Scramble for the Ball: East Over/Unders

Scramble for the Ball: East Over/Unders
Scramble for the Ball: East Over/Unders
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: Welcome to another season of Scramble for the Ball with Tom and Mike.

Mike: As opposed to those other, inferior Scramble for the Balls. Ours is the only legitimate Scramble for the Ball. Do not listen to Jedd. He lies.

Tom: This is Scramble's 11th season, or one more season than each XFL team played regular season games.

Mike: Wait, Tom, wait.

Tom: What?

Mike: How can we have 11 seasons of Scramble when Football Outsiders (my web browser helpfully tells me in graphical format) has only been a thing for ten years?

Tom: FO has 10 complete seasons and is entering its 11th season. It's like how you start your 11th year of life on your 10th birthday. Or how your youngest offspring is zero years old yet currently alive.

Mike: I don't know, Tom. This all reeks of dark arts and witchcraft. You know, "math."

Tom: Well, "math" is a four-letter word.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tradition, Scramble kicks off in the preseason with a series of columns passing judgment on each NFL team by means of commentary on their Over/Unders. Over/Unders are courtesy of Bovada. Actual gambling on Over/Unders includes examination of odds. A team might be Over (+110) and Under (-140). Your Scramble writers do not care. We are passing judgment, not wagering money. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, your Scramble writers do not have actual money on any of their pseudo-bets.

Mike: If we did, we would probably be living in vans down by the river at this point.

Tom: Hey, I won several dollars off a co-worker in 2008 or 2009 when Rex Grossman failed to finish in the top five in passer rating among NFC quarterbacks. Don't tell me I couldn't have spent the past four years living on less than $10. Anyway, here goes.


Mike: I have no idea what FOA 2013’s Dallas 2013 joke is supposed to mean.

Tom: Yeah, I don't get it either, since I'm not seeing a quality wrapping around a crappy core. I like Sean Lee and Bruce Carter at linebacker. It feels weird to say this, but I'm relatively optimistic about their cornerback depth. Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware were both really productive pass rushers. Tony Romo is better than he gets credit for. Dez Bryant is now playing not like a knucklehead. So why don't I like this team more?

Mike: Because safety is still a mess, and you're worried that Ryan's schemes helped Dallas's pass rush play over its head? I also disagree about Romo. I think he is pretty mediocre but surrounded by good receiving talent, even if Miles Austin had a ho-hum year last year.

Tom: Actually, I was thinking the offensive line -- even with the drafting of Travis Frederick -- as well as an inability to make up for Romo's almost inevitable mistake, and "I watched Monte Kiffin's USC defense last year." But, yeah, the safeties too.

Mike: You really think the offensive line is a major concern?

Tom: Tyron Smith is good. The rest of the line is meh at best. And I coined the Grief Per Error metric in Week 17 Audibles last year when Romo seemingly got blamed for both (a) throwing a ghastly pick and (b) the injury-wracked defense's inability to stop the Redskins rushing attack. Anyway, I thought the Cowboys were basically a .500 team last year, and I don't see how they got better in the offseason. Under.

Mike: I agree that Smith is exceptional, but I think the only truly bad player on their line is Doug Free, who hasn't been the same since taking that medicine ball to the face. I think the team is probably actually regressing a bit, so 8-8 even is optimistic. Under.


Mike: I actually ran into a fun stat regarding the New York Baseball Giants during a series between the Pirates and the Cardinals this past week. Everyone simply referred to them as the New York Giants, however. I was quite confused, as you can imagine. All those years of Big Apple pedantry finally make sense!

Tom: Fascinating. I really like the tagline in the Giants chapter, emphasizing the at-times capricious nature of the NFL and its postseason.

Mike: Yes. It takes a lot of luck and good fortune to get in, much less win in, the postseason. Which makes you wonder why the Giants did not retain the Black Unicorn.

Tom: He just wandered down Route 1 to Charm City for a season. He's guaranteed to wander his way back to E. Rutherford to attend the Super Bowl, so maybe the Giants will pick him back up. Then again, what made the Giants good was a couple high-variance, high-upside skills.

Mike: ...He's playing for the Bears now.

Tom: Oh. You were talking about Martellus Bennett.

Mike: Wait, you thought I meant an actual black unicorn? Next thing you'll be confessing that you're really a brony.

Tom: I thought you were using it as a metaphor for why John Harbaugh's [stuff] suddenly worked in the playoffs.

Mike: No, just felt like highlighting the only great self-conferred nickname in history.

Tom: I feel like there's an obvious counterexample to your bold statement, but it's not coming to me right now.

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Mike: I'm sure the readers will come up with something. Anyway, the story of the Giants is the story of their defense. In particular, their pass rush.

Tom: And if we're lucky, Buzzfeed will turn it into a listicle. But, yes, the pass rush is what I was getting to. The days of the Four Aces are gone. Instead, the defense was too reliant on Jason Pierre-Paul, who was great in 2011, not so much so in 2012.

Mike: Serious problems getting to the quarterback led to a better team finishing with the same record, as opposing quarterbacks honestly had all day to make the secondary pay.

Tom: And pay they did. Corey Webster had a down season, and I'm not sure Giants fans do or should trust Prince Amukamara.

Mike: I think Pierre-Paul's struggles are tied closely to that over-reliance. If I am correct, then it will be very difficult for the pass rush to bounce back, and once again the vulnerable secondary will be exposed.

Tom: Fortunately, the linebackers will be able to cover ... oh, wait. The Giants seemingly value getting quality linebackers even less than I do, something I didn't expect from an NFL team, and played less Big Nickel last year than they did in the past. Eli Manning's a nice quarterback, but I can't see this team winning 10 games in what should be a competitive NFC East. Under.

Mike: Honestly, I would like the continuity of another 9-7 season. That said, pushes are for losers, so I'm going to stake my prediction on the continued defensive decline and say under.


Tom: I'll add my voice to the consensus: I'm fascinated to see what Chip Kelly does with the Eagles this year.

Mike: I'm reflexively anti-anything related to college football.

Tom: Between the college-to-pros transition, his hurry-up style, and a ground-based rushing attack, there's a lot to look for.

Mike: I have always disliked constantly uptempo offensive teams, dating back to Indianapolis. It's a great strategy and it exploits real weaknesses in defensive roster construction, but it has always felt cheap. Now that the current master of said scheme is in the NFL, I look on with a mix of glee and dread.

Tom: Only Indianapolis? At least your team didn't have heart-breaking losses to the K-Gun Bills.

Mike: Well, the Steelers weren't very good in those days.

Tom: There's also nothing worse than a bad up-tempo team, and I don't know if the Eagles will be good. If Chip Kelly tries to run the Oregon offense, I'm pretty sure they won't be.

Mike: I'm not sure any offense could function properly with Philadelphia's quarterbacks.

Tom: I think you could figure something out. I just wouldn't like it that much.

Mike: A LeSean McCoy resurgence would be genuinely exciting. I have more fun watching him than any back since Barry Sanders retired. The secondary looks to be even worse than last year, however. If such a thing is possible.

Tom: I'll leave that one as another challenge for the readers, though I have to immediately note Marshall Faulk's versatility as a receiver. Watching him on the Greatest Show on Turf Rams was phenomenal. Also, Bryce Brown is good, though also (insert Obligatory Stop Fumbling So Much Note).

Mike: He was quite exciting, although I think McCoy is a more exciting pure runner. And he is going to have to be so exciting in a similar fashion, because lord knows there won't be anyone throwing him the ball. Well, I guess someone will literally be throwing a football in his general direction, but you see where I'm going with this.

Tom: Indeed. My bigger concern may be the defense. I don't get the switch to the 3-4. I don't get the secondary.

Mike: Switching to the 3-4 was really fashionable 5 years ago. I'm not saying that Philadelphia is a half-decade behind trends, but they likely signed Michael Vick after playing a lot of Madden 04. I'm just saying.

Tom: Switching to the 3-4 made some sense when not many teams were running the 3-4 and there was a relative surplus of players who fit the 3-4. The Eagles' surplus was of 4-3 defensive ends, probably about all of whom will see their responsibilities change. I feel like FO has spent a lot of time beating up on Cary Williams, but so has everybody else thanks to his interesting priorities this offseason and at least we're beating him up because he wasn't that good in coverage last year.

Mike: I think we'll have ample opportunity to beat up on all of them. I just can't call this a winning team. Or a .500 team, even. Under.

Tom: Kelly could prove to be a miracle-worker. I thnk he'll need to be to hit the over. Under for me as well.


Tom: I thought the Redskins were sunk last year after they lost Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo.

Mike: I thought Robert Griffin wouldn't be effective. We were both quite wrong.

Tom: We were. I thought Griffin was a good enough passer to be reasonably effective, but he was better than I thought he was.

Mike: I was probably more wrong. Mea culpa.

Tom: Ryan Kerrigan had a boatload of hurries, and the defense ended up average. That was good enough. And being wrong is an inevitable consequence of attempting to predict interesting things about the future. I can live with being wrong.

Mike: I tend to pride myself on being right (preseason predictions notwithstanding), so being that wrong stings a bit. But as you say, that's where the fun is.

Tom: Hey, I like being right too. I just know my first name isn't "Always."

Mike: So, how will I be wrong about the Redskins this year? I'm stupidly going to say Griffin will be less effective. A combination of opponents having a year of tape and whatever small amount of self-preservation is left in his skull will weigh him down, and he's going to be playing with slightly less gas. Hopefully he'll last.

Tom: Despite the vile imprecations we hurled towards Shanahan's player management in January, RG3 is on track to start Week 1. I can easily see him being less effective, but he was so darn good last year that even if he's "just" a pocket passer, I think he can be very effective.

Mike: Agreed.

Tom: And while we may think Alfred Morris' success was partly a product of the offensive scheme, it wasn't all just teams overreacting to the threat of RG3. He ran hard, and the line that blocked reasonably well for him returns intact in 2013; always an important factor in zone schemes that benefit from continuity. The offense should continue to be good. The defense gets its best player back. The Redskins were not particularly lucky to go 10-6. Over.

Mike: I worry about Griffin's durability, but they are good in ways that exploit weaknesses in their division, and their own weaknesses match up well against this division. Over.


Tom: Nobody other than Bills fans cares about the Bills. FOA 2013 says 6.9, which is more than 6.5. Over. Next team.

Mike: Hey, now. There are surely some Canadians who care. And the five people left in Buffalo. Although I will note that, on the subject of FOA 2013, the phrase "K-gun offense led by Trent Edwards" never fails to start me giggling.

Tom: Importantly, Dave Wannstedt is not one of them. Or at least, I'm assuming he moved away when the Bills fired him.

Mike: You never know with Wannstedt. Lock your doors. Hide your children.

Tom: That said, I'm not sure a Rex Ryan disciple like Mike Pettine fits Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, both of whom were better penetrating than they were against the run. Stephon Gilmore should be better in his second season, but he's not perfect. Who knows when Jairus Byrd will show up, though past history suggests his ETA may be "30 minutes before this column goes up." The linebackers last year were somewhere between anodyne and ineffective, and I don't trust Kiko Alonso to solve every problem there. Wannstedt's unit may have felt like it was less than the sum of its parts, but I don't think highly of the sum of the parts here.

Mike: I don't know, I think I'm higher on the defensive front seven than you are. And that is ... basically the only nice thing I have to say about the Bills. I think they're on the mend, but that's an issue for 2014. Under.

Tom: I don't see how Kevin Kolb or E.J. Manuel upgrades the passing game, at least this year. Couple that with a questionable defense and even with a modest line we're on the same page again. Under.


Tom: I understand why the Dolphins were reluctant to pay Jake Long, even with all the money they dished out this offseason. I'm not basing this just off the Hall of Fame game, but What I saw Sunday night is the same thing that's reportedly been happening in Dolphins camp, which was the same thing I thought based on what happened at right tackle last year, and the same thing I thought based on his tape at Stanford: Jonathan Martin is not good enough to be a starting left tackle in the NFL. As much as I like Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Miller and what Mike Wallace adds to the offense (though not really the price they paid to get him), a glaring weakness like that is enough to get me off a bandwagon I kind of like but don't love.

Mike: I disagree with you to some extent. I don't think the Dolphins' offensive line is made of world-beaters, but they should put Tannehill in position to be effective. As effective as he can be, at least. My concern is that they use that improvement as an excuse to just throw bombs to shiny new toy Wallace all day.

Tom: Are you arguing that's a bad idea in general, bad because of Martin, or what?

Mike: I think it's a bad idea in general, regardless of Martin's stock. Though I do hold him in somewhat higher esteem than you estimate him.

Tom: When Wallace topped the league in DYAR and DVOA in 2010, 27 percent of his targets were bombs.

Mike: Yes, his breakout season with an elite quarterback. Now he's the only weapon in the offense, paired with Tannehill. These are vastly different situations and everyone is going to be staring at Wallace every play.

Tom: Tannehill actually has pocket presence and can throw with anticipation, though. Many rookies (and other) quarterbacks don't have either.

Mike: I'm not going to trash Tannehill. He's young and has potential. But potential doesn't win games now and the dearth of skill position talent the Dolphins have worries me.

Tom: I think Miami has the same problem on the defensive side of the ball that they do on the offense. I like Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, and think Dion Jordan could be really good. But I like the individual pieces more than the sum. After two seasons of injury, I don't trust Brent Grimes to stay healthy. Richard Marshall is another old corner coming off injury.

Mike: As far as the defense, I am actually fairly optimistic.

Tom: I need to update my evaluation of Reshad Jones to figure out if they contract they just gave him was just a lot or too much.

Mike: I like the addition of Dannell Ellerbe in particular.

Tom: See, I was about to mention I think he's okay, but they paid him like a game-changer. I didn't see that.

Mike: The Dolphins have the cap space and they needed a guy with Ellerbe's all-around skillset as they retool the defense. I think he'll provide a fantastic anchor and (most importantly) lift the pass rush from the linebackers. I like their defense, even with the high turnover this offseason. I like it enough to think that even with a mostly-contained Wallace this team is finally going places. Over.

Tom: Ah, we finally disagree. I like them, but not enough to say they'll get 9 wins. Under.


Mike: I am extremely excited for Tim Tebow, Starting Tight End.

Tom: I don't want to talk about T** T**** any more than I want to talk about B**** F****.

Mike: Too bad! Unfortunate injuries to New England tight ends and former associates of New England tight ends have brought us to this sad point.

Tom: Without Rob Gronkowski, this is a modest, not to say motley, collection of targets for Tom Brady. It rivals 2006, when the Patriots went 12-4 splitting carries between a veteran Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney. Stevan Ridley is better than them. The offensive line is good, particularly at tackle. Brady is probably a better quarterback than he was then. Granted, the defense that year was seventh in DVOA, but they were coming off a season where they ranked 27th. The defense was 15th by DVOA last year. I think they can be better than that this year. Sooner or later all those defensive draft picks have to hit out of sheer luck, right? Right?

Mike: Ask the Rams about that.

Tom: You mean the Rams who finished seventh in defensive DVOA last year, or the 2001 Rams who drafted three defensive players in the first round, finished fifth in DVOA, and made the Super Bowl?

Mike: I was mostly referring to all those years in between.

Tom: Oh, well, yeah, those. Rams fans try not to think about most of those years too much.

Mike: I doubt this Patriots team will improve much on last year's squad. Not much has changed and I think that last year's squad played somewhat over their heads. Mike Wallace will be problematic for New England this year, since they don't have the tools to focus their attention and shut him down (in the fashion discussed in the Bills section).

Tom: I agree that the Patriots probably won't improve much on last year's squad. But they've been so good for so long. 2009 was the last season they didn't win at least 11 games, and even then they had 11.7 Pythagorean Wins and 11.2 Estimated Wins.

Mike: So this year's Patriots look a lot like last year's Patriots, but in a division with more upside than last year and without two of its major weapons. I think they win the East, but I definitely can't predict 12 wins. And, again, since pushes are stupid and lame, I'm going with under.

Tom: This team has earned the benefit of the doubt for me. I know the AFC North and NFC South aren't pushovers, but I'm still going over.


Tom: And we come to the perennial question: Just how much will the Jets struggle on offense this year? The last time the Jets ranked in the top half of the league in passing offense DVOA was 2006. The thing about the Jets is we have to determine just what gradation of "they'll be bad on offense" will apply. If they're really awful, they won't win many games. If they're just garden-variety bad, they could push for a playoff spot. (Maybe.)

Mike: This is easy. In fact, it could be the world's easiest Choose Your Own Adventure.:

"You are the coach of a struggling New York football franchise. You have sufficient talent to be a run-first team with a dash of short passing. All you need is a quarterback. Mark Sanchez beckons from the distance, telling you that he's ready to take the next step. If you give him the starting job, turn to page 5."

Page 5 is just a picture of rocks falling on a team jet and everyone dying. Do not turn to page 5.

Tom: "If you give the starting job to the drafted rookie instead, turn to page 7."

"With a collection of backs and receivers that are so distinguished general manager John Idzik spends sleepless nights wondering if he shouldn't just cut them all and replace them with people found on the street. Maybe, just maybe, he thinks."

"There's another Vince Papale out there. He couldn't be worse than Braylon Edwards, could he?"

Mike: John Idzik handing contracts to hobos and developing a severe aversion to feet.

Tom: "Financing employment is down since 2008. Lots of them used to be collegiate athletes. I wonder if any of them can play running back. Sure, they're not used to the rigors of playing football, but they couldn't get hurt as often as Chris Ivory."

Mike: We have now written the wordiest Choose Your Own Adventure in history.

Tom: Mike, we may have written the only FO columns in history to break 10,000 words, and we've done it multiple times. We're wordy. I accept this.

Mike: And since he doesn't pay us by the word, so has Dear Leader Schatz. Anyway, that's a rather roundabout way of saying that the Jets offense is going to be really bad. Again.

Tom: Sure, they'll probably be pretty bad. But if they're not foot-shootingly bad, I can see them going 7-9. Over.

Mike: I think the defense is scary enough for them to put up a fight. Seven wins is easy. Over.


54 comments, Last at 14 Aug 2013, 7:36pm

#1 by Shattenjager // Aug 07, 2013 - 7:23pm

I just have to ask, who has a non-ground-based rushing attack? (I know it's just a mistake, but it made me laugh.)

One thing we learned from this Scramble: Tom Gower has at least one either insane or not-football-smart co-worker.

Points: 0

#2 by Robert Grebel // Aug 07, 2013 - 8:53pm

Rocks fall everyone dies! This is the best day of my life!

Also, I'm glad someone's optimistic about the Dolphins. I am very definitely not.

Points: 0

#3 by DEW (not verified) // Aug 07, 2013 - 11:58pm

I got very nervous when I read that part about the Dolphins having no targets for Tannehill other than Wallace and immediately went to make sure that Hartline, Keller, Clay, and Gibson hadn't all been eaten by a roving Philadelphia practice field or something. Wallace may certainly be the most notable of the bunch, but the rest of them aren't chopped liver.

Well, not entirely. At the least, the Fins are in the argument for "best receiving corps of the AFC East"; so long as Gronkowski stays injured, I think they actually are the best of the four.

Points: 0

#18 by FrontRunningPhinsFan // Aug 08, 2013 - 3:36pm

Agreed. While the concerns about the O-line are... concerning, they do have talent at the skill positions now.

Hartline was 29 in DYAR and 43 in DVOA last season. That's not incredible, but mathematically that's a solid to good #2 receiver. He played meh as their #1 last season, but one can reasonably assume he won't be defended as the top receiving threat this year.

Brandon Gibson was 21 in DYAR and 11 in DVOA. That's better than I thought, and far better than Davone Bess was last year. Yes he's going to a new team, but that seems like serviceable #3 to me.

Dustin Keller is the poster boy for good when playing, but injured all the time. Despite that, he's a HUGE step up from Fasano in the passing game.

Wallace is definitely not the only weapon on the offensive side of the ball. For shame, Mike... For shame...

Points: 0

#20 by peterplaysbass // Aug 08, 2013 - 3:43pm

Keller's a good sleeper to score a lot of fantasy points - he could end up with 700-800 yards.

I like Hartline alright - don't have any opinion on Gibson. I think the AFC East is a little up in the air this year and Miami's got a good shot at making some noise.

Points: 0

#25 by Mehllageman56 (not verified) // Aug 08, 2013 - 9:56pm

The issue with Keller is whether he will stay healthy. Last year, he wasn't. If he is healthy, he will produce. Tannehill is a step up from Sanchez.

Points: 0

#26 by Noahrk // Aug 08, 2013 - 10:30pm

A firm, brisk step, and the other leg threatens to take another. The defense is good, too. Word out of Miami is that Grimes looks all the way back from injury and Jordan is hungry and impressing (huge sigh of relief, as I was very concerned about a bust here). If Jordan and Vernon can provide a passrush to complement Wake, look out.

The man with no sig

Points: 0

#29 by FrontRunningPhinsFan // Aug 09, 2013 - 9:54am

"a step up" is selling Tannehill way too short, or giving Sanchez far too much credit, in my opinion.

Obviously I'm a homer, but still, Tannehill is the 2nd best QB in the division, and it isn't really close I don't think.

And I don't think it's too much to assume Tannehill will get better. Sanchez, we all know, won't.

Points: 0

#33 by Mehllageman56 (not verified) // Aug 09, 2013 - 12:29pm

That's true as far as the comparison with Sanchez. I definitely don't mean to give Sanchez credit. But I doubt Sanchez or Kevin Kolb will be playing much by the end of the year, and in my opinion, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel have greater potential than Tannehill. The Lewin forecast rated both of them higher. Tannehill should be the 2nd best QB by far this year, but I doubt that will be true in 2014.

Another thing to think about in terms of Tannehill's growth is that he didn't have to learn a new offense his rookie; it was the same offense Shurmur had at Texas A&M. This may mean that the natural growth of a quarterback in his 2nd year in the Pros happened for Tannehill last year. I could be wrong; we'll see this season. He certainly has been given more weapons this year.

The main issue for Keller is staying healthy. Otherwise he will be productive for the Fins. It was smart of them to sign him for only a year, and draft Dion Sims to replace him in a year or two.

Points: 0

#4 by RickD // Aug 08, 2013 - 12:56pm

No, Tim Tebow is not going to play tight end. The Patriots have actual tight ends.

And as for wide receivers, the Patriots let one walk, released one, signed one, and drafted several. Why do so many writers only consider the receivers who left?

Points: 0

#7 by jonnyblazin // Aug 08, 2013 - 1:58pm

Perhaps because they lost receivers who caught 118 and 74 passes, along with a TE who caught 51 passes and a RB who caught 40 passes. Any way you slice it, that a lot of receptions out the door, 4/5 out of the top 5 receiving options. Not that I doubt Brady will find a way to be a top 3 QB, but I can see how it is a story line. You can't assume any rookie WR is going to know what he's doing out there.

Points: 0

#10 by Will Allen // Aug 08, 2013 - 2:08pm

Not only that, but one of the guys they picked up with proven talent also has a track record of missing a lot of games. I think Amendola, if healthy, will be very likely to replace Welker adequately, and then some. I'm not confident at all that the "if healthy" condition will be operative.

Points: 0

#35 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Aug 09, 2013 - 2:34pm

The WRs who caught those passes were 30th and 42nd by the efficiency rating of those very website. Wes will be missed, but Lloyd was a joke, whose numbers are inflated partially due to injuries to other receivers and partially because NE's offense affords plenty of extra chances. At least two of the rookies will be an *improvement* over Lloyd. Probably not in total numbers since the position should be deeper this year, but actual per-play value should be a piece of cake.

That said, the youth and injury histories of NE's receivers is concerning, and creates a much lower floor than in recent years. But that doesn't mean the floor will be hit, it is just an unknown. Regardless, even if everything goes wrong, the bottom scenario is much better than 2006, expecting those levels will only leave non-Patriot fans scratching their heads. This group is better at WR, TE, RB and OL. The only positions on the offense that aren't unarguably better are receiving back and quarterback.

Points: 0

#51 by Aaron Brooks G… // Aug 12, 2013 - 11:33am

I'm not so sure the 2013 team is actually much better than 2006 at OL, RB, or TE.

Young Ben Watson isn't much worse than injured Gronk.
Ridley isn't much better than young Maroney + Dillon's last decent season.
The 2006 line still had Light, Mankins, and Koppen. The right side of the line was shakier, but the left might have been better.

Points: 0

#52 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Aug 12, 2013 - 2:44pm

Can't agree with much you have here.

Ridley is much better than Maroney was in 2006. It really isn't close. Dillon was more accomplished than anyone NE has backing up Ridley this year, but was pretty much toast by then. Only at receiving back were they better, with Faulk instead of Vereen.

Your TE comment is puzzling. Ben Watson was a classic "looks like Tarzan plays like Jane" character. The only way he is remotely comparable to NE's top receiving TE is if Gronk misses the entire 2013 season. Even then, I bet NE's top TE by the end of the year will be similar numbers.

And the OL was certainly better. Koppen blew out his shoulder in 2005 and was never the same guy. Mankins was better in 2006 than he is now, but Solder is comparable to Matt Light in 2006, only he is still developing with superior physical tools.

Points: 0

#5 by anon (not verified) // Aug 08, 2013 - 1:19pm

Perhaps a quibble because it's not football, but there is another great self-conferred nickname in sports recent history. Lance Berkman, a not-quite HOF outfielder/first baseman for Houston and others managed to give himself one. He once griped to a beat reporter about his then-nickname of "Fat Elvis" and asked, "Why can't I have a cool nickname, like 'The Big Puma', or something?" The beat writer duly reported the quote, at which point everyone in Houston ridiculed it and started jokingly calling him Big Puma. At some point the joke wore off but the nickname did not, and no less an authority that baseball reference now lists Big Puma as his nickname (

Points: 0

#6 by Will Allen // Aug 08, 2013 - 1:57pm

Here are Romo's FO rankings among qbs, in every year where injury didn't keep him below 250 attempts...

2012 6 9
2011 4 4
2009 7 7
2008 11 11
2007 4 6
2006 8 5

Now, it is also true that even advanced stats cannot provide full context. Let us then consider some factors which lend context. The Cowboys have not pass blocked well since the 90s, and have usually been lousy at it in the past 10 years. The ownership is such that coaching the team effectively is really unlikely to happen, absent a HOF caliber coach, which Romo only had for a couple years. The Cowboys have frequently, in the last 7 years, have played mediocre to poor pass defense, putting a lot of pressure on qb to score a lot, behind bad pass blocking.

Now, then, how reasonable is it to conclude that rankings, like those posted above, in the context described above, are the by-product of mediocre quarterbacking, because the QB has had a good tight end, Miles Austin, a T.O. at the end of his career, and an inexperienced Dez Bryant?

Perhaps we could get a precise definition of "mediocre"?

Points: 0

#9 by Will Allen // Aug 08, 2013 - 2:03pm

I love this site, which is why it perplexes me to read a writer take leave of the observable evidence in such a manner. I don't get it.

Points: 0

#13 by Will Allen // Aug 08, 2013 - 2:47pm

I get the sense that to some people, even people who should know better, the next step down, from "First Ballot Hall of Fame Quarterback", is "mediocre".

Points: 0

#14 by peterplaysbass // Aug 08, 2013 - 3:16pm

Can you imagine Romo on a team with a good offensive line a good defense? Even with average weapons he would thrive.

Hmm, when's his contract up? Minnesota ought to give his agent a call.

Points: 0

#15 by Will Allen // Aug 08, 2013 - 3:26pm

For years, I've been saying to Cowboy fans, with a hankering to rip the starting qb of the team they root for, that they ought to give it a go, with the rest of their roster, with a Tavaris Jackson or Christian Ponder, and then contemplate how lacking Tony Romo is.

Points: 0

#17 by peterplaysbass // Aug 08, 2013 - 3:36pm

The difference between most Cowboys fans and most Vikings fans is similar to the difference between ownership that's constantly looking to improve the skill positions and those that like to build a team from the inside out (lines first).

That difference is the main reason so many Cowboys fans were surprised to see their team lose to the Vikings in the playoffs so badly in the divisional round of the 09/10 season.

Points: 0

#16 by justanothersteve // Aug 08, 2013 - 3:33pm

Far enough into the future that when it's up, the Vikings GM will give him a call and he'll have one great year at the end of his career while the next Minnesota QB of the future sits on the bench "to learn". (BF, Cunningham, Jeff George, Warren Moon, and others)

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#19 by peterplaysbass // Aug 08, 2013 - 3:41pm

Isn't that the truth.

The team with an almost perpetually good defense and good running game that just can't catch a break when drafting QBs. If the former trends continue and the Vikings ever get a guy that can be consistently top 10 in the league for his first contract or two, that'll be a fun chunk of years for the fans.

I can't believe the Colts shifted straight from Manning to Luck - it seems pretty unfair how some teams consistently enjoy quality play from the most important position.

And it makes it especially painful to watch a good QB go to waste on a team that doesn't know how to build around him (Romo, Rivers, Newton)

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#22 by TOKENplaysbass (not verified) // Aug 08, 2013 - 5:05pm

Why wait?
Minnesota wants a better QB....
Dallas is good at building a team with Minnesota draft picks.....

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#37 by Mr Shush // Aug 09, 2013 - 4:05pm

I don't think it's advisable for a team with Romo to invest heavily in its offensive line in a salary-cap league. His skill in avoiding the rush is his best asset (and a major one). He's not consistently accurate enough to do really great work even with better blocking.

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#38 by theslothook // Aug 09, 2013 - 5:03pm

See if I have the opposite impression. Yes, his sandlot style can compensate for poor o line play, but he's also far more mistake prone when things like this happen. If there were one single ingredient for romo to be successful, I'd say it was a good defense. I've noticed, Romo's particular flameouts happen when he feels he needs to keep up in arms race with another team. His tendency to press becomes magnified.

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#39 by Karl Cuba // Aug 09, 2013 - 10:46pm

I'd plump for receivers, as the Cowboys have. WA has suggested that his receivers have been pretty average but in my (non) humble opinion that's a big underestimate. Witten is a HOFer in my book and while TO wasn't great in his last year, he was a monster till then. Austin was very good till injuries slowed him down and as he's slowed Bryant has emerged as one of the league's best targets. His size/speed ratio is amongst the best in the game, he's a matchup nightmare.

I also think the bad blocking angle is overblown, at least a third of the NFL's qbs have to put up with that and most don't have Houck coaching the line (one of the highest paid line coaches in the league). They at least put a hat on a hat and slow the rush. WA will summon the ghost of Flozell Adams again but at least that line knew who to block, there are many teams every year that screw that up on a regular basis.

But this still ignores the fundamental issue with Romo, that he is so damnably inconsistent. Two good games followed by some random crap isn't going to win any championships. And there's plenty of random crap.

To me, when taking those things into consideration, he's an average to above average qb. Gregg Cosell said as much recently, his elusiveness gives as it takes away. I think that on the whole his environs have been well above average and that is the reason his DYAR and DVOA have been good. (For example, while Romo has been in Dallas, who have been the best receivers and tight ends in Minnesota? I think Tony's had it OK)

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#41 by Will Allen // Aug 10, 2013 - 10:50am

I didn't say his receivers were average. I recall a game, to pick just one, where the very mobile Romo was sacked for double digits against the Giants. They're weren't too many hats on hats that night. How a qb who has had crap pass blocking, a crappy owner leading, in most years, to a poorly coached team, and usually mediocre to bad pass defense, can be said to have had well above average environs, is perplexing, even with a great tight end, a latter stage T.O., Miles Austin, and a young Dez Bryant.

We are then left with a "damnably inconsistent" qb, who, without great coaching in most years, a really crappy owner, poor pass blocking, not backed by a good defense in most years, whose DVOA rankings, excluding the one year in which he suffered significant injury, have been 4,5,6,7,9, and 11, and DYAR rankings have been 4,4,6,7, and 11. Just as a matter of arithmetic, how does "plenty" of "random crap" produce such rankings? In order for this fault to not have existed, would his rankings have to be, I dunno, 2,3,4,5, and 7, and then 2,2,3,5, and 9, in order to escape, in a league of 32 starting quarterbacks, the possibility that he might be "average"? What is the meaning of "average", if this is how "average" manifests itself numerically, at the position which best lends itself to quantitative evaluation?

Do I think he is great? No. When there are 32 starting qbs in a league, however, we really need, if language is to have any precision at all, to be able to produce something measurable which gets within shouting range of a mid level performance, to employ the term "mediocre" or "average". Hell, just one year, and we would have something substantive to gnaw on. With the good metrics we have to work with however, it is really hard to employ those terms meaningfully.

(edit) I should say that if this debate is mostly about the semantics of "average" or "mediocre", I wrote way too much. Hey, it's Saturday morning; I'm supposed to be goofing off!

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#42 by Karl Cuba // Aug 10, 2013 - 12:24pm

I agree that much of this is down to splitting hairs between definitions. Average out of 32 starting qbs could be 12 to 20 by some definitions and I'd put Room somewhere around 12, maybe slightly above, which is where I get average to above average from.

I also just don't agree with some of your assessments, I think Garret is a good offensive coach (if a poor head coach) and the defense has never been that bad because Ware has been such a force. I will say that I don't think having a crap owner has anything to do with it.

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#43 by Will Allen // Aug 10, 2013 - 12:44pm

My major disagreement is with the proposition that it is possible to have above average environs for any length of time with one of the worst owners in the league. If a certain portly fella with a bad dye job had taken leave of his senses, and had decided to keep working for a certain likk'red up fella with mediocre plastic surgery, Romo would have benefitted hugely, much like a certain tattooed fella is going to benefit hugely by working with an excitable square-jawed fella for a long time. That isn't what happened, however.

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#44 by theslothook // Aug 10, 2013 - 3:07pm

I think you're both right to some extent. Romo's got this weird blend of ultra talent at receiver and horrible talent at o line. I also disagree with you two on different points.

First to Karl - I think you're vastly overstating Romo's defenses. They may have had good pass rushers, but as has been pointed out, that doesn't mean your pass defense won't be terrible. And indeed, I think dallas' recurring nightmare has been pass defenses that have allowed other qbs to have field days. Also, while o line weakness does get overblown some, I've come to the conclusion that even the best qbs can only compensate so much. Once it hits bears level bad, or cardinals, or chargers level bad - it becomes untenable. I don't think Dallas' is that horrible, but it does play that way sometimes and romo suffers. I thought it was horrible against the redskins personally.

To will - I think you're vastly overstating how much a poor gm/ coach affects a team. Jerry has become a convenient target, but what would you have thought of Jim Irsay as an owner? His reputation in some sense was(and still should be) even worse than Jerry Jones. Ditto for the meddling Dan Snyder or Al Davis. And yet that hasn't exactly been a barrier to success for qbs, including gannon, manning, luck, and Rg3.

I want to finally say, Romo is above average. Above average is how you describe very good but highly inconsistent qbs. And he's not alone. I don't think he's marginally worse than eli on the whole. Sb's completely gloss over how inconsistent eli is(including just last year). Ditto for Flacco.

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#46 by Will Allen // Aug 10, 2013 - 4:20pm

You missed the second part of my assertion regarding bad owners, which is that they can be compensated for via a HOF level coach. Parcells just was inducted. Dungy is two or three years away, and Irsay isn't even in the same solar system as Jones, as far as having a bad effect on a team. Latter stage Al Davis was, and sure enough, the one successful (even if not HOF level) coach they have had there since the 80s had to get out of there after a pretty brief stay. Snyder, when paired with a Gibbs or Shanahan, is mitigated, and he isn't as bad as Jones. Except for the very best head coach, Jones completely undermines the coaching staff, on a regular basis. The reason I'm willing to give Garrett and Wade Phillips some slack is that it is just an untenable situation, and I think it is undeniable than an untenable coaching situation has an effect on the most important player.

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#47 by theslothook // Aug 10, 2013 - 4:59pm

Do you really think Romo's notable and ill timed flameouts are the result of Jerry Jones' meddling? I find that a bit of a stretch. I mean, do we then credit jerry jones if Romo plays well? It feels a bit like heads i win tails you lose

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#48 by Will Allen // Aug 11, 2013 - 10:08am

I think ownership has a marked effect on coaching, and coaching a marked effect on quarterbacking. I think "notable and ill timed flameouts" is largely rhe rhetoric of confirmation bias. Just about all qbs who aren't HOFers have notable and ill timed flameouts.

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#49 by BaronFoobarstein // Aug 11, 2013 - 6:28pm

What ultra talent at receiver are you talking about? He's a future Hall of Famer in Witten if you consider TE to be "at receiver", but at WR he has a pile of JAGs.

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#50 by theslothook // Aug 11, 2013 - 7:28pm

I would say dez bryant is either very good or near elite at this point. But even as a rookie, he was definitely pretty good. So is/was miles austin. And they've usually had a good set of third receivers as well. Comparatively, their receivers have been very good imo.

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#11 by Will Allen // Aug 08, 2013 - 2:22pm

Both of these divisions have enough bad personnel to make projections difficult. The best team in the division could win 12 games by going 6-0 in the division, and 6-4 outside of it, and still not be all that good. One of the bad teams could overperform just a little and get to 8-8, by going 4-2 in the division and 4-6 outside of it.

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#23 by commissionerleaf // Aug 08, 2013 - 5:34pm


Giants 9 (OVER): This is a good team which has had a lot of important injuries and more than a few bad breaks. The pass rush should tick up a notch, and the offense is always among the best in the league.
Cowboys 8.5 (OVER) : The defense is a gigantic question mark, but there is enough talent all over the field to get into positive numbers.
Eagles 7.5 : (UNDER) I don't see it. The big money free agents who sank this team may be gone, but replacing them is a work in progress.
Redskins 8.5 : (UNDER) RGIII is coming off an injury and was never going to keep up the pace he was on his rookie season. It is unlikely that the Redskins will get enough help from Orakpo to make up for a regression on offense.


Patriots 11 : (OVER) The defense is fairly young and should be improving. Tom Brady is still healthy.
Bills 6.5 : (UNDER) Nothing about the Bills QB situation makes me think they are improving.
Jets 6.5 : (UNDER) See the Bills comment.
Dolphins 8 : (UNDER) This isn't a bad team, but they need improvement from Tannehill to get any traction, and relying on that is always questionable. Tempted to (PUSH) but I think 6-10 or 7-9 is more likely.

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#27 by Mehllageman56 (not verified) // Aug 08, 2013 - 10:49pm

The way I see it, to expect anyone in the AFC East to win 12 games is foolish. I expect the Patriots to be soundly beat by Cincy, New Orleans and Atlanta, like everyone else in the division. Maybe the Pats beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but probably not both. They also have Houston and Denver. That's five to seven games that the Pats, the class of the division, will be outmatched in. If the Pats get to twelve wins, Belichick needs to go into the Hall of Fame ASAP.

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#28 by theslothook // Aug 08, 2013 - 11:01pm

I think you're being unusually pessimistic about the patriots. Ok, so their receivers are question marks, but think about the team overall. Their offensive line is still very strong, their rbs are a bit overrated, but still good in that system, and they have brady. Assuming gronk plays 50 percent of the season, he and amendola should be good enough receivers to make the pats offense at least top 10. But the biggest point is that their defense will likely take a step up next year. All in all, that makes the pats still very formidable and probably better than any team in the nfc south or afc north.

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#32 by Mehllageman56 (not verified) // Aug 09, 2013 - 10:36am

I admit I'm biased against New England, but I'm more optimistic about Cincinati, Atlanta and New Orleans than down on the them. I still think the Patriots will make the playoffs and probably win the division, but the Bengals are absolutely loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, Atlanta's offense is going to be amazing, and New Orleans is going on a revenge tour. I doubt the Patriots defense takes the step up you think they will; they've added Jamie Collins and that's about it. It wouldn't surprise me if they have the worst defense in the division again, simply because the Fins have better pass rushers, Buffalo has talent and a defensive coordinator that knows what he's doing, and the Jets are still the Jets on defense. The defense won't be terrible, but they're not going to be good enough to carry them to 12-4 without Brady lighting it up like he has the last four years.

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#40 by Alternator // Aug 09, 2013 - 11:36pm

Dalton's not really good, and a middling to slightly weak QB can drag a team down pretty hard when it's better at receiver than running back. New Orleans has a few defensive issues of their own, were worse than the Patriots to begin with, and there's no real reason to think they're going to dramatically improve more than the Patriots youth movement will improve. Putting Baltimore (at worst, a deserving SB team) on par with Pittsburgh (a team on the downslide) is short-selling the Ravens.

I would be shocked if, barring a Brady injury, the Patriots can't manage 11 wins.

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#45 by Mehllageman56 (not verified) // Aug 10, 2013 - 3:08pm

Baltimore lost a lot this off-season, and the Steelers lost very little. I think they both fit the category of teams that New England may or may not beat. You are correct that Dalton is not the strength of the Bengals, but I might add that Sanchez threw for 300 yards against the Patriots defense twice last year, buttfumbles aside, and Dalton is several steps above him (another poster took umbrage when I wrote that Tannehill was a step above Sanchez).

I consider the Saints last year to have been a fluke; they lost their coaches and several players due to the scandal. Now that they have Payton back, I expect their offense to be unstoppable as usual, and they have a decent co-ordinator in Rob Ryan, who gave the Patriots fits when he was at Dallas.

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#30 by Noahrk // Aug 09, 2013 - 10:10am

The crazy thing about projecting a team's wins by schedule is that it's hard enough to know how good one specific team will be, when you project by schedule you need to know how good a whole bunch of teams is going to be.

The man with no sig

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#53 by NYMike // Aug 14, 2013 - 3:06pm

I love how often I read "the Cowboys have talent all over the field." And I love how often that fails to translate into any success worth mentioning.

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#54 by LionInAZ // Aug 14, 2013 - 7:36pm

Having "talent all over the field" is meaningless unless said talent plays well together. A Yankees fan should understand that.

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#31 by CBPodge // Aug 09, 2013 - 10:11am

Surely pretty much every rapper has a self-conferred nickname, and a lot of them are quite good.

If we're being picky and treating stage names as different from nicknames, I'll nominate LL Cool J as the best self-conferred nickname. Yes, its his stage name, but he claims it was his nickname in school. That is clearly self-conferred. No one has nicknames like Ladies Love Cool James in school. They are all things like Wankface and Dickbreath.

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#34 by Dean // Aug 09, 2013 - 12:41pm

To determine that Math is a four letter word, you use... ...MATH!

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#36 by Pat2 (not verified) // Aug 09, 2013 - 3:38pm

A second year for DE Chandler Jones, LB Hightower and CB Dennard (assuming he doesn't miss a lot of time for legal reasons) and a full season from CB Taliq should help an up-and-coming defense improve to a higher level. I expect the Patriots to lose at least one game because of inexperienced receivers but to say that the Bengals and Saints are going to easily beat the Patriots is more wishful thinking than actual analysis.

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