The Texans, the Jaguars, and the Sextet of Sucktitude

Houston Texans Fans
Houston Texans Fans
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 9 - Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week finds your humble Scrambleteers marveling at the bottom of the DVOA table. At this time last year, only one team had a DVOA below -25.0%: the winless New York Jets, at -38.1%, were well on their way to blowing the No. 1 pick in the draft in the final weeks. Usually, we have three or four teams below that level. Not since 2009 have we had six teams this bad at this stage of the season. (2009 was epically bad: the Buccaneers, Chiefs, Browns, Rams, and Lions, all at 1-6, and the 2-6 Raiders were all below -35.0% DVOA.)

Bryan: This sextet of sucktitude has led to some fairly lopsided matchups already this season. There have been 15 games so far this year with an underdog of 10 points or more—seven of them in the past two weeks. We have two more coming in Week 9, it appears, with the Colts being well favored over the Jets on Thursday Night Football and the Bills expected to handily handle the Jaguars. It's rare that we have managed to distill so many have-nots so early in a year.

Andrew: Not only that, but to do so without having a pile of "haves" as well. In 2009, eight teams were also above 20.0% DVOA, four in each conference. This year, we have five, and all but one of those are in the NFC. You would think the former makes sense: a lot of very good teams beating up on a lot of very bad teams. This year's crop, however, don't even have that excuse! They're being shredded by teams like the Eagles (0.9% DVOA, 17th), Broncos (-6.8%, 22nd), and the Geno Smith Seahawks. They're comprehensively bad, too: all six rank in the bottom 10 for both offensive and defensive DVOA.

Bryan: Those bottom six—whom I just realized we haven't actually identified—are the Falcons, the Texans, the Jaguars, the Lions, the Jets and the Dolphins. For most of these teams, the competitive portion of their seasons are over, but they still have over half the schedule left to churn through.

Andrew: While fans, players, front offices, and owners of some of these teams may believe they're still in the hunt, we at Scramble are fairly confident that each of them should already be checking draft tiebreakers, not playoff ones. For some of them, that's right in line with expectations. For others, not so much. We figured we'd kill a cold November afternoon with a look at what went wrong for each team's 2021 season, and what the hope is for 2022.


Andrew: Has any team in the league undershot expectations quite as badly as the Dolphins? I know Washington's defense hasn't lived up to its billing, but the Football Team at least has Ryan Fitzpatrick's injury as mitigation. This is, for the most part, the team the Dolphins intended to field.

Bryan: Or so they claim. If I'm Tua Tagovailoa, the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, I would be slightly peeved by the never-ending rumors that the Dolphins were trying to drag Deshaun Watson over in any and every way possible, to the point where owner Steven Ross was talking to Watson as recently as this week to try to finalize a deal. I'm certainly not saying Tagovailoa has played well enough to, like, deserve the undying loyalty of the franchise, but man oh man. If Aaron Schatz was actively auditioning writers to replace us, Scramble might notably drop off in quality!

But you're right in that there's no getting around the Dolphins being the single most disappointing team in football so far. Everyone else here expected to be here, or at least somewhere in this vicinity. The Dolphins were 10-6 last season, and realistically 8-8 quality! Everything has just crumbled as much as it possibly could have.

Andrew: Tagovailoa's injury causing him to miss three games didn't help, with backup Jacoby Brissett effectively the primary quarterback from Weeks 2 to 5. However, Tagovailoa was back on the field in time for them to lose to the Jaguars and Falcons in back-to-back weeks. Those two teams are worst and third-worst in DVOA, so losing to them is about as damning an indictment on Miami's season as you could get. That Week 1 victory over the Patriots feels more like a year ago than seven weeks ago. What concerns me the most about the Dolphins is there isn't any one clear issue you can point to, like an underachieving pass defense or Roberto Aguayo at kicker. They're 25th or worst in every area of DVOA. The Falcons are the only other team who can say that.

Bryan: There are several directions we can point in, at the very least. The Dolphins offensive line was young and bad in 2020, and they kept mostly the same team intact, gambling that they would take a step forward together in 2021. Well, sometimes young and bad becomes experienced and bad; all five offensive line positions have ranged from bad to hurt to a nightmare in the case of Liam Eichenberg. The much-ballyhooed receiving corps hasn't worked out, with Will Fuller basically being nonexistent. And the Odd Couple arrangement, with two different offensive coordinators, feels very much like a failed Too Many Cooks scenario at the moment.

Andrew: I'd agree, that setup is very odd, and it seems like an indictment on the coaching staff to have such a situation. This isn't like, say, the Rams, where they have a nominal offensive coordinator but Sean McVay's really in charge, or the Broncos, where it's Vic Fangio's show on defense. The Dolphins offensive coordinator situation is plain weird.

Bryan: Honestly, I don't think Tua has been that bad. Not a top-half quarterback like the Dolphins had hoped for, mind you, but serviceable. "Serviceable" isn't enough in the NFL, but at the very least it's enough to where I'd recommend overhauling the line first.

Andrew: The other big issue here is that Philadelphia holds Miami's first-round pick in April's draft, so the team's bad record doesn't even have that future benefit.

Bryan: Ah, but Miami holds San Francisco's pick! I mean, I still have no idea why they traded back up after trading down from No. 3—Jaylen Waddle has been solid, sure, but not a game-changer—but at least they're not in, say, Seattle's place, with a 2-5 record and no first-round pick.

There are things that are going right. Emmanuel Ogbah is still Emmanuel Ogbah, and Christian Wilkins is developing quite nicely. But that's Brian Flores as defensive coordinator, not Brian Flores as head coach.

Andrew: If I'm a Miami fan—which I very much am not, thank you—I'm hanging my hopes on this still being a young team. Only one starter, Jesse Davis, is over 30. Byron Jones will hit 30 this offseason, but Jones is a good veteran at a position of strength on the roster. Tua Tagovailoa is just 23 and has plenty of time to get better alongside Waddle, Mike Gesicki, and Preston Williams, all of whom are under 25. On the starting defense, basically only Jason McCourty is the wrong side of 30. My worry would be that we said similar things about the Falcons back when their young defense featured Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Desmond Trufant, Keanu Neal, and so on, and that group never matured into a good unit.

Bryan: Yeah, it feels like the Dolphins have already assumed that experience leads to positive results all the time—except at quarterback, where they're frantically shoveling away. It feels like they felt 10-6 (-ish) was their floor for this season, and they have been hit with a particularly harsh reality check.

NEW YORK JETS (2-5, -28.6% DVOA)

Andrew: Given what we just wrote about Miami, is it weird to say that this 2-5 Jets team has probably overshot expectations, and provided fans with a lot more encouragement than reason to be downbeat?

Bryan: I think we'd be phrasing that a lot differently if they hadn't just blasted the Bengals, but I think, overall, you're right—the Jets are more or less on the pace we hoped they might be. By which, of course, I mean they're not dead-last despite the massive lack of talent around the board.

Andrew: In an article we wrote about coaching debuts a couple of seasons back, we drew what I think is quite a solid conclusion that no matter how bad a team's roster is, if the coach is any good, it will show up somewhere. The Jets are fifth from the bottom in both offensive and defensive DVOA, but they probably have the least talent of any team on both units, so even that appears to be punching slightly above their weight. Those wins against the Titans and Bengals are doing a lot of heavy lifting for their season, because this looks a lot different if they're 0-7, but you can't entirely dismiss a team that has beaten two playoff contenders, one while giving its backup quarterback his first career start.

Bryan: I said before the season started that the Jets needed multiple cornerbacks to step up if they wanted to be competitive. Well, they got one, with Bryce Hall looking like a professional NFL player, so that's something. And their offensive line has held up ... better than I expected, though not so much better that I wasn't pleasantly surprised to see them trade for Laurent Duvernay-Tardif at the deadline. Keeping Zach Wilson (... or Mike White?!?!?!?!?!) upright is probably more important than anything else the Jets could do this season.

Andrew: I agree with that. The last thing Jets fans need to see is what Bengals fans saw happen to Joe Burrow last season. It would be good if now they could take their performances against teams above .500, and put in similar performances against teams closer to their own level. I often say about soccer goalkeepers that I'd rather my keeper save the shots he's meant to save and concede the ones he's meant to concede than make world-beating saves but also let in absolute howlers. There's a similar principle at work here: it's no use beating the best team on your schedule if you lose to everybody else. Though I guess, after last season, for the Jets to be beating anybody is kinda nice.

Bryan: We can agree that Mike White's probably not the answer, right? He had an amazing debut and picked up a couple of our awards this week, and Robert Saleh was noncommittal when it came to the future of the position, but we agree that the Jets have to find out what they have in Zach Wilson, which requires him to play when healthy, yeah?

Andrew: Well, first and foremost, the Jets need to find a quarterback, which is not quite the same as finding out what they have in Wilson. If White plays next week as well as he did in Week 8, which is very unlikely considering the Colts will not use Cincinnati's defensive playbook, then I think you owe it to the rest of your roster to keep him in the lineup until he proves he's not The Man.

Bryan: Not that you meant this, but if "as well as he played last week" requires 400 more passing yards, he'd be joining a very, very small list of players who have ever done that back to back—but a list which, somehow, includes both Matt Cassel and Billy Volek. Small sample sizes, away!

Andrew: I remember those Billy Volek games, because of course I play in a fantasy league where Billy Volek was in the lineup those two weeks. You're right, I don't necessarily mean volume, but White has posted a DVOA of 6.1% and 98 DYAR this season, versus Zach Wilson's -41.6% and -398. The quarterback spot shouldn't be Wilson's by default; part of the process is earning that ahead of the other guy who wants the spot.

I suspect that this will be moot by the end of Thursday night.

Bryan: Well, the Jets are moot in general, but it's fun to talk about things. For the record, Wilson had a 22.4% DVOA in the win over the Titans, compared to White's 22.5% in the win over the Bengals, so that's the model for Jets competitiveness going forward—22.0% or bust!

Andrew: For the rest of the season, encouragement for the Jets takes the form of finding players who can do a job on a professional franchise. Wins over playoff contenders are a bonus; the real measure of where they are comes in Weeks 15 and 16 against the Dolphins and Jaguars.

DETROIT LIONS (0-7, -31.0% DVOA)

Bryan: As of time of writing, the Lions could still win the top seed in the NFC. All that requires is for them to win a zillion games and convince every other professional football player to take up cricket or water polo.

Andrew: At time of writing, the Lions are the favorites for the No. 1 pick in April's draft, which is an entirely more realistic scenario.

Bryan: And yet, if we were to create a Super League consisting of just these six teams, I think I'd trust Dan Campbell's men to come near, and possibly at, the top of the table. I'd argue they have played more competitive games than any of these other teams, lack of wins and extreme blowout against the Eagles notwithstanding.

Andrew: That Week 8 game is the one real blot on their copybook. Prior to that, they were on the list of the best winless teams in DVOA history. Now there's an element of damning with faint praise there, the football equivalent of "you're quite good-looking for a ginger" or "you're kinda cool for a nerd." Ahem, not that I have ever been told either of those things, you understand. Being the least-bad winless team is not much of a consolation prize. Even if it took you off that list, a win would still be better.

Bryan: For the record, the Lions still rank 13th out of the 32 teams that started the season 0-8 in the DVOA era, as most teams who can't buy a win generally have more than one game that looked like the Philadelphia knockout.

You say a win would be better. My countargument: would it, though? At the moment, a win would knock them out of the top slot in next year's draft. If you knew, for certain, that your team was not going to make the playoffs, a bunch of entertaining losses where you see fight and competitiveness and the occasional crazy two-fake-punt drive seems like the next best thing. You want to finish with one fewer win than any of the other, more terrible teams—and, in a year with a ton of terrible teams, that one less win may well be "zero wins."

Andrew: As a neutral, I agree. Were I fan of the team, while recognizing the value in defeats, I would still rather come away on a Sunday having seen a victory.

You're right, though, that I would peg the Lions as the best of the six teams we're considering. There's a lot of fun humor in the idea of the winless Lions being the best of the six, while the three-win Falcons are No. 32 in DVOA. Scheduling parity is still very much Not a Thing. There's a lot to be encouraged about here, from Campbell's never-say-die attitude to the actual analytics practices he's employing. It's not his fault that the franchise is still paying for years of rocket scientist mismanagement.

Bryan: It's hard to win any games when your offensive skill positions are T.J. Hockenson and the Four Stooges. It's hard to win any games when Jared Goff if your quarterback (he is still yet to win a game without Sean McVay). It's hard to win any games with a linebacker corps made out of the finest, softest cheeses. And, to be fair, Campbell hasn't found a way to actually do that yet, but taking this group of talent and turning it into something that can put a bit of fear into actual factual playoff contenders? That deserves a little bit of applause.

I do end up siding with you, however, that being the first 0-17 team would not exactly be a thrilling spot on Dan Campbell's resume. I really thought the Eagles might have been the week, which explains a little bit about my record in Lock of the Week to this point. But what fun it will be if the Lions' first win is on national television, on Thanksgiving Day over Matt Nagy's Bears? Let's put a pin in that and call it wishful thinking.


Andrew: Speaking of explaining our prediction records this season ... remember when I was quite optimistic about the Jaguars in August? I have a sneaking suspicion that you may have some opinions on what has gone wrong in Jacksonville since.

Bryan: We don't do our hotseat rankings for another month or so, but let me give you a brief preview: the Jaguars are in desperate need of some Urban Renewal. The Jaguars may not be the worst team in football—and lord help me, but I find that hard to understand—but they are by far the least prepared team. It's November, and it still feels like they're having trouble lining up properly, or deciding who should be on the field—not what they should do once they're there, not who deserves to start and rotates, but which 11 human beings should be on the field for any given play. These are unprofessional mistakes from a team led by someone who seems unfit for professional stakes.

Andrew: It wasn't meant to be like this. Trevor Lawrence was meant to come in first overall as the franchise savior and make everything work out. Even if Urban Meyer was no better than Chuck Pagano, Lawrence could be Andrew Luck. Instead, Meyer has been no better than Bobby Petrino, and Lawrence is flat out of luck. The Jaguars are not a professional franchise, so in a way Meyer is the perfect fit. At least the Hue Jackson Browns had a long-term plan.

Bryan: It amuses me that their best offensive player has been James Robinson, whom Meyer and Trent Baalke tried to replace not once (Travis Etienne) but twice (Carlos Hyde). The best thing they have going happened despite their best efforts.

Honestly, a Lawrence-Robinson-Andrew Norwell-Jamal Agnew corps isn't the worst thing I have ever heard of, and you could piece together enough optimism that you could have seen this as a ... well, still a bad team, but maybe a bad team pointed in the right direction. But man...

Andrew: Between Marvin Jones, DJ Chark, and Laviska Shenault, the receiving corps shouldn't have been this bad either. Chark getting hurt didn't help, but when you're down to Shenault, Tavon Austin, and Jamal Agnew at wide receiver, there simply aren't enough gadget plays to make a functional offense out of those parts. That's taking punting on the season to ridiculous levels.

I maintain, with a competent offensive coach, this is a good offense. I'm not as down on the tackles as you are, and even with Brandon Linder and A.J. Cann on injured reserve, the interior line is playable. Lawrence has shown the attributes that made him a stud prospect, but when the offense is this poorly coached, no rookie is going to make it work. The Jaguars have been rebooted more times than the Spider-Man franchise, but it's already time for another fresh start.

Bryan: And I don't think this comes as any sort of surprise; this was the kind of outcome quite a few people predicted when Meyer was originally hired. The danger of the path from the college level to the pro level has been overstated over the years, but it never looked like he was prepared to deal with professional athletes and NFL rules, from offseason violations of practice requirements to bringing in disgraced strength coaches to The Whole Tim Tebow Thing, What The Heck Was That.

Andrew: If there's any optimism for Jaguars fans, it's that no franchise has more recent experience of navigating a rebuild. Successfully navigating a rebuild is another matter, but one of these times...


Andrew: Oh for pity's sake, what is wrong with this division?

Bryan: In the Texans' case, many, many unfun things, some of which are bound to continue for the foreseeable future with the Deshaun Watson trade predictably not happening.

Andrew: For a normal franchise, the Watson situation would be far and away the biggest issue they had to contend with. For a normal franchise, the Jack Easterby situation would be far and away the biggest issue the franchise had to contend with. For a normal franchise, trading away its star players for peanuts or releasing them outright to enter a rebuild would be far and away the biggest issue the franchise had to contend with. The Texans have all three of those things going on at the same time. They are the one franchise in the league that makes the Jaguars look somewhat functional. (Though we should note, just in passing, that the Raiders are not exactly covering themselves in glory over the past month either.)

Bryan: For a normal franchise, being massively outmatched at head coach would be the biggest issue the franchise had to contend with as well. When you watch the Jets or the Lions, or even the Jaguars to a certain extent, you see modern offensive ideas. Modern offensive ideas done badly, mind you, but modern ideas. The Texans look like a bad 1990s team, willing to slam the ball into the line over and over without any creativity in the passing game.

Andrew: I have seen people question whether this Texans squad or the expansion roster of 2002 was worse. The scary part is, I'm not sure that's a contest. It's this one, in part because this one doesn't have the excuse of being an expansion team. Seriously, is there a major issue this franchise doesn't have? Star player embroiled in off-field scandal? Check. Owner in way over his head? Check. Power struggle leading to ill-suited people in positions of leadership? Check. Inadequate coaching staff? Disgruntled players all wanting out? Lack of draft capital to replace them due to ill-conceived trades? Check. Check. Check. About the only thing they haven't done wrong yet is announce a decision to relocate. Probably to, like, Utah or something.

Bryan: Some of the Texans' moves over the past few weeks have involved getting rid of guys who aren't great "culture" fits—hang around Texans Twitter for very long, and you'll hear more about culture than passing or tackling or whathaveyou. That certainly happens—guys not fitting in a scheme, or guys not fitting the vision a coach has, and going off and doing better elsewhere—but man, it seems to happen a lot in Houston. If half your roster goes against your "culture," that isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of your Long-Term Plan, if the Texans even have one at this point.

Andrew: To steal from Phoebe Buffay, the Texans don't even have a "pl". There is no long term in Houston. Their few draft picks barely see the field, kept out by veterans such as David Johnson, Chris Conley, and Jordan Akins. Other than Davis Mills, they have given all of five carries and 26 total targets to guys under 27 years old. Brandin Cooks is a good receiver, sure, but Rex Burkhead and Pharaoh Brown are little more than mediocre veterans. That's not what you want to see from a 1-7 team.

Bryan: The Texans seem years away from the start of a rebuild; they're wallowing in toxic positivity, where everything is fine as long as there's Competition and Culture and Buzzwords around which to huddle. This is somewhat less than ideal. And they're a fitting team to sit in the very cellar of ... wait, they're not last in DVOA?


Bryan: Everybody! One of these things is not like the others...

Andrew: It's quite possible that the Falcons genuinely don't realize how bad they are. They're 3-4 and in the wild-card hunt in the NFC! Their offseason moves were those of a team that thinks it's a contender, not one that's rebuilding.

Bryan: Fortunately, most of the people who read this article aren't quite that delusional. Panthers and 49ers fans are overrepresented in my Twitter followers, but I ran a poll to see which of the four-loss teams people think are going to earn a playoff spot, and, well…

That seems to be just about the right level of certainty.

Andrew: Let's recap. The Falcons are No. 32 in DVOA, behind a Texans team starting Davis Mills at quarterback, a Jaguars team starting Urban Meyer at head coach, and a Lions team calling Jared Goff throwaways on fourth down. They rank 26th or lower in every phase of the game. And THAT despite still having Matt Ryan at quarterback, and enjoying a historically great season from their first-round rookie tight end, Kyle Pitts.

Bryan: ESPN's takeaway from Atlanta's Week 8 loss was "how do they move on without Calvin Ridley?" where they talk about needing to add someone to the receiving corps. Bless. No. This team is not a wide receiver away from contending. This team is not a wide receiver away from contending to contend. This is a team that's 3-4 because ... well, why are they 3-4? Having a talented quarterback and a creative play caller certainly helps.

Andrew: Their three wins came over two teams also in the bottom six of DVOA and a Giants team whose head coach still makes grown men run laps when they make a mistake; it's fair to say that the scheduling has helped just as much as the play calling. There's no shame in being blown out by the Buccaneers, but they also lost at home to Washington and Carolina, who rank No. 24 and No. 25 in DVOA. The Falcons play OK-ish against bad teams, struggle against mediocre ones, and are destroyed by anything better. That's not a contender, and I highly doubt they end the season one game below .500.

Bryan: Honestly, I'll be surprised if they win more than one or two games the rest of the way. By the time we reset the playoff picture in a few weeks, I fully expect this flirtation with a competitive record to be well, well in the rearview mirror. And then maybe we can talk about their terrible salary situation for 2022, as it's a toss-up between them and the Giants for "worse team already effectively in the red." That Matt Ryan extension will be a head-scratcher for years.

Andrew: The good news is that between Ryan, Pitts, and Ridley, they already have three key pieces to field a strong offense. The bad news is they simply can't seem to find a second receiver, and they still need to figure things out on the offensive line. To say nothing of a defense that spends more time retooling than a vintage motorcycle enthusiast.

Bryan: I give Arthur Smith credit for using Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson all over the field in a positionless offense, but especially with Ridley out for the foreseeable future, it's becoming something of a talentless offense as well. Frankly, Tajae Sharpe might be their best active wide receiver this week, which is great for Tajae Sharpe but less great for the Falcons as a whole.

But to go back to my Lions point just as we're wrapping up here: the Falcons have been dining on fool's gold. They're in a position in terms of record that they are highly unlikely to be able to back up the rest of the way. It may be less fun, but it seems healthier to be the Lions—honestly knowing where your team actually is, and without putting yourself behind the eight-ball, draftwise.

Andrew: Right. As the old cliche goes, the first step toward solving any problem is acknowledging there is one. For Jacksonville, that's the coach. For Houston, it's the culture. For Atlanta, it's cognizance. I'm not sure which of those is the easiest to solve, but for perhaps the first time in a very long time, I'd rather be in the position of the Lions or Jets.

Weekly Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood
Hey, remember last week's segment, in which we highlighted Colts quarterback Carson Wentz throwing a really dumb interception under pressure?

Everything we said then applies here. Sure, there's an argument that a pick-six is better than being sacked for a safety in this specific end-of-game situation. We're pretty confident that Wentz did not process the permutations in the moments before almost perfectly repeating last week's gaffe.

John Fox Award for Conservatism
Wentz's interception is doubly significant in the minds of your humble Scramblers because we were all set to criticize Mike Vrabel's decision to punt on fourth-and-6 from Colts territory with 99 seconds remaining in a tie game. The very fortunate outcome from the ensuing play doesn't quite excuse the very conservative decision. As the Colts quickly demonstrated, they were quite capable of driving for a touchdown with a minute and change left. In fact, they were quite capable of driving for a touchdown for both teams in the bountiful time remaining. Now how many offenses can you say that about?

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
If you either follow him on Twitter or read our regular Audibles column, you'll know that at least once every season, Football Outsiders head honcho Aaron Schatz embarks on a verbal tirade about a team kicking a short field goal to turn a three-point lead into a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter. NFL coaches love to make the bad decision in that scenario, forcing their opponent to drive for a game-winning touchdown instead of encouraging them to settle for a game-tying (often long) field goal attempt. Full credit to Packers head coach Matt LaFleur for resisting that temptation, and instead attempting to convert fourth-and-1 from the goal line for a touchdown that would surely have put the game beyond the Arizona Cardinals. Unfortunately, Devon Kennard broke up Aaron Rodgers' pass intended for Randall Cobb. However, we love to see a coach stay aggressive in that situation, and we hope LaFleur won't be discouraged next time out.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
We're not going to kill Mike Tomlin for attempting a fake field goal, even if the design of the fake wasn't the world's best—only one receiver beyond the sticks, and the exact same play the Steelers ran the last time they tried a fake.

No, the confusing part came after Chris Boswell was hurt on the play, which left the team without an emergency kicker. Say what? Ben Roethlisberger said that they only found out during the game that punter Pressley Harvin does not kick, had never kicked out of a hold before, and wasn't going to be an option with Roethlisberger holding the ball the rest of the way. Maybe Big Ben isn't being literal here, but either way—how do you put your kicker at risk without having a plan for someone to work in an emergency? Derek Watt was a high school kicker; why not give him a couple of kicks in training camp for just such an occasion? Teams should have in mind emergency options at quarterback, long snapper, and kicker, as you can't really just handwave away those roles. Not having a plan in place for Boswell's injury earns Tomlin a head-scratch.

'Hard Act to Follow' Fantasy Player of the Week
Mike White had never started an NFL game before—and, considering he was the backup to Zach Wilson, and the Jets felt it necessary to trade actual draft picks for Joe Flacco, I'm fairly sure everyone expected his spot start against the Bengals to be a one-and-done. If it is, it's the greatest one-and-done in NFL history. White was 37-for-45 for 405 yards and three touchdowns (... and two interceptions, but hey), adding in a catch for a two-point conversion just to complete his day. Now, to be fair, the Bengals were playing the Jets very soft, daring White to beat them. It's just that, well, White took that dare, and shredded them. White is the first quarterback ever to have at least 400 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start. He's the third Jets QB to ever have 400 yards in any game, behind Joe Namath and Ken O'Brien. All that looks to have earned him one (1) extra start. He may need to duplicate those numbers to earn a third.

Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
My colleague insists that I select Davis Mills for this award, though I might well go with Brandin Cooks instead, thanks to the 45-yard touchdown from the rookie quarterback to the disgruntled receiver well after the Rams had benched most of their starters. And that's fine, and either guy is a great pick, but I'm also going to highlight T.J. Hockenson, who had 10 catches in the Lions' 44-6 loss. Garbage-time touchdowns happen all the time, but 10 catches in a blowout? Not so often. Just nine players in NFL history have had 10 receptions in a loss of 35 points or more; none since 2010. The nine are:

  • Paul Salata (12/10/1950; Colts 14, Yanks 51; 10 catches, 155 yards)
  • Lance Alworth (12/19/1967; Raiders 51, Chargers 10; 10 catches, 213 yards)
  • Gerald Carter (10/21/1984; Bears 44, Buccaneers 9; 10 catches, 109 yards)
  • Andre Rison (11/9/1992; 49ers 41, Falcons 3; 11 catches, 99 yards)
  • Muhsin Muhammad (12/24/2000; Raiders 52, Panthers 9; 10 catches, 114 yards)
  • Willie Jackson (1/6/2002; 49ers 38, Saints 0; 10 catches, 61 yards)
  • Steve Smith (1/3/2010; Vikings 44, Giants 7; 10 catches, 57 yards)
  • Danny Amendola (10/10/2010; Lions 44, Rams 6; 12 catches, 95 yards)
  • T.J. Hockenson (10/31/2021; Eagles 44, Lions 6; 10 catches, 89 yards)

Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
Prior to Week 8, the Lions had a hard-earned reputation as the winless team who, while obviously not particularly good, always played their opponents tougher than expected. Begone, thou foul reputation! Philadelphia's 44-6 demolition almost singlehandedly smacked Detroit's DVOA and points differential down to where a winless team belongs. Yet there was one area of performance the Eagles could not pick apart. Detroit ranks fifth in our special teams value and second in weighted value on special teams, sitting proudly alongside the Ravens as the only two teams with positive value in all five areas of the kicking game. Sure, most of their strong DVOA comes from a top-three punt unit—absolutely vital for a team with an offense like Detroit's—but value is value, wherever you can find it.

Game-Changing Play of the Week
The most important game of the week came on Thursday as the Cardinals and Packers battled it out to see who would be tops in the NFC, at least at the midway point. The Packers had turned the ball over on downs at the goal line, leaving Kyler Murray and company needing to drive 99 yards for a game-winning touchdown, or at least 50 or 60 to have a shot at a tying field goal. The Cardinals made up the ground with ease, however, and found themselves inside the 10-yard line with 44 seconds left in the game. Then the offense shut down, as they tried to run out as much of the clock as possible before scoring. With 15 seconds left, Murray saw A.J. Green in the end zone, and…

It's pretty clear only one player out there knew what the play call was, and it was former Cards practice squadder Rasul Douglas, and not Green. Green missed the audible to a back-shoulder fade and never turned to look for the ball, and Douglas had an easy game-sealing pick.

The win ties the Packers with the Cardinals atop the NFC at 7-1 and gives them the head-to-head tiebreaker. If you flipped the result, not only would the Cardinals be sitting at No. 1, but the Packers would fall all the way down to the fourth seed as the 6-2 Buccaneers have the better strength of victory. With only one bye week in play, losing a game like this could be a killer when all is said and done.

Weekly Predictions

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: 4-4
Bryan: 2-6

Andrew: It's rare to see so many lines that I like this late in the season. Tennessee's line in Los Angeles feels like an overreaction to the Derrick Henry news. Jacksonville is not a professional football franchise and should not be treated as one against the Bills. Chicago and Pittsburgh are essentially the same team and that line looks three points too high. The Packers should be favored in Kansas City. Yes, I know, Patrick Mahomes and that offense could click at any moment, and if they do, watch out! However, that moment looks less and less likely to arrive this season as Chiefs receivers keep bouncing passes into the arms of defenders and they required two late field goals to squeak a come-from-behind win against the Giants. Meanwhile, Green Bay is the current No. 1 seed in the tougher conference, coming off a mini-bye versus Kansas City's short week (which also really shouldn't be a thing, NFL schedule-makers), and simply playing better right now. That we're giving the Packers points seems insane to me. Green Bay (+2.5) at Kansas City.

Bryan: It should be noted that we make these picks Tuesday mornings, and while some sites had already moved Green Bay to +1 or even pick 'em, Bovada still had them at +2.5 at the time Andrew was picking. Moral of the story is get your money in early if you think there's going to be movement!

That movement has happened by the time I'm making my pick, however, so I have to look elsewhere. While I have the Raiders winning the AFC West at this point, in my heart of hearts, I still can't bring myself to believe they are a better team than the Chiefs, rather than a team that is having better results. And if the Chiefs just struggled to put away a Giants team that pretty much has checked out of the season (seriously, Joe Judge, complaining about your headset?), the Raiders should do the same, right? One look at my record this season should show you how that logic has worked out for me so far, but I'll take the Giants (+3).

Double Survival League
Records to Date
Andrew: 12-2
Bryan: 11-3

Teams used:

Andrew: Our Monday night participants have it pretty darned brutal this week. As noted above, the Chiefs have to host NFC leaders Green Bay coming off a Thursday night mini-bye. The Giants have it even worse, hosting a Raiders squad coming off a full-blown bye week. That might well be the least fair piece of scheduling for two Monday night participants that I have ever seen. I would have favored the Las Vegas Raiders in this game without the added benefit. With it, it should be comfortable, even with them effectively going coast-to-coast.

My second pick came down to a choice between two AFC East squads. Buffalo has the most enticing game on their entire remaining schedule, a trip to Jacksonville to face a Jaguars squad that looks like it doesn't want to be here. Alternatively, I can try to pick just when the Dolphins will pick up another win—their Week 15 game against the Jets no longer looks like a gimme, making Houston their best chance to snag a second win. That comes with no guarantees, however, whereas the Buffalo Bills should be just about the safest pick of the season.

Bryan: I will, however, take those Miami Dolphins for you, just so you can feel especially clever if they lose and especially grumbly if they win. They do have a stretch between Weeks 12 and 15 with some winnable home games (Panthers, Giants, Jets), but "pick against the team playing the Texans" is rarely a poor strategy, and I'm happy to get them out of the way before the halfway point of the season and watch you sweat trying to place them later on.

Last week, my pick of the Seahawks with a backup quarterback was called the biggest stretch of the season. Well, riding high off of my victory and my hubris-powered analytical engine, I'm going with another backup: Trevor Siemian and the New Orleans Saints. I don't think the Saints are quarterback-proof or anything, but I'm sure Siemian can throw 10 zillion passes in the direction of Alvin Kamara. More importantly, with Calvin Ridley out in Atlanta, Matt Ryan's pass-catchers are Kyle Pitts and, uh, The Pits. If Winston was in, I'd call this the easiest pick of the week. Even without him, I'm confident that the Saints' pass rush will give their offense plenty of short fields to work with.


27 comments, Last at 05 Nov 2021, 8:47am

1 Calvin Ridley

"The good news is that between Ryan, Pitts, and Ridley, they already have three key pieces to field a strong offense."

It seems that the Falcons at least right now do not in fact have Calvin Ridley. He is "stepping away from football." It seems to be quite under the radar so far, though. I guess the Falcons are so irrelevant to most that no one is paying attention.

12 Being vaccinated is not…

Being vaccinated is not equivalent to being immune from COVID19, in the same way that the flu shot does not 100% protect you from influenza. Presumably, the rate of infection, and severity of infection is lowered, just like with the flu shot.

It’s really to be expected if someone on the team, such as Adams, gets COVID19 that other people are going to get it, vaccinated or otherwise.

5 Yup, sure got this one wrong

"Last week, my pick of the Seahawks with a backup quarterback was called the biggest stretch of the season."

I plead 'guilty', your Honor.

(still was, tho'; lucky stiff)

7 Lions tanking

I'm a little dissappointed with Sam Howell's fall from grace, because "Throwin' in the towel for Howell" (credit to Mina Kimes) had such a nice ring to it.

A lot of the Lions fanbase is surprised and angry that the 2021 Lions are bad, and my response to them is....did you see what they had to work with? 

I predicted 3-14 before the season (but they look likely to fall even short of that).  I was relieved when their actions in the off-season signaled that they had some self-awareness about their prospects for the season.  I just hope that they win at least one game, while securing the #1 pick.  They've already pioneered the first 0-16 would really suck to do the same for 0-17.  

9 They are Great!

Wow, that Texans team is really great!  Look!

“HOUSTON TEXANS (1-7, 32.3% DVOA)”

Top five DVOA!

10 He's the third Jets QB to…

He's the third Jets QB to ever have 400 yards in any game, behind Joe Namath and Ken O'Brien.

Vinny Testaverde (twice), Richard Todd (twice), and Glenn Foley also threw for 400 yards in a game for the Jets.

14 I don't understand the…

I don't understand the argument that a fluke performance from a no-name backup justifies any further commitment to him at the expense of determining what you have in a first round pick. Maybe if the team was 5-2 instead of 2-5 you'd have the argument that until they're out of contention, you have to stick with the guy who's winning games. And hell, maybe the Jets were idiots for drafting Wilson in the first place. But the most important thing they can do is figure out if the rookie they've invested so much in is worth anything or not.

15 They have 4 years to figure…

They have 4 years to figure out what they have in Wilson.  They have the rest of the season to figure out what they have in Mike White.  At the very least the Jets should sit Wilson for the first Bills game, since that would be like throwing him into the woodchipper.  If Mike White (or Flacco, if White gets hurt) gets destroyed, well, no big loss. Let Wilson come back when he's fully healthy, against one of the several terrible teams they play the second half of the season.

17 To add on:

"The last thing Jets fans need to see is what Bengals fans saw happen to Joe Burrow last season"

That sure sucked. *looks at Burrow now* Doesn't seem to be really affecting him now though! I think we exaggerate injuries. As long as he's not obviously rushed back like RG3, he'll likely be fine.

But I agree with you, they need more info on Wilson and it's hard to get that through just practice...just ask them about Mike White! They thought he sucked so bad *in practices alone* they stupidly traded for Flacco. Turns out he's...well, not the worst! Weird! Games are where you're going to get the meat of the evaluation. As long as he's cleared, there's not much reason to keep him benched and make him possibly fume. 

18 If White plays poorly, sure,…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

If White plays poorly, sure, go back to Wilson, who hopefully hits the passes that White is completing which have been there all season.  But if White doesn't falter, they do not need to go back to Wilson until next year, if that. As far as Wilson fuming, he was texting White during the game, and it wasn't griping or insults.  I think Jets as a team are concerned about where they are as a team, and worried about winning as a team.  Most likely they will go back to Wilson soon enough.

19 When has such a strat ever worked?

Texting during a game? IDK how that's possible but either way, that doesn't mean he would fume when he's healthy. You know, the whole caveat for why he's not out there in the first place. Try telling him that when doctors clear him. 

Gather as much info on him as possible before his 4th year starts. And if Mike White needs to go back to the bench while still not playing "poorly" get a comp pick. Otherwise he might bungle something up and makes everyone realize, for sure, he isn't worth investing such a large contract /time into. 

20 Here's my source for the…

Here's my source for the texting thing:

Sending Mike White to the bench while he's winning, passing for 300 to 400 yards a game, and having Wilson start because he was picked 2nd sends a bad message to the team (winning doesn't matter, where you were drafted does).  Apparently you would have gone back to Bledsoe and benched Brady (which is one instance where that 'strat' worked).  If Wilson with his much larger contract makes a bunch of noise (which by the way, isn't how he seems to be), then maybe he's not the guy you want.  Everybody's spot on the team is earned, nothing is guaranteed.  The Belichick Patriots act like that, Parcells' teams acted like that, the Elder Shanahan's teams acted like that.  

Also wondering what your opinion is on the Packers' QB situation now.  They have a first round pick sitting on the bench, and looks like he's going to get a shot.  If Love goes off, what should the Packers do then?  I have my opinions on the matter (bring Rogers back when ready), but Rogers has earned his spot and Wilson has not.

24 He just didn't have his phone on him

And had to wait til he got back to the locker room. 

Anyway, I guess they should never go back to Wilson because he's never had a game like that and he's had many more chances to boot!

Brady was years younger than Bledsoe who had been there for 9 years and wasn't exactly a 3x MVP or SB champ (not that many Ravens probably cared about Dilfer being kicked out). Wilson isn't even 9 weeks into his career lol the team isn't gonna revolt unless White puts up the best game of all time. Heck, even old broken Flacco performed better, on the same Jets team last year, than Darnold and I don't remember anyone saying a peep when Darnold got back (nor should they have!). They know the game. 

Why does everyone think it's Rogers btw. Rodgers* will miss one game and no one will care that Love is benched. Unless you are putting money on him putting up the best game of all time, then we can talk. These guys know that business decision at least. 

27 Falcons woes ...

All too true about the Falcons ... and the dearth of talent on the defensive side of the ball wasn't even mentioned.  This franchise has a long way to go before it's competitive.

Going to enjoy the Braves parade today though!