Scramble for the Ball: It'll Be A Breeze

by Bill Barnwell & Alex Carnevale

Bill: Welcome to the Week 17 version of Scramble for the Ball, the week when Scramble throws its hands up in confusion. A fantasy and betting column is difficult to do when most fantasy seasons are over and no one really has an idea of who will and won't be playing in Week 17. In fact, likely with this in mind, Ian's abandoned me this week and next for a vacation. I'm even going to Vegas myself next week. With all that in mind, I needed to draft in a reinforcement worthy of the excellence contained within Scramble. I tried using an online dating service geared toward the members of a particular faith, but they were strangely unresponsive to my passes. Having failed that, I brought in Alex Carnevale. Please, Alex, carry the column this week. Ummm ... talk about your fantasy team.

Alex: There's a certain beautiful chaos to a fantasy locker room after a championship. Antwaan Randle El and Brian Dawkins are debating whether or not the birthmark on Drew Brees' right cheek looks like the Falkland Islands. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Frank Gore are poring over PFP 2006 comments ("Jay Cutler is SO a workout warrior!!!") and giggling. Pac-Man Jones and Shawne Merriman are snorting cocaine off Wes Welker's protruding rib. It's a beautiful scene, in other words.

How did you do it? It's the question you're all asking, and for good reason. Finally, I'm here to offer my three step plan for fantasy success. First, play in IDP leagues. (IDP leagues, of course, are leagues in which individual defensive players record points for tackles, sacks, pass defenses, etc.) It's easier money than betting against Art Shell. Pretty much all fantasy players know to draft LT, but how many knew who Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans was even halfway through the season?

(Ed. note: No promises, but we're hoping to have IDP projections in PFP 2007, so winning IDP leagues will be even easier.)

Secondly, and this sinks me even lower on the fantasy ethics scale, make a trade that makes it look like you're insane so that everyone will deal with you. In my case, I decided to move Donovan McNabb early in the preseason for a running back, satisfied that Brees would be fine as quarterback. I initially "tried" to deal McNabb for Deion Branch, craftily knowing it would be vetoed. That was roundly rejected by everyone, and my plan spiraled into motion. Then there was the three week fight to swap him for Frank Gore. By the end of this people were offering me Maurice Jones-Drew for Keyshawn Johnson. There's a herd mentality in fantasy -- trade with the dumb guy. Be that dumb guy, at least for the opening weeks.

Third and last, base your draft completely on Pro Football Prospectus. Any of this sound familiar? "If Addai proves ready for the NFL, Rhodes is going to be on the field less and less as the season progresses." "[Reggie Bush's] rushing numbers might not be overwhelming, but the overall package will be." "Jennings lacks top size and speed, but he should be productive. Only Chad Jackson is going to a team with a more open depth chart at wide receiver." "Don't be surprised if Randall Godfrey and Steve Foley begin to lose playing time in 2006." "Kennison's numbers will drop this year, but he'll still be productive." "Don't make the mistake of taking [Vernon] Davis too early in your fantasy draft." "It will be close, but [Marvin] Harrison should manage double-digit touchdowns for the eighth straight season." "Eagles fans, if you thought the team was bad last year when Donovan McNabb got hurt, we've got news for you: An injury to McNabb this year could be even more painful." Hey, nobody's perfect. And come on, how else would you know that Kellen Clemens is white?

(Ed. note: Don't get me started on Matt Hasselbeck's 2006 pick-o-rama, but we're happy with the projections overall.)

Bill: That's about right. I actually think that comment you mentioned about Vernon Davis also applies to all Davises. Certainly Andra wasn't getting too much burn this year. Andre'? Also sorta busted. You could draft Hubert if you're playing 40-and-up fantasy senior basketball, I guess. I digress.

Loser Leaguers of the Week

QB: Andrew Walter. Would a Billy Joe by any other name suck as much? Throwing for 226 yards is a solid day, but being responsible for five turnovers will bring you down to Earth. Or whatever Walter occupies. One point. And, as it turns out, Joey Harrington isn't that solid. He was subject to the field conditions -- he played about as effectively as Chad Pennington did -- but when the rain died down after halftime, Harrington was on the bench. He's mustered 62 yards passing over the last two weeks, and he very well may have seen his last significant chunk of playing time. Two!

RB: Want to slow down Willie Parker? Don't let him get outside the tackles, and go up early against his team. Want to really slow him down? Make him put the ball on the ground. 29 yards and a fumble leaves Parker with the low score of the week at nil. His backup? A similar player, Warrick Dunn, who earned a two.

WR: Zeroes for Braylon Edwards, Reggie Williams, Laveranues Coles, and Bethel Johnsion. In all fairness though, if you drafted Bethel Johnson, your team has bigger problems.

K: For all the fellas out there with ladies to impress, it's easy to do. Just follow these steps:

1) Draft a cold-weather kicker
2) Let him miss a field goal
3) Only let his team allow one extra point

And that's the way you do it -- it's a -1! Congrats Phil Dawson.

Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.

Keep Choppin' Wood

Alex: Unlike the regular writers of this column, I was born with the pity gene. When reviewing the Keep Choppin' Wood candidates this week, several possibilities stood out. The Cincinnati Post writer who penned the headline "Schedule has hurt Bengals" after Brad St. Louis and Kyle Larson snapped away the population of Cincinnati Correctional Facility's playoff chances? Possibly, just possibly. Larson and St. Louis themselves? Too easy. Joey Harrington? You got the feeling Saban was solely trying to destroy his offseason market value. Then there's Yalie Dick Jauron. Give the guy a break, he was flashing back to freshman chemistry when a delightful young ingénue showed him the meaning of, you know. With all those swirling winds, who's to say what would or would not have ... they weren't getting in anyway. No, I think the Keep Chopping Wood Award has to go to the entire New York Giants squad.

With the body language of a young Mark Ratner and a coach running out of people to blame for giving playoff hope to six out of their last seven opponents, Tom Coughlin and his team of ne'er do wells get the Keep Choppin' Wood Award this week. After all, catching a ball in the snow with the game on the line is tough. But losing six of seven in the NFC is hard.

Best Bets

Bill (2-1 last week, 27-20-1 overall)

Finally assured of being above .500 for the season, I can rest happy. Now I go to Vegas and place a bet on Baltimore for the Super Bowl so I can pay for Ian's Vinny T jersey. These bets are for fun.

Detroit (+13) over DALLAS

This bet is for MDS. It's been a good week for the man -- he's undoubtedly going to have a couple thousand more Myspace buddies by the end of the week and he'll certainly be blowing away Tanier's account. Let's say the Lions upset the Cowboys here.

Oakland (+13) over NEW YORK JETS

This bet is for Al Davis in what very well might be his last game as Raiders owner. Hopefully not, of course.

Buffalo (+9.5) over BALTIMORE

This bet is for a giant day from "Mr. December" Lee Evans and some meaningless stat-padding to make J.P. Losman a legitimate selection in fantasy drafts next year. It's a weird thing.

Alex (14-2 this year betting the over on times "This Is Our Country" has appeared during nationally-televised games)

In Pro Football Prospectus 2005, Michael David Smith looked at teams who went 6-2 or better in the second half of the season but missed postseason play as a way of looking at how the Carolina Panthers would come back in 2005 after going 6-2 and missing the NFC playoffs. Of course, that Panthers team went to the NFC Championship game. Of the 11 teams he looked at, five made the playoffs the following year. The quarterbacks of those five teams? Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Brett Favre and Chris Chandler.

This would seem to bode well for Vince Young and his Tennessee Titans, who experienced a similar second-half resurgence, and likely won't be going to the postseason. After going 2-6, the Titans lost a tight game to the Baltimore Ravens at home on a Steve McNair TD with 3:35 left to go to drop to 2-7. They have not lost a game since. MDS also noted, "When a team's boffo second-half finish is not followed by a playoff year, small margins of victory tend to be involved."

Week Result Opponent
11 W 31-13 Philadelphia Eagles
12 W 24-21 New York Giants
13 W 20-17 Indianapolis Colts
14 W 26-20 Houston Texans
15 W 24-17 Jacksonville Jaguars
16 W 30-29 Buffalo Bills

With an average margin of victory of 6.3 points, the Titans have hardly rolled over their opponents. The best comp of the five successful teams MDS mentions seems to be the 1992 Green Bay Packers. In Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren's first season in Green Bay, Favre took over in Week 3 for Don Majkowski. Just like the Titans, the '92 Packers started winning in Week 11 and never looked back.

Week Result Opponent
11 W 27-24 Philadelphia Eagles
12 W 17-3 Chicago Bears
13 W 19-14 Tampa Bay Bucs
14 W 38-10 Detroit Lions
15 W 16-14 Houston Oilers
16 W 28-13 Los Angeles Rams

Average margin of victory? 11.6 points.

In their final week, the Packers lost easily at home to an 11-5 Vikings team that had Sean Salisbury at backup quarterback, 27-7. These Titans face an 11-4 Patriots team, and they're the favorite. The Pats still have seeding to play for, and they'll win easily, say 27-7. So...

New England over TENNESSEE (-3)

New England is the seventh-ranked offense and the seventh-ranked defense according to DVOA. Tennesse is the 24th-ranked offense and the 23rd-ranked defense. They could be playing in Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium and I'd still like the Pats.

Pittsburgh over CINCINNATI (-6)

Home teams as favorites dominate Week 17. Off the shame of enduring another brutal beating at the hands of the Ravens, six points is too much to give up to a Cincinnati team that's probably already looking forward to a brief offseason sojourn before returning to their respective cells.

WASHINGTON (+1) over New York Giants

I'll avert my eyes at the revolting sight of a division champion (Seattle) being a dog to a 4-11 team (Tampa Bay) on the last day of the season, and take out one last nail in Tom Coughlin's coffin.


16 comments, Last at 29 Dec 2006, 5:29pm

#1 by Josh (not verified) // Dec 27, 2006 - 11:28pm

I've got a week 17 fantasy final. Any advice on who to start at WR/RB:
DeShaun Foster, Cedric Houston, Muhsin Muhammad, Devery Henderson. I think I'm leaning to Foster, had 100+ yards last week, and Saints may rest some on D in meaningless game.

Points: 0

#2 by Dennis (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 12:11am

I have a regular season week this week. We have a weird playoffs during the NFL playoffs thing. Anyway, I have LT at one RB and Coles at one WR. Who should I play of the following for the other RB, other WR, and RB/WR flex spot:

Julius Jones, Leon Washington, Jerious Norwood, Mark Furrey, Muhsin Muhammad, Patrick Crayton, Vernard Morency and Michael Jenkins

Points: 0

#3 by NF (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 1:23am

I have a FF final this week, but I have no worries. I won a different league in Week 16, my first championship.

Points: 0

#4 by compucrazy (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 3:21am

Ok week 17 championship. Two questions, Hasselbeck at Tampa Bay or Cutler at San Fran. Second, please pick three: Roy Williams at Dallas, Donald Driver at Chicago, Torry Holt at Minnesota, or Plaxico Burress at Washington? Not sure who to bench, please help.

Points: 0

#5 by Gerry (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 7:29am

#4: Cutler, no brainer IMO. I would bench Driver or Williams, leaning towards Driver.

Points: 0

#6 by Comrade Jason (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 1:23pm

I can't argue with your Keep Choppin' Wood award, but I would like to throw out an honorable mention for Michael Boulware for getting beat deep--again--in the last 30 seconds of a game the Seahawks had won. Nice work!

Points: 0

#7 by cjfarls (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 2:00pm

Fantasy Keeper Leagues Question -

The Washington Post commuter tabloid today had Mike Anderson listed as someone to keep because they think Jamal Lewis has looked like he's running through a "large vat of custard" and will be cut after the season. As much as I think Lewis is mediocre, I've not heard this before, and the Ravens definitely haven't turned to Anderson this year (and who is getting old too). Being a Denver-homer, Anderson's great, but what do ya all think?

Points: 0

#8 by Wanker79 (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 3:16pm

Just wanted to toot my own horn a little bit. Before this year I've been a solid fantasy football competitor, but I'd never gotten over the hump before. This year I have one likely 4th place finish, one 3rd place finish, one 2nd place finish, and two 1st place finishes including the league I'm in with all my friends (that one was doubly sweet).


Points: 0

#9 by Andy (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 3:21pm

I was in 2 FF Leagues this year, and relied HEAVILY on the PFP.

I won the Championship in one league and finished next-to-last in the other.

Thanks Footballoutsiders!

Points: 0

#10 by Sid (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 6:28pm

yo Bill, Detroit is on the road, not at home.

Points: 0

#11 by Reinhard (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 10:29pm

I'm looking for some fantasy (QB,2RB,3WR) advice. I have to pick my keepers for next year, and I have:
Gore, Bush, McGahee, Javon Walker and Matt Leinart to consider. Probably the three RBs, right?

Points: 0

#12 by Pat (not verified) // Dec 28, 2006 - 10:44pm

Being a Denver-homer, Anderson’s great, but what do ya all think?

A little old? Anderson's 33! For a running back, that's way, way past retirement. Anderson is way too old to be a keeper. I'd bet money Baltimore drafts a running back early. Lewis looks over the hill, but Anderson is a changeup back, at best. No way could he handle 20 or so carries a game for a season and be productive.

Points: 0

#13 by Tom Kelso (not verified) // Dec 29, 2006 - 12:26am

Between Lewis, Anderson and Smith, all the Baltimore RB's are change-ups at best. Thankfully, RB is one of the positions where value can be found without a high draft pick.

It sort of reminds me of Earl Weaver's use of three platoon guys in left field -- by the time he mixed and matched them all, the O's got great production out of the spot.

Points: 0

#14 by Rick (not verified) // Dec 29, 2006 - 1:20am

FF question:

Tom Brady, who might not play much against the Titans, or Tim Rattay, who had a nice game last week?

Points: 0

#15 by SJM (not verified) // Dec 29, 2006 - 2:03am

Rattay's playing Seattle, who's already clinched and has a lousy D. Brady's almost a lock not to play more than a quarter. Rattay also looks good by FO stats (in a small sample, of course.) Go with Rattay.

Points: 0

#16 by Reinhard (not verified) // Dec 29, 2006 - 5:29pm

wow... I just saw that "the best runningback in football" Jeremetrius Norwood has the #2 DVOA. Interesting.

Points: 0

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