Scramble for the Ball
Fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness

Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Mike: So, as I was watching the Denver-Washington game this past weekend, something strange occurred to me.

Tom: What is that?

Mike: No matter how many interceptions Peyton Manning threw, no matter how many fumbles his team lost, I never really shook the feeling that at some point, he would simply assert himself and, for all intents and purposes, end the game. Manning has had a dominant career, it's true, but I've never had this feeling of inevitability surrounding his team's wins. In fact, if you remember correctly, in the middle of the third quarter I asked you in magical IRC land what you thought the odds of Manning scoring three or four touchdowns in the remainder of the game were. You pegged P(Manning Ownage) at .15, after which said ownage ensued. It's one thing to expect a dominant team, like the 2007 Patriots, to win every game they play. It's quite another thing to expect a team to win completely separate from their performance within the game in question. Some of this is necessarily subjective and biased, but there must be some aspect of Peyton Manning's –- and therefore Denver's -– dominance that my lizard brain has latched on to prior to making the leap.

Tom: Here's a Peyton Manning stat I haven't seen elsewhere. This is already, by VBD terms, the fourth-best fantasy season he's ever had. Another surprise: For as great and prolific as he's been, this is only the second season where he's been the most valuable fantasy quarterback.

Mike: The bizarre thing about Manning this year is that it seems like he has been especially prolific in the second half of games.

Tom: It really seems that way, especially after the Broncos scored 38 points in the second half against the Redskins after only seven in the first. But by DVOA terms, they're basically exactly as good on offense in both halves (35.9% v. 39.2%).

Mike: More basic statistics bear this out; allowing for the odd number of touchdowns Manning has thrown thus far this year, half of those scoring throws have come in each half of his games.

Tom: Right, but the Broncos have scored 135 points in the first half and 208 more in the second half.

Mike: Let's have a look at the total package, then:

  • Peyton Manning (1Q+2Q 2013): 109 completions, 158 attempts, 1327 yards, 14 touchdowns, one interception
  • Peyton Manning (3Q+4Q 2013): 128 completions, 175 attempts, 1592 yards, 15 touchdowns, five interceptions

Oddly, Manning's YPA goes up slightly between the two half splits (8.4 to 9.1) but his completion percent goes up (69 to 73.1)

Tom: Yards per completion, though, is basically the same -- 12.2 to 12.4. The split isn't even in the running game, where lead back Knowshon Moreno had more carries, more yards, and a similar YPA (4.1 to 4.4) in the first half. He does, however, have more rushing touchdowns in the second half, six to two.

This makes me think about field position. The Broncos average starting first half drives at their own 27.5. In the second half, they start at their own 33.1. That may not seem like that big a change, but it's the difference between average field position and one of the best in the league.

Mike: Field position is largely a function of defense. Denver's defense has been pretty bad, in general. In the first three quarters, it ranks 24th, 24th, and 28th by DVOA. In the fourth quarter, however, Denver has been the third-best defense in the league. I would be (more) skeptical of the top-four ranking for Late and Close, also, since Denver has only played two games decided by one score this year.

Tom: The Broncos have scored 93 points in the third quarter, 115 in the fourth quarter. Average starting field position in the third quarter: their own 26.9. In the fourth quarter: their own 39.8. Although this comes with a large data caveat: PFR's query is currently telling me that two of the Broncos' third-quarter drives ended with the end of the game. That seems unlikely.

Tom: Looking at their drive results, it just seems like the Broncos are better at scoring touchdowns in the third quarter, even though they don't seem better at offense in general by our numbers. That situation seems to create more favorable fourth-quarter situations, where the defense can just take over the way they did against the Redskins.

Mike: I suppose the best defense is a good offense

Tom: I think our numbers support that idea, with the best offenses being consistently better than the best defenses, and being more consistent from year to year as well. As Chase Stuart wrote, offense is 60 percent of the game. Or by FO terms, it's four parts offense, three parts defense, and one part special teams. I'm curious to see how good the defense is. They certainly played much better against the Redskins, and I think the return of Wesley Woodyard could mean a lot. He missed most of the Cowboys game and the Jaguars and Colts games. Our numbers, though, suggest the bad games were the ones against the Raiders, Eagles, and Cowboys, so perhaps that narrative isn't as attractive as it seems. Time will tell (or insert some non-cliched phrase that means the same thing).

"You Thought You Were Rid of This" Fantasy Update!

Mike: The only notable thing about my fantasy team is that Green Bay's garbage time against Minnesota destroyed me. I had Green Bay's defense, and my opponent had Adrian Peterson.

Tom: I'm one of only two teams with a record over .500. Not coincidentally, we have the two fewest points against in the league. I'm sure that is totally sustainable.

Mike: I suppose I shouldn't complain that much, that loss was for my autodraft team of disaster. My actual team is still doing just fine, though.

Tom: There was one other team in the league with a draft position one off from mine who ended up with a lot of players I wanted. He has many more points, but a worse record.

Mike: I'm sure you can count that as a moral victory.

Tom: I do!

Mike: Man, our teams are boring.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: There is no Mark Sanchez. There was no Tim Tebow. There was no Kellen Clemens. There is no Geno Smith. Since Chad Pennington, there is only New York Jets Quarterback. 3 points for the rookie in the blowout loss to the Bengals.

Running Backs: In his return from injury, Steven Jackson had fourteen touches (11 rushes, three receptions) for 13 yards and 0 Loser League points, while perhaps the biggest surprise of Monday night was how fine a job a Rams defense that had been gashed on the ground did at shutting down Marshawn Lynch, holding him to 23 yards rushing and 2 points.

Wide Receiver: Tavon Austin had not just his draft slot on offense the other night, but a whole bonus yard to boot! Matching his 0 was Julian Edelman.

Kicker: As Peter King noted in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback, it has been a good year for field-goal kickers even after this past weekend saw three miss multiple field-goal attempts. Of that trio, Shaun Suisham earned the fewest points on the kicks he actually made and ends up with this week's low score of 0.

Don't forget you can check out your team's score on the Loser League page. Only one week until we crown the champion of Loser League Part I.


KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: And when you miss two field goals, both of them inside 35 yards, in a game your team loses by three points, you end up the KCW honoree as well as low man at your position in Loser League, Shaun Suisham. (For the curious, we did consider Tyron Smith's holding penalty and went with Suisham instead.)

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: It was actually a respectable week for NFL coaches. They were not perfect, of course. Mike Tomlin and Jim Schwartz both used their first challenge in the first half on modest gains, but both were on plays where they were very likely to win, and both did, in fact, win. Leslie Frazier kicked the extra point to go down 17 before attempting an onside kick late in the Sunday night affair, raising the question of whether he was really trying to win or just operating unthinkingly. Sub-optimal, but not the sort of aggravatingly dunderheaded moves that make for worthy Martz honorees in our view. No one, and NFL coaches get a reprieve this week.

Haley's Brief Suisham-Related Respite Lock of the Week

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Tom: Last week things were back to normal. You snatched Carolina against Tampa Bay, while a Jason Campbell-led Cleveland kept things close against Kansas City before falling. The line ended up not moving off the Chiefs minus-9 I took on Tuesday evening at the time I saw the revised line. Oh well. As a reminder, all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of the time of writing. All picks are made without reference to the FO Premium picks.

Mike: I think it's fitting that one of the terrible Thursday Night Football matchups that has the most attractive line.

Tom: Cincinnati-Miami is a terrible Thursday night matchup? I think it's better than Carolina-Tampa last week, and nobody, probably not even fans of the two teams involved, is looking ahead to Houston-Jacksonville later this season.

Mike: That is true, it's different from the usual battle of bottom-feeders getting their required allotment of prime time games. This game will be terrible, however, because Cincinnati is a pretty good team. And Miami ... isn't.

Tom: Miami's not that bad. They're just mediocre across the board (19th on offense, 22nd on defense, 21st on special teams by DVOA).

Mike: -10% DVOA versus Cincinnati's 22.4%. With a three-point line.

Tom: At home. That's a 17% difference. That line makes perfect sense to me.

Mike: You're crazy.

Tom: Maybe.

Mike: Cincinnati Bengals -3 at Miami Dolphins.

Tom: You want something crazy? By our numbers, Baltimore and Cleveland have been nearly equal this year. Ravens -8.6% DVOA, Browns -9.8%.

Mike: Baltimore lost to Pittsburgh. That says about all you need to know.

Tom: The Browns are fresh off outplaying the Chiefs in Kansas City.

Tom: The Ravens are favored by three points in Cleveland. As far as I know, the Browns suffered no major injuries since Sunday. They're probably not going to change their starting quarterback again between when we write this column and when it posts after doing so last week.

Mike: I refuse to accept that premise. Nobody expects the Cleveland quarterback switcheroo!

Tom: Jason Campbell is far from a great quarterback, but he's capable of performing at an acceptably high level. My fantasy team agrees with Greg Cosell's observation that Ray Rice's physical decline seems to have begun this year instead of holding off until 2014. I don't see Baltimore as having a particular matchup edge. Maybe I'm missing something big, but give me the Browns and the points. Cleveland Browns +3 vs. Baltimore Ravens.

Scramble Mailbag

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Mike: I have been offered A.J. Green and Martellus Bennett for my Jimmy Graham and Keenan Allen. In PPR, my other wide receivers are Pierre Garcon, Terrance Williams, Emmanuel Sanders, Julian Edelman, and the disappointing Hakeem Nicks, so Green is a big upgrade. I also have Charles Clay, who I would probably start until Jay Cutler comes back. Should I make this deal?

Tom: Green is a big upgrade at wide receiver, yes, but the cost to you is a big downgrade at tight end. We saw last week that even a hobbled Graham is a great red zone target, and Drew Brees still loves him. Keenan Allen seems to be coming on, and I think he could be a viable start for you some weeks (I assume you're playing matchups with your wide receivers). I do not think Green is worth that, and if you care about that, my guess is Graham improves your opponent's team more than it does yours. I would not make this deal.

Mike: I think you are underrating the second half of Mike's buddy's offer. It's A.J. Green and the Black Unicorn. While Chicago's defense has been bloodied by the loss of Jay Cutler, I think there is a huge place in our new McCown reality for a big, physical tight end with good receiving skills. Even with Cutler back, Chicago's offense will be nowhere near as high-octane as the Saints, so I'm not suggesting that Bennett is Graham's equal. I am suggesting you're shipping out the best tight end for a tight end with top-5 potential in exchange for an astronomical upgrade at wide receiver. Take the deal.


22 comments, Last at 01 Nov 2013, 4:23pm

1 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

The Peyton Manning led Broncos appear to be better at the end of games. The Tim Tebow led Broncos were famous for last second wins. John Elway was especially noteworthy for all his comeback wins with the Broncos.

It seems to me, that the common thread here is probably Denver. It had long been my theory during the Tebow playoff run that the reason he was able to pull those miracles off was a simple matter of conditioning, and now it looks like Peyton is benefiting from the same.

If you train a mile up, your conditioning is going to be superior to someone doing the same work out at sea-level. Because of that, in the 4th quarter, the Broncos are simply not going to be as tired as most (if not all) other teams. This would be exacerbated for Denver home games, as the thinner air would be even harder for other teams to handle.

Does anyone know of any way a theory like that could be tested? I have lingering doubts if only because the idea feels so obvious to me that someone else must have surely come up with something similar before.

2 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

Well...I'm not sure if I buy that. Manning is the leader in 4th quarter comebacks and thus his skills at that are likely his own rather than being in denver. Ditto for elway, who would have likely been as magnificent in another city for another team as he was in denver. And finally, remember, Tebow magic began on the road in Miami. He was won games against oakland and Minnesota so it wasn't purely a denver thing. That said, I think it's fairly clear that tebow's "magic" was the result of an extreme tail event than it was some innate ability of his.

4 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

I think what The Storyteller said is, Denver players play and train at tougher environment than others, so it helps them to stay focused(or not getting tired) at the end of the game WHEREVER they play. So it doesn't matter they play on the road or at home, though in latter case, advantage might get bigger.

I'm not buying it, but still it's an interesting theory. Curious if someone actually did the study about it.

3 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

I don't know if anyone has tested it statistically, but I recall that idea spouted in numerous years when I lived in Denver. In particular it was the game plan of how they would beat the Packets in the SB, because while Green Bay's defense was larger and more physical than Denver's, they were supposedly going to be easier to tire out.

10 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

No, they are used to the air up there. When the Broncos have been forced to come down from a mile high, they don't win the fourth quarter. Rewatch their 3 Super Bowl losses in the 80s. Only when they went to schemes that compensated for their linemen needing to be lighter than other teams did they win it all. It's not a tougher environment, it's a different environment from other stadiums with very different issues than all the other stadiums in the NFL. Most teams that play the Broncos in Denver are not adapted for the environment as well as the Broncos, which explains their home winning percentage being the best in the NFL for the last thirty years or so.

15 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

I would say all 3 of those Super Bowl losses were decided before the fourth quarter. Maybe the Giants one wasn't, but 26-10 was a three-score game in 1986 and Elway threw a pick on the 2nd play of the quarter.

I've been on the "Denver dominates second halves like no other" thing since last year. They scored 299 points after halftime to set a record. They already have 208 in the 2nd half through 8 games and will probably break their own record. They have scored 10+ in the 2nd half of 25 straight games (including playoffs). That might be the longest streak in NFL history.

I'm not sure it's just about conditioning/Mile High, but the thought that John Fox is a master adjuster doesn't sit well with me either. Peyton Manning plays a huge role in this, though I can't say I recall many Colts teams having this type of performance so consistently.

21 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

If we assume every nfl organization hires competent skill position coaches that teach the same fundamental tackling techniques/qb mechanics/receiving techniques,etc(and why wouldn't we expect this, given nfl teams are in a highly competitive business with tons of money to hire the best and brightest), then I feel head coaches fall into two categories:

1) the schemers - head coaches who are able to enhance the quality of an offense or defense either through play calling or scheme design. I think of people like sean payton, mike shanahan, rex ryan, lovie smith, etc etc.

2) The managerial types - these guys I think are hired off ability to delegate, to organize, and to run the team while the scheming is primarily left to the coordinators - I think of Tomlin, Fox, Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, and John Harbaugh.

Now, obviously there are super bowl winners in both camps, but I've always been of the belief that the schemers are more valuable, because in the nfl, talent eventually regresses to the mean and the scheme advantage helps mitigate the talent loss a lot better than the organizer would. That said, Rex Ryan is the ultimate example of the good and bad that comes with scheming versus managing. His schemes have made the jets defense much better than their talent would otherwise say, but his managing skills have also possibly led to more losses as well.

22 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

I would also add, its really really hard to identify which scheme coaches really are effective vs the talent around them. To judge this, you need to observe the coach in a variety of situations and judge him based on the results. After all, a lot of coaches are hired based on their scheming and many times they fail to do so. Cam Cameron was seen as an innovative offensive coach, so was steve spurrier, etc, etc.
For me, the list of effective schemers that I believe have proven it are : Shanahan(though for the most part, I dislike his offensive philosophy), Lovie Smith, Rex Ryan, Bill Belichick, and possibly Norv Turner. My gut also says Pete Carroll will be another example in time.

5 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

I read and found very interesting about this dialogue. I think what The Storyteller said is, Denver players play and train at tougher environment than others, so it helps them to stay focused(or not getting tired) at the end of the game WHEREVER they play.

6 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

Assuming this is the same FO league, I'm the other team over .500. I'm undefeated, Tom a game over .500, and that only after squeaking by this week by 2 pts.

That being said about a third of the league has scored more than my squad. As Tom said, it is all about my impeccable pts against, which has allowed opponents almost 50 pts fewer than Tom's, the second best. And this of course is totally sustainable.

7 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

"Oddly, Manning's YPA goes up slightly between the two half splits (8.4 to 9.1) but his completion percent goes up (69 to 73.1)"

You realize this would be expected (and not odd), right?

16 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

Yards per completion is expected to rise (although not necessarily will). Yards per attempt is not expected to rise or fall as completion percentage rises. Among many factors, the largest is the fact that completion percentage on short passes is significantly higher than the same for longer passes and how that plays with that offense's pass distance distribution.

19 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

I tried to run a quick correlation, but couldn't find a suitable file I already have put together to do it. Era would matter as the older QBs had higher YPA's than today's, who have higher comp. %'s because of the shorter passes.

But two quick correlations I ran on comp. % to YPA yielded 0.25 and 0.38, so it's probably not highly strong relationship (like nothing over 0.70).

9 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

Fantasy advice question for the authors and the FO community:

Choose 2 WR in a .5 PPR league:

Antonio Brown @ NE, Denarius Moore vs PHI, Marvin Jones @MIA, Steve Smith vs ATL

Right now I'm leaning towards Brown & Moore but I can see the case for any of the 4.

I've picked wrong every single week in this league (still doing ok). Help.


11 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

Brown's a no-brainer. To me, the other one depends on how you match up with your opponent. If you're stronger, go with Smith (more consistency). If your opponent is stronger, go with Moore (more boom-bust potential). If your opponent is a lot stronger, go with Jones (serious boom-bust potential).

12 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

TB ended up playing more matchup with Revis than they did in the past, which is why Smith wasn't great last week. I think Newton is playing better and I like his talent. Maybe I'm overrating Smith, though, plus Newton hasn't been that high volume of late.

Marvin Jones isn't a high-volume receiver; he didn't play many snaps even last week, so I'd stay away from him. Too dependent on touchdowns for value. Yes, he's been getting them, but I'm reflexively shy of guys like that unless I don't have other options.

Brown's a more reliable volume option than Moore and also plays with a better passer. PHI D tempts me, but I'm going Brown and Smith.

13 Re: Scramble: The Legend of Peyton Manning

Rodgers has been way more impressive than Manning to me this year. He lost Driver, Jennings, Cobb, Finley and Jones and has still completely dominated. Almost every throw he makes is absolutely perfect even though he has no WR that gets wide open at this point and he has a mediocre at best OL protecting him.

We look at guys like Eli and Flacco and Ryan and call them elite but as soon as they have one or two WR leave they are worthless. Stafford is a shell of himself as soon as megatron goes down. It doesn't matter who is on the field for Rodgers he is going to dominate because he is the best QB in the league.