds at the moment belong to Mike McCarthy. Ahead of Bill Belichick, or Sean McDermott, or Zac Taylor, or Matt LaFleur, or Sean Payton—and if Sean Payton can keep things going with Jameis Winston lost for the season, look out. But Mike McCarthy, fifth-favorite. That's certainly, uh, a thing.

Andrew: It's funny you mention LaFleur. He's definitely taking a hit from a perception that anybody could coach Aaron Rodgers. As is rapidly becoming clearer than ever, Aaron Rodgers is far from an "anybody could coach this guy" kinda guy. LaFleur has done a great job in Green Bay, even with the MVP-caliber quarterback taken into account. He'll lose brownie points for Jordan Love's performance against the Chiefs, but we need to consider that it was Rodgers who thrust that upon us, not LaFleur.

As for Dallas, their record is an argument for Dak Prescott, MVP, not Mike McCarthy, Coach of the Year. My guess is we're in agreement that the pick for right now is Kingsbury, but it's anybody's award to win in the second half.

Assistant Coach of the Year
Bryan: Assistant coach of the year is a tough one, in part because it's a relatively new award without a lot of obvious "this is the kind of guy we're looking for" track record backing it up. What it seems you want to find is a coach on a double-digit win team who specializes in the opposite of what the head coach specializes in.

Andrew: To which I respond by asking: what's the strongest unit on the team with the best record in the league? 'Cause sure, the Cardinals have an offense-first head coach in a quarterback-driven league, but the offense is not their strongest suit thus far.

Bryan: Vance Joseph, huh? I mean, I'm still suffering post-Arizona shellshock, but I could see it.

Andrew: Bear in mind that Joseph isn't only the coordinator of the second-best defense in football, he also replaced Kingsbury as head coach after Kliff tested positive for COVID and promptly oversaw a 37-14 smelting of the Browns. There's a prevalent belief that Joseph is very important to that coaching team, and that he will get another head coaching opportunity quickly.

Bryan: It does seem like it's a good year for a defensive coordinator to win this after offensive-minded guys took the crown in four of the past five seasons. In addition to Joseph, both Raheem Morris and Dennis Allen are overseeing top-five defenses behind offensive-minded leaders, and both the Rams and Saints seem on track to make the postseason. To find an offensive guy calling plays for a non-offensive coach, you have to go to Greg Roman for Baltimore's seventh-ranked offense. And honestly, Roman's not a bad shout, either, considering that they have stapled together the second-best running game in football despite losing everyone and everyone from their running back room before the season started.

Andrew: I love the job that Phil Snow is doing in Carolina too. That's one of the youngest defensive squads in the league, they have lost their top cornerback for the year, and they have Sam Darnold quarterbacking the second-worst offense in the league on the other side of the ball, but they're on the fringes of the top five. And don't look now, but Shane Bowen's Titans defense has snuck into the top 10 in the latest DVOA ratings. It sure seems like there are more good defensive coordinators than usual in the league right now, and I wonder if that's due to the emphasis on finding an offensive mind as your head coach.

Bryan: You're onto something there, but there are some solid offensive names still out there. Byron Leftwich is doing a good job in Tampa Bay, though I think Brady and Bruce Arians will get more of the credit from an awards standpoint, if not a head-coaching standpoint in 2022. Brian Daboll just won the award last year and the Bills offense has taken a half-step back, but they're still, generally speaking, very good. Kellen Moore deserves some credit for Dallas as well (possibly more than Mike McCarthy!). But I think that this is a year for defensive assistants to shine, yeah.

Andrew: Which makes Vance Joseph my current pick. We'll have to see how the Cardinals cope without J.J. Watt in the second half of the year, but the schedule is very favorable—Sam Darnold! Jared Goff! The Chicago Bears!—and they sure did well enough in San Francisco.

Bryan: I'm trying to forget that as quickly as possible to make room for Aaron Donald and Von Miller swamping the 49ers next Monday night, thank you. And speaking of Rams ...

Offensive Player of the Year
Bryan: If we're talking about who is most likely to win this award at the end of the year, rather than who deserves it over the first half of the year, I think Cooper Kupp can probably start practicing his acceptance speech now. The receiving DYAR leader is on pace for 1,924 yards, one of two players making a real shot at the never-before-achieved 2,000-yard receiving season, as well as Calvin Johnson's single-season record of 1,964. This award should generally be reserved for the best non-quarterback, and Kupp seems like the obvious answer ... among people who are still healthy.

Andrew: All of which might have been for naught had Derrick Henry not sprained his foot against the Colts. Henry had been on an impossible pace over his previous 16 games, and if the voting were to close tonight, would probably still be the winner despite missing Week 9. Alas, he'll also miss Week 10, and 11, and ... well, too many weeks to win the award at the end of the year. So this is, in my opinion, the one award that has a clear midseason winner, but somewhat ironically also the one award where the current leader has zero chance of being the actual winner.

Bryan: There are some other running backs you could turn to, with Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb, Alvin Kamara, and Aaron Jones all making a case as the best running back in the league. We'll also talk about a couple more longshot candidates when we get to Offensive Rookie of the Year, along with the likes of Tyreek Hill and DeAndre Hopkins as coverage-altering WR1s. But if anyone's going to catch Kupp, I think it'd be Davante Adams, who continues to be nearly matchup-proof regardless of who's throwing him the ball. I think Kupp would need to fall sharply off of record pace (and Deebo Samuel would have to also stop threatening 2,000 yards, all of it YAC), but if Kupp does stumble, Adams seems to be in the best position to pick up the slack.

Andrew: Adams may be matchup-proof, but he is not Love-resistant. Hopefully—oh please Lord hopefully—that will not be relevant in the second half of the year like it has been in the past week.

Bryan: Also, just for a one-second quick aside, but the NFC wide receivers stomp all over the AFC crew this year, don't they? Between Kupp, Adams, Samuel, Hopkins and DK Metcalf, you could argue the top five receivers in the game all play in the NFC, and that's before you get to the Kirk-Lamb-Godwin tier.

Andrew: I'm not sure it's clear that all of those are better than Tyreek Hill, but considering Hill and Marquise Brown (!?!) are the leading veteran receivers in the AFC ... yes, that's definitely a steeper dropoff from No. 1 to No. 2 than you find in the NFC. As for the award, Kupp is the clear leader, assuming we discount Derrick Henry, and I agree that Adams is the most likely to catch him.

Defensive Player of the Year
Bryan: For a hot minute, it seemed like this was Trevon Diggs' award to lose, as he had an interception in each of his first six games. That's a hard pace to keep up however (if for no other reason than teams will stop throwing at you), so he has drifted back towards the pack a bit.

Andrew: Teams have also caught him out with double moves a few times in recent weeks, using his aggression against him, and that has dropped him down a peg or two. The interception leader definitely makes a shiny case, though. Man, Xavier McKinney must wish he could play against David Carr every week.

Bryan: Yeah, I was prepared for a couple weeks for this section to be an argument about why Diggs' gaudy interception totals were fool's gold, but he has dropped behind three other players in the DPOY odds at the moment so I don't think I need to harp on that quite so much, especially with readers as analytically inclined as we get 'round here.

Diggs is still at +1000 to win DPOY, but he's now behind Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt—your two double-digit sack totals through the midway point—and Aaron Donald, who has permanent residency at the top of any "best defensive player in football" conversation.

Andrew: Which, it should be noted, is not quite the same as "defensive player of the year," otherwise it would just be the Aaron Donald Award. Donald is well behind the pace in sacks—for once, he doesn't even lead his own team—so this looks like a chance for somebody else to snatch the award. Garrett would be my bet, assuming the Browns can secure another playoff appearance. Although he'll be sad not to see the Bears again on the schedule, he has picked up at least half a sack in all but one game this year. Baker Mayfield won't be the MVP, Nick Chubb probably won't be the OPOY, Kevin Stefanski is off the pace for Coach of the Year, so if Garrett can stay atop the sack leaderboard he looks like a good shout.

Bryan: I do believe Donald has been the best defender in football this season, so he'd get my vote, but I think you're right that Garrett, as the current sack leader, would be the favorite to win it today. I'm very interested to see what happens to the Los Angeles front with Von Miller sliding in, and that could really alter the flow of this race over the back half of the season.

Plus, at some point, people just get tired of voting for Donald, who has won it three of the past four seasons.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
Andrew: Honestly, is there even a conversation to be had here? The rookie quarterback class has largely underwhelmed. Najee Harris is the only running back anywhere near the league leaders. Kyle Pitts is an astonishing tight end, but still just a tight end. Most of the wideouts are WR3 or WR4 on their own team, and we're not debating Penei Sewell versus Rashawn Slater in this column.

Bryan: Harris shouldn't be in the running if you ask me; his candidacy is based on volume more than anything else. He's third-favorite in the Vegas odds at the moment, but I could make an argument for several other rookie running backs ahead of him (Elijah Mitchell, Javonte Williams), so scratch him.

Mac Jones does at least have a case. A positive DYAR and middling DVOA on a team in playoff position at the moment? That's at least a resume you can trot out and argue for. I know that for the first month of the season, Jones had training wheels on, but he has stepped up his game since that point in time.

Andrew: Mac Jones is the best of the freshman quarterbacks, sure. Which I bet has you feeling great, after all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about him this summer. But as we have already written about recently, it's the best of a subpar lot.

Bryan: Jones' argument is for positional value mattering above all. In a world where positional value didn't matter at all, maybe you argue for Creed Humphrey, who has been holding down the center of Kansas City's offensive line very well.

But no. There's one guy, and one guy alone, atop the rookie class so far this year.

Ja'Marr Chase is seventh in receiving DYAR, fifth in receiving DVOA, third in receiving yards and yards per reception, fourth in receiving touchdowns, fourth in yards per target—should I go on? I do think that his stats are slightly overstating how good he has actually been to this point in the year, but when the stats say that the guy is a top-10 receiver as a rookie? Yeeeeah.

Andrew: Honestly, Chase's numbers could drop to 50% of their previous level in the second half of the year and he'd still probably be the favorite: 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown seasons are not normal for rookies, especially rookies in Cincinnati. The only chance of surpassing that would be Jones—or potentially one of the other quarterbacks—going on a tear in the second half, propelling them into voters' minds closer to the award date.

Bryan: Only four rookies in NFL history have hit those 1,200/10 marks: Odell Beckham and Randy Moss in the modern era, and then Bill Groman for the Oilers in 1960 and Billy Howton for the Packers in 1952, both of which have some asterisks based on league quality and schemes at those points in time. Even Justin Jefferson didn't find the end zone 10 times last year!

I will note that while the preseason worries about Chase's hands were overstated, they aren't entirely fictional. He has dropped five passes and fumbled a couple more balls, neither of which is ideal. But when he does hang on to the ball, he not only provides value, he provides highlight-reel plays. That'll stick in the minds of voters quite nicely.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
Andrew: This is my second chance to mourn the injury that deprived us of a full rookie year from Jaycee Horn. He was my preseason pick for defensive rookie of the year, and I'm gutted we didn't get to see that play out.

Bryan: This is also a spot where Vegas has a runaway favorite, and one I'm not sure I necessarily agree with. Don't get me wrong, Micah Parsons is having a very solid season, especially as a pass-rusher. Five sacks from essentially an inside linebacker is a very solid start to a career.

Andrew: Parsons was the clear preseason favorite, so I'd guess there's some residual adjustment for the money that was placed on him then.

Bryan: Also, I think Parsons does best at the flashiest part of his job (sacks!), but falls behind when we're talking about playing the run or covering the pass, both of which he has been asked to do plenty as well. To be a valuable Sam linebacker, you need to be able to do all three of those things, and so far, Parsons seems to be excelling at just one.

That being said, with the Horn injury taking out another top candidate, it's hard to point to someone else blowing the field away at the moment. Azeez Ojulari has 5.5 sacks for the Giants, but he's not a serious candidate in my mind. Odafe Oweh might be the best of the edge rushers from a scouting point of view, but he has just three sacks in a more rotational role in Baltimore. Patrick Surtain got off to a very hot start (and that, to wrap back to your earlier question, got me more annoyed than Mac Jones' start, if we're talking about draft day recriminations), but he has cooled off some as well.

Andrew: I was going to mention Surtain, yes. He has done well in a key position for a defense-first team. Defenders seem to suffer a bit from being rookies: it takes most of them a bit longer to really establish themselves in their positions.

Bryan: I'll tell you, the defender I was most impressed with so far this season was Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but he's on IR. So, after careful consideration, I think I have come around to Parsons as the pick for now, because he has provided top-quality pass-rushing prowess, and one out of three ain't bad. This comes with the caveat that his status as clear betting favorite isn't justified at this point, and a lot of people could come and take the award from him over the last half of the season, but for now, I'm OK with Parsons.

Andrew: I think I agree. It tastes a little chalky, but Parsons is the runaway favorite for a reason.

Comeback Player of the Year
Andrew: Similar to the above with Chase, this is Dak Prescott's award to lose, right? Are there any other realistic candidates?

Bryan: Any other candidates? Sure. Joe Burrow has come back quite nicely from his massive, catastrophic knee injury, and is leading the Bengals to playoff contention, if not necessarily a lock for a spot just yet. But he's clearly several miles behind Prescott at the moment, and the crowd behind him isn't exactly setting the world on fire. The third favorite in Vegas' odds at the moment is Carson Wentz which, no. Just no. The Derwin James/James Conner/Nick Bosa crew are all nice stories in and of themselves, but yeah, this was pretty much sealed for Prescott on opening night when he proved that he could play football again at Prescott-standard levels.

Andrew: Burrow is, indeed, the clear second-favorite. But it's the clear second-favorite. Dak's playing at a level that has him in MVP contention a year after a catastrophic injury that had people—silly people, but still people—wondering what the Cowboys would do with him. Burrow's status as The Franchise was never in doubt, and he's playing like a very good quarterback who could potentially reach Prescott's level next year. This isn't quite last year's race, when all Alex Smith had to do was get back on the field to (justifiably!) win the award, but as long as Prescott is justifying the selection, it's his to lose.

Weekly Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood
This week's off-field options for this award are a nightmare. First up, there's Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who not only decided against being vaccinated against COVID-19, but then misled the media on his, ahem, immunization status. After being justifiably criticized, he used his high profile to make an impassioned media defense of his stance, mingling outrageous falsehoods with outright quackery. It's close to a sure thing, based on how Green Bay's game went against the Chiefs, that Rodgers' refusal to accept the vaccine cost his team the game, but that's nothing compared to the harm he could have caused if anybody happens to be persuaded by the nonsense he regurgitated into the public domain in the middle of the week.

However, at least Rodgers did not directly kill anybody. The same cannot be said for now-former Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs, who was reportedly inebriated at twice the legal limit and travelling at triple-digit speed when his vehicle collided with another, killing a 23-year-old woman named Tina Tintor. Ruggs has been arrested and charged with two felonies—DUI resulting in death, and reckless driving—and reportedly faces up to 46 years in prison. His alleged actions arguably cost the Raiders a winnable game in New York, probably cost him his NFL career, but worst of all, definitely cost a young woman her future, and a family their daughter and sister. We have noted in the past that this is meant to be a lighthearted award, but some weeks, there is simply no lighthearted spin to put on things.

That said, so we're not leaving you on a total downer, here's a video from Week 9 of Matthew Stafford pretending to be Carson Wentz:

John Fox Award for Conservatism
In a week filled with upsets and devoid of Dan Campbell, it was tough to find too many stark examples of overly conservative coaching. Leave it to the Houston Texans and David Culley, however, to provide the one glaring exception from an otherwise encouraging week. Early in the fourth quarter, trailing 17-6, Houston faced fourth-and-goal from the Dolphins 1-yard line. Down by 11, this was an obvious spot to go for it. Instead, the Texans kicked a 20-yard field goal, leaving them still in need of a touchdown and a two-point conversion just to tie. Then, on their next drive, they reached Dolphins territory, but faced fourth-and-12. That's not an easy down by any means, but the 36-yard punt was an abject surrender.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
On their opening drive against the Packers, Kansas City appeared to have gone three-and-out when Chandon Sullivan tackled Travis Kelce just short of the sticks on third-and-8. However, Andy Reid chose to go for it and converted with an 11-yard run by Darrel Williams. That sparked the Chiefs offense into life, and they drove the rest of the way for a touchdown. Then, on their following drive, they did the same thing ... and Williams lost 2 yards on a fourth-and-1 reception. Things settled down from there as it became clear that the Chiefs would not need to outscore the Jordan Love edition of the Packers offense, but we love to see Reid open up with the aggressive plan against an otherwise superior opponent.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
Oh, I could write several thousand words about Kyle Shanahan's game plan against the Cardinals, but I'll spare you the rant. We'll limit it to a few bullet points, to which we'd like answers as quickly as possible, please:

  • Why kick an extra point down 18 points in the third quarter? The 49ers ended up inside the Arizona 30 just two more times after that. Two chances to score a touchdown seem a lot nicer down 16 than down 17, wouldn't you say?
     
  • For that matter, why did the offense continue going slow until there was less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter? The 49ers had some success going up-tempo, and the clock was their enemy. Instead, there was huddling and walking to the line and all that jazz; no urgency whatsoever.
     
  • And while we're on the subject of game plan, just 11 rushing attempts? Against a team that came in second against the pass, and ninth against the run in DVOA? When you have made your bread and butter out of exotic rushing calls? And your quarterback is still Jimmy Garoppolo?

We'll talk more about Shanahan during the Coaches Hot Seat article, I'm sure. He's not going anywhere this year, despite what is teetering on the edge of being another lost season. But man, is he ever turning into Norv Turner before our eyes.

'I've Been Everywhere Man' Fantasy Player of the Week
Josh Johnson isn't history's greatest journeyman—that's Ryan Fitzpatrick, and don't you forget it—but he's easily the most travelled quarterback in the history of the game. He has played for 13 NFL teams, including multiple stints with the 49ers, Bengals, and Jets, as well as with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL, the San Diego Fleet of the AAF, and the Los Angeles Wildcats of the XFL. Dude likes playing football, and doesn't care where he has to do it or at what level he can compete at (especially if you get a trip into the California sun).

Active over the recently-traded-for Joe Flacco, Johnson came in when Mike White got hurt and set NFL career bests with 317 yards and three touchdowns (and an interception, but hey, he's a third-stringer). I specify NFL career bests, as Johnson had a 325-yard passing day against the New York Guardians in 2020. I think the Colts are probably better than the Guardians, but I'd have to go check.

Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
We could double this up with the Jets, but for the sake of variety, we're going to go with Malik Turner instead. Turner was having a solid special teams day before the endgame—he had the blocked punt which turned into a Denver first down—but the sparingly-used special-teamer had a chance to make an offensive splash late into the blowout Cowboys loss. Turner caught both Cowboys touchdowns in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, turning a 30-0 loss into an almost respectable 30-16 defeat, if you didn't bother to look into any of the details too closely.

Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
The Bengals raced out to a superb 5-2 start in the tough AFC North, but a couple of dreadful results have brought them back down to Earth in recent weeks. The 41-16 drubbing against the Browns did not showcase any Cincinnati player at his best, but the clear comfort for Bengals fans is the season-long performance of rookie Ja'Marr Chase. After an up-and-down preseason, Chase ignited his career with over 750 yards and six scores in his first seven games as a professional. Though the pace has cooled off over the past two weeks, the rookie still leads the AFC in receiving yards (835) and touchdowns (seven). He has been a major player in the most encouraging first half of a Bengals season since at least 2015—the last time the team made the postseason under former head coach Marvin Lewis.

Game-Changing Play of the Week
The Falcons had a 24-6 fourth-quarter lead over the Saints and then proceeded to Falcon, watching the Saints race back to take a one-point lead with just 61 seconds left on the clock. Every Atlanta fan has seen this script before; the Falcons were going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yet again. Oh well, we might as well look to see what Cordarrelle Patterson is going to do…

Paulson Adebo with the double-whammy there; the reception allowed and the blown tackle to allow the Falcons into field goal range. And despite Mike Davis' best efforts to give the ball away, the Falcons did in fact manage to kick that field goal and win the game. I wasn't aware that was legal!

The win pushes the Falcons into the seventh seed, thanks in no small part to losses for Carolina, Minnesota, and San Francisco elsewhere. The Saints, meanwhile, would have been sitting pretty at 6-2 with the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Buccaneers; instead, now they're only a game and a half clear of the field in the NFC without a starting quarterback the rest of the way. The bottom of the NFC playoff picture is, uh, not good this year, guys!

Weekly Predictions

Bryan: We have reached the halfway point of the season, and both races are close. The Packers' nightmare cost Andrew a spot in the Lock of the Week, so I'm just a game back there in what is the least impressive edition of the Lock we have done in our years of running Scramble. At least it's close!

Double Survival is more interesting, with both of us having very respectable 12-4 records despite Andrew taking a blow with the Bills and Raiders both losing this week and the Saints slapping me upside the head. With half the teams gone, it's good to look at where our differences are as we try to see who has the advantage down the back stretch. My unique teams remaining are the Falcons, Bills, Panthers, Colts, and Raiders, and there's some opportunity to gain ground there with both Buffalo and Las Vegas coming back to bite Andrew this week. Andrew, on the other hand, has Baltimore, Cleveland, Miami, New Orleans, and Seattle in his back pocket, so my Saints loss this week could be his opportunity in the future.

So, technically, I might have the slightest of advantages? My five unique teams are 22-20 compared to Andrew's 21-21, but I don't think the Falcons, Panthers, or Raiders are as good as their records (hence why I haven't picked them yet!). It looks like it'll continue to be a close race down to the wire; should be a good one.

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:
Andrew: 4-5
Bryan: 3-6

Andrew: When I go on a run like I did last week, my favorite way to get over it is to find a line that has the potential to make me happy regardless of which direction it goes. In other words, pick against my own rooting interests. This week, that's easy: without Jameis Winston, the Saints just lost at home to the lowly Falcons, a team that sits near the bottom of the DVOA table. Their opponents, meanwhile, are going on a tear through last year's playoff field: the Titans are the first team ever to open a season 6-0 against playoff squads from the previous season. They have a great chance to make it 7-0 against the Saints. Tennessee (-3) over New Orleans.

Bryan: I'll see your "make a biased pick based on going against your own rooting interests," and raise you "making a biased pick based on unreasonable faith for your own rooting interests." San Francisco (+4) against the Rams. Let's get crazy.

Double Survival League
Records to Date
Andrew: 12-4
Bryan: 12-4

Teams remaining:
Andrew: BAL, CHI, CLE, DAL, HOU, JAX, LAC, MIA, NO, NYJ, PHI, PIT, SEA, SF, TB, TEN
Bryan: ATL, BUF, CAR, CHI, DAL, HOU, IND, JAX, LAC, LV, NYJ, PHI, PIT, SF, TB, TEN

Bryan: Dan Campbell's fighting men are going to get a win at some point, just you wait and see. It's just not going to be this week, even with the extra rest and the Steelers on a short turnaround. Pittsburgh has a very solid pressure rate despite not blitzing very much—and the Lions offensive line tends to operate more theoretically than actually, with Jared Goff not being the greatest when hurried and harried. I think the Lions' defense will perform surprisingly well; I can't see the Lions' offense doing much of anything in this one. Besides, if I don't take the Steelers here, when do I take them? Baltimore? Tennessee? Cleveland? No, no, no, let's get Pittsburgh out of the way in what is by far their easiest game remaining, rest differential be damned.

Andrew: As the revamped byelaws of double survival dictate that we must match at least one of our picks, this is the matched pick for this week. As you note, if we don't pick the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, then when? They're a solid if unspectacular team who will have a chance in most games, but this should be as close to a sure win as we're getting for them in their current incarnation.

Bryan: I'm also taking Dallas, coming out of an extremely sluggish performance, over the Falcons, coming out of a huge comeback win that has vaulted them into playoff position. Suffice it to say that I do not believe Week 9 showed the accurate baseline talent levels of either of those two teams. I know that Dak Prescott is still coming off of that calf injury, and I know that last year's matchup between the two teams was a 40-39 shootout, but still. I don't think the Falcons have the secondary to plaster the Cowboys receivers like Denver did, and I refuse to believe the 31st team in DVOA is an actual, factual playoff contender. Unlike Pittsburgh, there are other weeks we could take Dallas, but this is a principle pick.

Andrew: My second team is keeping things in the AFC North: the Baltimore Ravens should have far too much for a Miami team that looked only marginally better than the Texans this past weekend. The Dolphins have fallen a long way since their opening-day win over the Patriots and do not have the offense to take advantage of an uncharacteristically poor Ravens defense. The Ravens, meanwhile, will be encouraged by their comeback victory over the Vikings, and looking to cement their return to the top of the AFC North.

Comments

22 comments, Last at 12 Nov 2021, 11:31pm

1 Really?

“It's close to a sure thing, based on how Green Bay's game went against the Chiefs, that Rodgers' refusal to accept the vaccine cost his team the game,”

The dozens of fully vaccinated NFL personnel who have missed games due to catching Covid-19 have entered the chat.

22 Yes, really

In reply to by Raiderfan

In hindsight, Rodgers would have had, what, an 80% chance of playing if he hadn't bought into the bull-quackery and just gotten the shot, just as he's certainly been vaccinated against measles, polio, smallpox, and other diseases? Sorry, but Rodgers' decision to be a selfish windbag is not at all on par with the decisions of his more responsible teammates.

2 Tomlin

I would put him in for COY just for keeping a sinking ship above the water line.  I know this kind of feat will never win the award, but it doesn't keep me from being impressed.

3 Lamar = MVP

MVP: has to be Lamar Jackson. He's responsible for nearly 80% of the Ravens total offense. He's the SOLE reason the team is 6 - 2. He's brought his team back from double digit deficits three times so far. The rest of the team knows they're always in the game with #8 is playing.

He also is asked to do more than any other QB in the league. He's not only tasked with all that's required as a passer (where he is among the league leaders in yards/pass and per attempt, despite several receiver drops), he's also tasked with all that's required being a runner. Lamar is the clear cut league MVP.

4 Lamar Jackson

In reply to by BDAABAT

I definitely like Lamar Jackson as a shout if the Ravens can kick on and win the top seed in the AFC. My guess is the heavy defeat to Cincinnati is weighing heavily on people's minds, as well as the general sense that all of the top teams in the AFC are kinda' disappointing relative to expectations.

5 It's a team game, baby BAT.

In reply to by BDAABAT

I distinctly remember a game which swung on a Calais Campbell blocked FG attempt.

After that, the Colts defense was a sieve and allowed the Ravens to do anything they wanted.

WIthout that blocked FG, the game would have been over.

Let's pump the brakes.  I'm sure I could find many more examples of impact plays in other Ravens games if I was a Ravens fan (which I'm not).

Kyler Murray all day, every day over Lamar Jackson in all the ways that we measure QB play...

8 Absolutely! Football is a…

Absolutely! Football is a team sport.  RE: Murray vs. Jackson. Murray is an excellent player. And, what he is asked to do is fundamentally different than what Lamar is asked to do. Their offenses are totally different. The players around them are totally different. Lamar is doing Lamar things passing AND running. I repeat: no other QB is asked to do what Lamar is asked to do. In fact, the AZ game last week does a terrific job of demonstrating the impact of the rest of the team on the overall success of AZ. They won...with Colt McCoy starting! Anyone think the Ravens would win against the 49ers without Lamar?  

7 I agree he's probably the…

In reply to by BDAABAT

I agree he's probably the MVP, but without a clear missed Delay of Game penalty and a NFL record field goal his team loses to the Lions. If that sinks Josh Allen vs the Jags (and it should), it should be considered against Jackson as well.

13 Counterpoints:

Everyone has some luck here and there. I'd stay there's a lot of unluck with his teams injuries. 

And specifically, they may have missed a DOG but he still had to get 19 yards on 4th and get Tucker into his (incredible) range. CEH not fumbling doesn't guarantee a win either (would've been ~50 yard FG, not 100% a gimmie). Lamar still had to get a 1st and he was directly involved in all the yards in the last drive there to seal it including an amazing 4th and 1 run. 

6 Arizona over Carolina.

That's about as good as a lock as you'll get in the NFL this week.

Darnold is benched and their back-up has no NFL experience.  The Panthers have a good defense, but Arizona's is much better.

Kyler Murray can essentially rest another week and it won't matter as far as the outcome.

I hope Arizona can get up to play the game.

10 Brady's on pace to match or…

Brady's on pace to match or tie his career highs in yards and TDs even before taking the 17th game into account and is among the league leaders in most categories. His awesome supporting cast should be considered, but many of the other candidates have a lot of weapons too. I feel like he is more than an "acceptable" choice with the added bonus that he is doing this at age 44

19 Yeah they're overthinking it…

Yeah they're overthinking it. If Brady is at or near the top of the League in conventional stats when the season wraps up, especially if the Bucs make the playoffs, he'll be one of the top candidates, even if he had a Hall of Famer in their prime at every position around him. It's the way it is; voters aren't really that thoughtful about these things.

I'd say supporting cast (or lack thereof) might only matter as a sort of tiebreaker if someone has similar stats with a lesser cast, and a stronger narrative. Herbert might fit the bill if he ends up there. But I'd wager it goes to whichever of Brady or Stafford (whose supporting cast isn't really that much worse than Brady's, and arguably he has the superior individual WR and RB) has the best C%, Yardage, and TDs when all is said and done.

11 I agree Najee Harris is…

I agree Najee Harris is going to get some votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year, based primarily on volume, but he really hasn't been very impressive. The Monday Night Football team spent their entire broadcast raving about what a great guy he is, while Harris was busy putting up a 22/62/2.8 night. 

12 "The Monday Night Football…

"The Monday Night Football team spent their entire broadcast raving about what a great guy he is, while Harris was busy putting up a 22/62/2.8 night."

 

You have 4 downs and only need to gain 10 yards, so if Tomlin wasn't an idiot he would have just kept feeding Harris the ball and those 2.8 yards per carry would have led to a TD every drive.  #tomlin_sucks

14 My midseason awards, not predictions necessarily

MVP: Lamar - a lot of injuries including blindside T, top 2/3 RBs, etc.

CBPOTY: Dak - ballin like the top 9 QB he is

COTY: Payton - tough one really, Saints look so different but they're still good somehow

OPOTY: Kupp - pace is incredible 

DPOTY: TJ Watt - residual from last year maybe but still great this year

OROTY: Chase - record breaking stuff

DROTY: PS2 - I don't want to acknowledge Parsons and his sexual assault that got swept under the rug as boys will be boys hazing

15 Lamar MVP

Their are a number of you that believe that Lamar is MVP.  Many of the talking heads on TV think so too, however, the FO reader contributors are more knowledgeable than the TV talking heads in my opinion.  Regardless, there are many in both camps that think Lamar is an MVP or an MVP candidate.

We even have scrambler Andrew Potter on board to some extent to the great scrambler Lamar Jackson. 

So again I ask FO, why is Teddy Bridgewater a comparable QB to Lamar Jackson by DYAR/DVOA?  What do your metrics see that the general public including myself does not?

 

20 Weirdly, I think Jackson is…

In reply to by jheidelberg

Weirdly, I think Jackson is currently in a bizzarro Tebow 2011 Zone, where he's engineering comebacks from deficits that result from his own subpar production earlier in the game (happened in MIN, IND, and KC to an extent). He's obviously many orders of magnitude better, but he's similarly getting credit in certain circles for comebacks that shouldn't have had to be comebacks.

With that said, as has been mentioned elsewhere in this thread, what Jackson has been tasked with is fundamentally different than anyone else. He is the offense. He is the rushing attack and the passing attack, both of which are designed around his unique abilities. And it's a good offense: top-10 by DVOA, actually top-3 by weighted DVOA (and 6th in DAVE). And that's despite defenses keying to stop him and him alone (which might have something to do with his middling DVOAs). You couldn't plug another player in and make it work (maaaaaybe Wilson if healthy), the way Brady would probably do well on the Rams, or Rodgers on the Browns, or any good conventional QB in any conventional-ish offense.

I'd actually point to him as example #1 of why DVOA/DYAR for individuals is mostly just trivia, but that's a discussion for another day.

17 Predictions

MVP: Tom Brady

OPOTY: Cooper Kupp

DPOTY: Myles Garrett

OROTY: Ja'Marr Chase

DROTY: Patrick Surtain

CBPOTY: Dak Prescott

COTY: Kliff Kingsbury

18 Parsons is tied for 5th with…

Parsons is tied for 5th with 10 Tackles for Loss. Only half of those are sacks. So you don't have to like him as a DROY candidate but not at all fair to say sacks are the only thing he has going for him.