Scramble for the Ball: Predicting Stat Leaders
by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley
This week, the Scramble team takes a look at the league leaders in the major (conventional) statistical categories, and predict who will end up on top. Showing off their contrasting styles, Vince presents careful, reasoned analysis, while Ben sticks with his tried-and-true method of irreverent, self-promotional inanity. And if you've made it into your league's playoffs, make sure to tell us in the comments!
1. Drew Brees, NO: 4,100
2. Kurt Warner, ARI: 4,020
3. Jay Cutler, DEN: 3,679
4. Peyton Manning, IND: 3,225
5. Donovan McNabb, PHI: 3,221
Vince: A two-horse race, and it's a tough one to call. Brees' lead is not substantial. The schedules -- at Bears, at Lions, vs. Panthers for Brees; vs. Vikings, at Patriots, vs. Seahawks for Warner -- are pretty equal, at least in terms of passing yards allowed. I think there's a good chance that Arizona's Week 17 game against Seattle will be meaningless, and that Warner will see little or no action, so I'm going with Brees. (Incidentally, Brees needs 984 yards -- 328 yards per game -- to tie Dan Marino's season record of 5,084, set in 1984.)
Ben: Vince, I'm not going to lie to you: This week, I'm writing this entire Scramble in a purely self-serving fashion to promote my own fantasy team (Yes, I'm in my league's finals -- thank you, thank you very much). Sure, Drew Brees looks like he's about to finish with more than 5,000 yards, but guess what? Jay Cutler is my quarterback, and with the Broncos starting Tatum "Bag 'em and Run!" Bell this week, I'm feeling really good about a 500-yard passing game this weekend. You hear that, Joey Hesselinos? 500. Yards. Passing.
t1. Drew Brees, NO: 26
t1. Philip Rivers, SD: 26
3. Kurt Warner, ARI: 25
4. Jay Cutler, DEN: 23
t5. Peyton Manning, IND: 22
t5. Aaron Rodgers, GB: 22
t5. Tony Romo, DAL: 22
Vince: Philip Rivers' tremendous season has been pretty much wasted by a disappointing and underachieving team. With no team goals to play for, see him taking out his frustrations on the Chiefs, Buccaneers, and especially the Broncos, who the Chargers play in Week 17. I think the Chargers would love to send the Broncos into the playoffs on the heels of a massive, massive beatdown. That's what I would do, but then, I am a small, petty man.
Ben: Did I mention that I have Jay Cutler on my fantasy team? In addition to 500 yards this week, he also throws for six touchdowns and coasts with two or more per game for the remainder of the season. (As an aside, the other quarterbacks on my team this year included Donovan McNabb, Matt Schaub, and Matt Ryan. Let's just say I drafted well this year.)
t1. Brett Favre, NYJ: 15
t1. Gus Frerotte, MIN: 15
t3. Drew Brees, NO: 14
t3. Jay Cutler, DEN: 14
t5. Marc Bulger, STL: 12
t5. Peyton Manning, IND: 12
t5. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT: 12
t5. Kurt Warner, ARI: 12
Vince: Of the nine men who have thrown 12 or more interceptions, five of them play for division leaders, and another (Manning) is a virtual lock for a Wild Card. Wacky. Frerotte's health is in question, and a lot of these guys -- Manning, Roethlisberger, Warner, Cutler -- may be rested come Week 17. Favre, however, will probably have a must-win game with the Dolphins at the end of the year, so I am officially predicting that he'll become just the seventh passer ever to lead the league in interceptions three or more times. (The record is four, by George Blanda, Joe Namath, Norm Snead, and Vinny Testaverde).
Ben: You know, I skip over most of TMQ lately, but I do love how he calls him "Brett Favre Brett Favre Brett Favre" with every reference. But Gregg, Chicago Mao Tse Dong ("Bears Whose Outcome is Decided by Central Planning") has never been funny. Time for a new nickname.
1. Adrian Peterson, MIN: 1,413
2. Michael Turner, ATL: 1,269
3. Clinton Portis, WAS: 1,260
4. Thomas Jones, NYJ: 1,144
5. DeAngelo Williams, CAR: 1,141
Vince: This title could be decided in Week 16, when Atlanta visits the Metrodome. (Expect a flashback or two to 1998.) If that's the case, it's definite advantage for Peterson. Between that and his lead of nearly 150 yards, he's my guy.
Ben: Ben: Vince, I refer to my cardinal rule: If He is not on my fantasy team, He will not win the rushing title. I passed up on a chance to trade for Purple Jesus this year and stuck with my new favorite player in the NFL, Chris Johnson (currently sixth in the league with 1,094 yards). Can you imagine what this guy's numbers would be if LenDale White wasn't vulturing all the touchdowns? Confession: Sometimes I sing to myself "I kissed a boy, and I liked it!" and when I do, I'm thinking of No. 28.
t1. LenDale White, TEN: 14
t1. Michael Turner, ATL: 14
3. DeAngelo Williams, CAR: 13
t4. Thomas Jones, NYJ: 12
t4. Brandon Jacobs, NYG: 12
Vince: I'm going with Thomas Jones. Five of these men are battling at least one teammate for carries. Jones and his 243 carries (next on the Jets: Leon Washington with 62) is the best bet to get the ball at the goal-line, and he'll play through to the end unless the Dolphins and Patriots both collapse.
Ben: Well, it better not be Fatty McFatterson on the Titans, that's for damn sure. I just knocked the guy with DeAngelo Williams on his team out of the playoffs despite Williams rushing for seemingly 897 yards and nine touchdowns in the last two games. He'll probably continue to run roughshod with a suddenly very intriguing Panthers team. But Carolina fans, you know Jake Delhomme is shaaaaaky, just like Bank of America.
Yards From Scrimmage
1. Adrian Peterson, MIN: 1,522
2. Matt Forte, CHI: 1,476
3. Clinton Portis, WAS: 1,461
4. Chris Johnson, TEN: 1,351
5. Frank Gore, SF: 1,345
Vince: One of the very tightest races. The Bears' playoff chances are hanging by a thread. With Kyle Orton shaky since coming back from his injury, their best bet is probably to force-feed the ball to Matt Forte. I'll go with him.
Ben: Mmm, Chris Johnson's lips taste like cherry chapsti -- what? Is that weird? Whatever, I live in San Francisco.
1. Wes Welker, NE: 96
2. Andre Johnson, HOU: 92
3. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, CIN: 89
t4. Brandon Marshall, DEN: 83
t4. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI: 83
t4. Anquan Boldin, ARI: 83
Vince: I'm removing Andre Johnson as a candidate solely because he plays Nnamdi Asomugha and the Raiders in Week 16. Wes Welker and the Patriots play Oakland this week, but I believe there is another receiver on the Patriots to draw Asomugha's attention. There are still many slant routes in Welker's future, at least enough to win another receiving title.
Ben: So I have Andre Johnson on my team, and I just realized he's up against the dreaded Double-N-Three-As in the final week of our playoffs. The good news? I also have Anquan Boldin on my team, so even though he may seem like a long shot, Q is my pick. I can't believe you picked Welker -- or "Mike Walker," as Dick Enberg referred to him on Sunday -- after he abused our beloved Seahawks. I hate that little white ... forget I said anything.
1. Roddy White, ATL: 1,249
2. Andre Johnson, HOU: 1,201
3. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI: 1,148
4. Greg Jennings, GB: 1,131
5. Steve Smith, CAR: 1,075
Vince: I don't see anyone overtaking White. All of his remaining opponents (vs. Bucs, at Vikings, vs. Rams) are right around the middle of the league in allowing yards to No. 1 receivers, and Atlanta's shaky defense should keep the Falcons passing late into games.
Ben: You know who I see overtaking White? Andre Johnson, because he is on my fantasy team. Did I mention I'm having a good year? That said, I did trade Steve Slaton for *cough* Darren McFadden. Nothing better to keep the ego in check than remembering the absurdly bad trades I've made over the years. Nothing will top Jamal Lewis for Tony Banks some seven or eight years ago. Tony Banks? In a related story, I drank a lot during law school.
1. Anquan Boldin, ARI: 11
t2. Terrell Owens, DAL: 9
t2. Calvin Johnson, DET: 9
t2. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI: 9
t5. Kevin Walter, HOU: 8
t5. Randy Moss, NE: 8
t5. Lance Moore, NO: 8
Vince: For the third straight time, I'm going with the current leader, though I am less confident in Boldin than I am in either Welker or White. A pre-playoff rest is too likely, and even if he's on the field, he's competing with Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston for the ball. In fact, forget it -- I just talked myself out of Boldin. Let's say that Detroit, with nothing else to play for, just goes to Calvin Johnson over and over and over again. Seriously, they're going 0-16 either way, they may as well throw to Johnson 50 times a game.
Ben: For however many times, Vince, I'm going with the guy on my fantasy team. Remember, Boldin would have at least three more touchdowns already if his face hadn't exploded in that Jets game and/or he hadn't dropped one against the Eagles. On an unrelated note, is anybody handling the Lions meltdown better than Calvin Johnson? He continues to rack up yardage despite have a quarterback who came in off the street four weeks ago, and complete garbage lining up across from him at wide receiver. Truly amazing.
1. Stephen Gostkowski, NE: 30
t2. Phil Dawson, CLE: 29
t2. Matt Bryant, TB: 29
4. John Carney, NYG: 27
t5. Ryan Longwell, MIN: 26
t5. David Akers, PHI: 26
Vince: Bryant seems like he's on the perfect team to go tops in field goals -- good enough overall on both sides of the ball to reach the red zone often enough, but not consistent enough on offense to get many touchdowns.
Ben: I feel like I have been too modest in this Scramble, so I want to tell you a true story. My girlfriend Nicki is currently attending business school at the University of Virginia, and she signed up for a 12-team league of UVA business school dudes. Even though she used her first pick on Tom Brady, and (over my objection) drafter Laurence Maroney in the fifth round, she still managed to finish on top of her league and advance into the playoffs. This week, she was down by six points with only her kicker -- Matt Bryant -- to play. Don't know if you watched the incredible Monday night game, but Bryant ended up booting one field goal and two extra points -- and had one extra point blocked. That's right, she got knocked out of the playoffs by a freakin' blocked extra point! I'm still very proud of her, particularly because (unlike me) she didn't trade away Steve Slaton.
1. Joey Porter, MIA: 16.5
2. DeMarcus Ware, DAL: 16.0
3. James Harrison, PIT: 15.0
t4. Justin Tuck, NYG: 12.5
t4. Jared Allen, MIN: 12.5
t4. John Abraham, ATL: 12.5
t4. Julius Peppers, CAR: 12.5
Vince: Porter's three remaining opponents -- the 49ers, Chiefs, and Jets -- have given up 104 combined sacks. Surely, they could give up four or five more.
Ben: Our league doesn't do IDP, even though I'd like to try it, if only because I'm so dominant on offense. (Modesty as a virtue: Overrated.) After watching Ware abuse former all-world left tackle Walter Jones, I think I have to go with him, and also because Ware made me tear up when I saw him playing with his little girl during the Hard Knocks documentary.
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Keep Choppin' Wood
The Philadelphia Eagles outgained the New York Giants, 331 yards to 211. They had 24 first downs to the Giants' 14. The Eagles went 12-for-18 on third down; the Giants, only 3-for-11, and also 0-for-3 on fourth down. New York's longest kickoff return was only 27 yards, and they lost yards on both of their punt returns. And yet it all nearly came unraveled on the last drive of the first half and the first drive of the second. Twice Philadelphia found themselves lining up for chip-shot field-goal attempts; twice the kick was blocked. The block at the end of the first half was particularly galling because the Giants returned it for a touchdown. A successful kick would have put the Eagles in the locker room with a comfortable 13-0 lead; instead, 30 minutes of dominant football was spoiled by one play. If the Eagles' field goal unit takes care of business, they add a pair of 30-some-yard field goals and take a touchdown away from the Giants, and the final margin is 26-7. But they didn't and we had something of a nailbiter instead. Philadelphia field goal unit, this one's for you.
In Pittsburgh in a scoreless game, about halfway through the first quarter, Dallas has a fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 33. Rather than attempt a 50-yard field goal, he sends Deon Anderson up the middle. The play is stuffed for no gain, and the Steelers take over.
Still scoreless early in the second quarter, Dallas has a fourth-and-2 at the Pittsburgh 34. Rather than attempt a 51-yard field goal, he attempts a pass to Terrell Owens. The pass falls incomplete, and the Steelers take over.
The fact that these two plays failed says more about the Steelers' defense than it does about the wisdom of Cowboys coach Wade Phillips. Going for it on fourth-and-short is almost always a better bet than a long field-goal attempt (particularly in Heinz Field, where field goals go to die), and the penalty for failure is not as harsh. Early in a scoreless game, many coaches would have gone by the book and tried to kick for a lead. Phillips tossed the book aside and gave his team its best chance at a victory, and he has earned this Colbert Award.
QB: JaMarcus Russell, welcome back to this space! The big fella scored a -3, with a fumble and two interceptions in just 13 passes. Honorary mention goes to Gus Frerotte, who posted a -1 against the Lions. Detroit picked off two Frerotte passes, bringing their season total to -- this is not a typo -- four.
RB: Willis McGahee averaged less than three yards per carry, lost eight yards on his only reception, and fumbled once. That's a -1.
WR: Brad Smith scored a 0, with seven yards on two catches.
K: Matt Bryant saw a lot of action for Tampa Bay Monday night, and not all of it good. He kicked one field goal and a pair of extra points, but also missed one of each. That all adds up to a -2.