by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: The Pro Football Hall of Fame released its new list of semifinalists last month: the 25 modern-era candidates who will be reduced to the 15 whose candidacies will then be discussed (along with two senior nominees) by the Hall of Fame selectors the day before the Super Bowl. How the selectors get from the list of 15 down to the five finalists, who then receive an up or down vote, is a complicated process with an abundance of messy internal politics. Your Scramble writers have no control over that process, so we're going to ignore that and do the same thing we did last year -- namely, focus our discussion on the first-year eligibles among that group: Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Edgerrin James, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Orlando Pace, Junior Seau and Kurt Warner.
Mike: This year is the Greatest Show On Turf, apparently.
Tom: Apparently so. It's too bad Marshall Faulk didn't play another six years or however many he would have needed to play to be here too.
As we mentioned when we looked at last year's semifinalists, the actual Hall of Fame voting process includes narrowing the list of 25 semifinalists down to 15 finalists, who are then narrowed down to 10 and then to five actual finalists, who then receive a yes-or-no vote.
Mike: We, however, are really impatient.
Tom: Yes, we're skipping all that messy process to render our own votes on these players, yes or no or maybe or whatever.
Mike: And as an added bonus, we can bypass the process whereby deserving candidates are often overlooked so the committee can select Yet Another Wide Receiver.
Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt
Tom: Fine, let's start there.
Despite what I just said about ignoring the Hall of Fame voting process, I'm having a hard time separating what we're doing from what the Hall of Fame selectors are doing. That goes particularly so with wide receivers, where the standard is "who the heck knows what the standard is?" Between no-numbers Lynn Swann and only-numbers Art Monk, they've established they're fine going either direction. By putting Andre Reed in before Marvin Harrison, they put in a player basically everybody thinks is inferior and has an inferior record in first. And now we have two Rams receivers who are first-year eligibles. Whee. And you know wide receivers are going to keep coming up, because they accumulate numbers.
Mike: I think both Bruce and Holt are interesting in that their best years don't generally line up with Warner's best years. Perhaps Bruce does a bit more than Holt, but Bruce also had a fantastic sophomore campaign with Chris Miller throwing to him.
Mike: If only our technology was advanced enough.
Tom: Plus, those 1995 and 1996 seasons are kind of why Bruce is a candidate at all. If his whole career had been as part of a great offensive machine, he's probably not a semifinalist.
Mike: If Bruce's 1996 was actually as good as his 1995 campaign, or any of his Warner seasons, I'd be more inclined to give him more consideration. As it is he's firmly ensconced in the Hall of Very Good.
Tom: I'm about at the point with wide receivers that I am with running backs, that if they're not especially great, I'm just saying no. I mean, if we're looking at an offensive tackle with four Pro Bowls and zero AP All-Pro nominations, does he get any support for the Hall of Fame?
Mike: He wouldn't get any consideration if he had five AP All-Pro nominations and ten Pro Bowls. Because he is an offensive tackle.
Tom: The sort speculated about by somebody who thinks wide receivers are so popular because they get numbers.
Mike: Now that we're bumping up against the ultraliberal passing era, it's only going to get worse before it gets better.
Tom: Easy to say Isaac Bruce was a good player because he caught 1,024 passes, which ranks eighth in NFL history. (To this point.) Yes, the Hall of Fame will either have to go numbers-whacky (Art Monk) or completely numbers-averse (Lynn Swann, Reed over Harrison).
Holt, eh, for some reason he never made the same sort of mental impression on me Bruce did.
Mike: Holt was also excellent after Warner's decline and absence, in a way that Bruce never was.
Tom: Sure, Bruce had the pre-Warner production, Holt the greater post-Warner production. Bruce is also older. I'm not sure Holt's 93 catches for a 3-13 Rams team in 2007 makes much difference to me.
Also, we've gotten to this point without mentioning our stats. Bruce had four top-ten DYAR seasons, plus three more in the top 20, including 11th in 2006. Holt had four top-ten seasons, plus three more in the top 20, including a pair of 12th-ranked seasons. When we ran career DYAR to date before the 2013 season, Bruce and Holt ranked fifth and eighth.
Given my general peevishness at the position, I'm inclined to throw up my hands and declare "no non-great wide receivers" and just say no on Bruce and Holt, but it won't bother me if they get in.
Tom: Aunt, balls, uncle, you know the joke.
Mike: But unlike other Very Good wide receivers who were part of all-time offenses, they couldn't just stick around and sit at the top of the league for nearly as long. I'm inclined to say pass on both as well.
Tom: Also, considering Mike Martz, Kurt Warner six-year peak probably includes three seasons on injured reserve.
Tom: When we did a comparable best running backs article, James finished seventh in career rushing DYAR. He had seven seasons in Indianapolis, six of them healthy, and finished top eight in DYAR in five of them.
Mike: And top-eight by DVOA in three of them. Which is important, it shows that James was producing a lot of quality rushing yards.
Tom: Yup. He was a good back.
Mike: And not just putting up empty numbers.
Mike: It's kind of funny, I always mentally devalued James because of his proximity to Peyton Manning.
Tom: He was really good. He was a lot runner than Joseph Addai.
Mike: A lot runner, indeed.
Tom: A lot better runner. Sheesh.
Mike: But yes, we have the advantage of seeing another running back in a similar situation perform significantly worse than James did. The thing that did stick out to me about James was his vision. The Colts basically ran a stretch play every run, and James' instincts and vision gave him the ability to figure out exactly when and where to cut. As we just said, Addai, in the same system largely with the same runs, just couldn't get the job done, and I think in retrospect that patient, lateral running style probably helped Manning as much as Manning's passing helped James.
Tom: The Colts ranked in the top half of the league in Open Field Yards Per Carry in only one of James' six healthy seasons.
Mike: Well, probably not as much, it's Peyton Manning. But still. James deserves a spot.
Tom: They ranked fifth in 1999, not higher than 19th in any other season.
Mike: I don't think that's an indictment of James. By the time he's moving upfield the defense has already had time to begin converging.
Tom: Indictment? No. But I think it does indicate the running game was a complement to the passing game, not the driver of the offense.
Mike: I think it's hard to argue that any rushing offense would drive a Peyton Manning team, but I do think they fed off each other brilliantly.
Tom: James was a really good player. But in thinking about the Hall of Fame, I don't know how you can say "this guy was a really good complementary player in his prime, and that makes him a Hall of Famer." It's almost as absurd as the Steve Tasker arguments. (Yes, John Stallworth is in the Hall of Fame. We're not actually trying to replicate the selectors' mistakes.)
Mike: I think you can make an exception when the player he's complementing is the greatest sportsman of all time.
Tom: He has no real positive value to his career outside playing with Peyton. His years with Peyton weren't notably that much more successful than the Peyton years that came after it. He was a really, really good player, but I want to see something really special before I put a back into a Hall of Fame already overloaded with backs.
Just because, here is his P-F-R page. Like Bruce, four Pro Bowls, one AP All-Pro nod.
I'm not going to kick him out if he makes it, but I have plenty of other priorities.
Tom: P-F-R page. Five Pro Bowls, two-time first-time AP All-Pro. Played a position that is not ridiculously overrepresented in the Hall of Fame. Key part of 2001, 2003 Super Bowl champions led by their defense.
Mike: Really doesn't have that great advanced stats.
Tom: Which advanced stats are you referring to?
Mike: Ours. Stop rate in particular.
Tom: Eh, I don't care much about stop rate for corners. Their primary job is pass coverage. And we only have charting stats for the late, post-New England stages of his career.
Mike: The real problem is that we don't have charting stats for the years we really care about, honestly.
Tom: Yes, so we're stuck relying on contemporary recollections and a bunch of anecdata.
Mike: Which is a real problem for Law because he seemed to have his biggest games in the postseason. Which is great if you want to get into Canton, but we're trying to avoid that sort of bias. It's hard to discern whether Law was just a really outstanding cornerback or one of the all-time best.
Tom: Right now I'm trying to pretend I don't have deep underlying trauma from his pick-sixes of Steve McNair in 1998 and 2003. Well, not so much the 1998 one, but the 2003 one, because I predicted it while listening to the radio broadcast.
Mike: You truly were the McNair Whisperer.
Tom: Alas, "Don't run a play! Just let it go to the two-minute warning! You're going to throw the quick slant or quick out to Derrick Mason and Ty Law will pick it and take it back!" went unheard, and so it was to be.
Mike: In the end, I think I'm willing to give Law the benefit of the doubt. Yes, it's largely anecdotal, but the anecdotes are awesome.
Tom: Yeah, I'm not so absolutely sure that Law was as great as I remember thinking he was. But it's at least highly plausible that he was, and I trust what me who understood so little about football at the time thought then.
Tom: P-F-R page. Eight Pro Bowls, thrice AP All-Pro. His last Pro Bowl in particular is a great example of Pro Bowl voting. Because Chris Johnson ran for 2000 yards and Mawae was a famous player on the offensive line, he got a free trip to Hawaii. In fact, he was one of the worst starting centers in the league that season.
The best move he ever made was signing with the Jets in free agency. If he had played in Seattle and then Tennessee, he probably never would have become famous and never would have come close to the Hall of Fame. Instead, he joins the Jets and they go 12-4 and make it to the AFC Championship Game his first season. He seems like a good guy, an offensive lineman who's friendly to the media, and becomes famous and earns lots of accolades. If he didn't play a position where it's almost impossible to make the Hall of Fame, I'd probably hate him.
Mike: His role as NFLPA president probably helped.
Tom: I'd counter that by saying he probably doesn't get there without that other stuff first. But you're right, that helps too even if it's not supposed to be part of the discussion.
Mawae's candidacy raises the issue of positional value. He's more decorated than Holt or Bruce or James or even Law. But he's a center, shouldn't he have to be that much better? How much difference do centers really make?
Mike: Rooting for a team that went from consistently having great centers to having just good centers, I can tell you the difference is fairly pronounced.
Tom: My general point of view, especially since Mawae played in a largely 4-3 era of the NFL, is it's not that big a deal. Yes, I supported Dermontti Dawson, but I thought Dawson was better.
Mike: I don't think anyone is actually going to make the argument that Dawson wasn't better.
What I want to avoid is to being like you, and using friendliness and humanity as negatives against someone.
Tom: Believe me, that's not the first time I've heard words along those lines. And hey, we'll talk about those when we get to Kurt Warner.
Mike: But I just don't see anything about Mawae that screams "put me in the Hall." Which might not be fair, but the way linemen are selected for the Pro Bowl is such a shambles it's hard to put any stock in nominations. Since those selections are largely Mawae's case, I have to reluctantly say no.
Tom: Good player for a long time, won't complain at all if he makes it, but I'm not a huge fan of his candidacy. I just think friendliness and humanity can be important factors in peripherals for players at a position where you don't really accumulate individual statistics.
Tom: P-F-R page. Seven Pro Bowls, three times AP All-Pro.
Mike: Is there anyone who seriously believes that Pace should not be in the Hall? I think that's the real question.
Given the Hall voting process, I wouldn't be surprised by anything.
Mike: Nobody will say they don't think he is deserving.
Tom: For the sake of what we do, though, I don't think there's much to think about here.
Mike: They'll just give some mealy mouthed nonsense about strategic voting or whatever.
Tom: Or anything to think about, even.
Tom: Meanwhile, Mike Martz wonders why his offense hasn't worked nearly as well elsewhere.
P-F-R page. Twelve Pro Bowls, six times AP All-Pro. Is he even more of a lock than Pace? Is it worth even pondering the answer to that question?
Mike: Now I'm just sad.
Tom: I don't blame you.
Mike: He's probably more of a lock than Pace, yes. Not necessarily because he is more deserving than Pace, but because they are both shoo-ins and Seau now represents such a tragedy.
Tom: For this, let's just remember the great football player he was and try to put aside, if only for the moment, the impact of football on him and others. If we get on that, I don't think I'll finish this column, or maybe any others.
Mike: Tangentially, the Illinois High School Association became the first state high school organization to be sued over safety issues. Someone, somewhere needs to sit down and have a hard think about player safety and how it relates to the rules, instead of nibbling around the edges. Change is not coming fast enough, and despite my colleagues' best efforts to keep the sport as safe as possible, we are still staring at an abyss of risk and non-participation at the lower levels. The NFL, NCAA, and federation need to start talking to doctors and coaches instead of lawyers.
Tom: P-F-R page.
Scott went in-depth on Warner's Hall of Fame case in the offseason. Great human. Seems like a wonderful guy. Took a Ken Whisenhunt-coached team to the Super Bowl, and Whisenhunt is now 3-21 in his last 24 games as head coach. Great postseason performances.
Mike: Amazing story, and basically the poster child for peak vs. longevity. Personally, I think the combination of absurd peak and human interest are just too much to resist.
Tom: Four top-ten DYAR seasons, in three of which he led his team in passing DVOA (min. 250 att.).
Mike: It's probably not the best response from a football purist's perspective, but the NFL really should celebrate a player who manages to go from nothing to being on top of the sport's world.
Tom: Fifth in career passing DYAR when we ran the best quarterbacks numbers, though I'm sure Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, and Aaron Rodgers have passed him, and Carson Palmer is close.
I expect Warner to make it.
Mike: Well, it's also worth noting that Warner's team was really the bellwether for high-octane passing offenses in the NFL. So not only was Warner playing out of his mind, he was doing it in a very avant-garde sort of way.
Tom: The 1999 Rams were the bellwether for "beating up on a bunch of bad defenses." His YAR-to-DYAR gap for that season is almost 300. That's absurd.
Mike: Like I said, those teams provided a blueprint for other teams going forward. Or have you forgotten that half of our team comments in our over/under series were "well, the secondary is bad ..."
Tom: His other seasons aren't quite so inflated (well, 2009's differential was +200), but he definitely benefited from playing most of his career in the NFL's weakest division.
Mike: Are we going to hold that against Tom Brady when he comes up?
Tom: A couple years ago, I actually thought about spearheading the "Just Say 'No' to Kurt Warner for the Hall of Fame" case. Now, I don't have the kind for that fight, or indeed most fights of that nature.
Without checking the numbers, I'd say the AFC East has been respectable defensively for much of Brady's tenure. It's been more bad offenses than the defenses that have helped ensure the Patriots' long run.
Mike: I think you're giving Buffalo's and Miami's defenses too much credit for current performance. In any case, an enthusiastic yes for Warner from me.
Tom: He's going to make it. I wouldn't vote for him. Minimal non-peak value, and the peak wasn't long enough. He started more than 11 games four times in his career. Four! I mean, that's the same as Terrell Davis, poster child for peak vs. longevity at running back, and top backs generally have shorter careers than top quarterbacks.
I'm starting to get exercised again, and I told myself I wouldn't. Congratulations to Kurt Warner on his election to the Hall of Fame, and best of luck to all the candidates with the actual selectors.
Mike: Finding a radio affiliate on the interstate is hard.
Tom: Tell me about it.
Mike: Cell data is spotty unless you're near a city and Westwood One's website isn't particularly good at telling you where particular stations are. Or even if that station is carrying the program you searched for. It seems to just give you stations that carry any Sunday football at any time.
Tom: My Sunday road trips in football season tend to be to Indianapolis, and my only hope is that the Bears are playing when the Titans and Colts were not.
Mike: We managed to stay tuned to football for most of the four-hour trip, but that was largely due to the herculean efforts of my wife.
Tom: No satellite radio for you, I presume?
Mike: We don't drive with enough frequency to make satellite radio worthwhile.
Tom: I'm in the same boat. That just makes it catch-as-catch-can when you're on a road trip on a football weekend. I remember listening to a Kentucky-Tennessee game on four different stations as I went in and out of reception range on one road trip. Granted, that was college, not the NFL, but the principle is a similar one.
Beyond satellite radio, what's the solution? Make life easier for travelers through good customer service? We're not interested in starting any revolutions here, Mike!
Mike: Neither is Westwood One, apparently.
I'm tempted to draw a lesson out of my decision to play Brandon Marshall over DeAndre Hopkins, even though I still won my fantasy game fairly comfortably. About how it shouldn't matter that Marshall was my second-round pick and Hopkins was catching passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick. I'm not quite sure what that lesson would be, aside from updating your perspective based on results and taking into account opponent matchups. But I did that, or I think I did. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have even considered playing Hopkins over Marshall rather than agonizing over the decision until Thursday morning around 11:15. I suppose that's kind of like all the KUBIAK users who had Jerome Harrison on their bench when he went for 48 points some number of years ago. You think and you obsess, and then you pays your money and you takes your chances and sometimes you're right and sometimes you're wrong. And if you win you tell yourself how brilliant you were and if you lose you tell yourself how dumb you were.
Loser League Update
Full Loser League results for the week that was and the season to date are available on the results page. Each week, Scramble highlights the top scorers at each position.
Quarterback: A pair of quarterbacks who started the season and have spent time on the bench when healthy put up the worst scores of the week. Both Jake Locker and Geno Smith managed just 2 points each thanks to less than 100 yards passing and turnovers (one for Smith, three for Locker to help offset his touchdown pass).
Running backs: I am shocked, shocked, shocked to see Trent Richardson atop the Loser League scoreboard with just 1 point. Devonta Freeman and Frank Gore may have had 3.0 and 3.6 points in your (non-PPR) league but managed just 2 Loser League points.
Wide receivers: It was a good week for low wide receiver scores, as nineteen of them had two or fewer points. Standing atop that group were Pierre Garcon and Eric Weems, who each managed 0 points thanks to just 9 receiving yards each.
Kicker: Oakland's only trip inside the Rams 30 ended with a Matt Schaub fumble on a sack, so it turned out that when Tony Sparano bypassed the 55-yard field goal attempt to cut it to 21-3 early in the second quarter, it was assured that Sebastian Janikowski's day would end with a 0. Sort of.
Keep Chopping Wood: A long day for Buccaneers center Garrett Gilkey became even longer when his holding penalty in the final minute knocked the Buccaneers out of field-goal range.
Mike Martz Award: Of course, the Buccaneers had more than one mistake on that final drive, for which Lovie Smith and the rest of the coaches must take the blame. Gilkey did not even have the only costly penalty of the drive, as the Bucs played with 12 men and used their advantage to get to field-goal range. Your Scramble writers will avoid delving into a discussion of the officiating of the 12-man penalty, but the Bucs did play with 12 men. Oh, and Gilkey's penalty also came on a first down run with :43 to play with the Bucs out of timeouts and at the Bengals 31-yard line. Fitting, then, that the event giving rise to the Marv Levy Seminar on the Wisdom of Settling for Long Field Goals took place in Tampa.
Emo Kid Band Lock of the Week
Tom: We were both back to form last week, Mike.
Mike: I came so close.
Tom: Hey, at least you picked a team that won. The Raiders lost. I wasn't surprised by that. I thought it would be competitive.
Mike: I was surprised that you thought that.
Tom: It was a ridiculous laugher. And, true to form, I mentioned two other games. The Falcons upset the Cardinals at home. The Jaguars upset the Giants at home. But nooooooooooooooooo, I had to pick the Raiders, on the road, playing an early game. We are both now 4-7 on the year.
Mike: And we were doing so well.
Tom: One brief shining moment, when there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Now we have to win out to go over .500 in the regular season.
As always, lines are courtesy of Pinnacle Sports and were accurate as of time of writing. All picks are made without reference to the FO Premium picks.
Mike: Sadly, Pinnacle has done a really good job setting the lines on these games.
Tom: They must either not be using uniform color schemes to set the lines or must have one of those super-seers who can see many more colors than regular humans doing it.
Mike: This week's obvious trap seems to be Bills +10 at Broncos. I could see Buffalo's defense giving Peyton Manning some headaches, but that Kyle Orton offense is just so bad. I still don't trust the Lions, so I think I'll have to kick Oakland around a bit more.
Tom: Really? You're going to trust Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense to cover a spread of more than a touchdown?
Mike: I'm going to trust San Francisco's excellent defense to beat the snot out of Derek Carr and get a bunch of turnovers, which Colin Kaepernick can turn into a bunch of field goals to beat the spread of more than a touchdown. San Francisco 49ers -8 at Oakland Raiders.
Tom: When you mentioned obvious traps, the first inclination I had was actually the Thursday night contest. The Cowboys are 3.5-point favorites on the road against the Bears. I recognize last year's game was last year, and both teams have the full week of rest after playing last Thursday. DVOA suggests that line is inflated by a couple points. On the other hand, picking that game requires that I trust in A) a Mel Tucker-coordinated defense that makes way too many simple mistakes and/or B) the offense, which seems to be similarly mistake-prone of late. I know, Dallas does not have a particularly good defense, but the Bears offensively don't seem to be working well enough on their own.
Game No. 2 I'll regret not picking is Philadelphia against Seattle. Seattle has been as hot as any team in football lately. In particular, the return of Bobby Wagner has boosted the defense. Yes, I know, Mark Sanchez will throw the ball to the other team for no good reason, and Seattle can give him good reasons. But I also know Chip Kelly can scheme receivers open, and the Legion of Boom still isn't what it was last year. Plus, the Eagles have had great success at times with their rush packages, and I don't trust Seattle's offensive line to hold up. This line should be closer to -4 than -1, even as a late game.
Instead, though, I'll take a road underdog, the Kansas City Chiefs. More particularly, I'm picking against Drew Stanton and Arizona's ability to score points. The Chiefs have a pair of talented edge rushers in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, a wrecker in the middle of the line in Dontari Poe, and are schemed well enough Arizona won't move the ball except by hitting the Random Deep Ball Lottery.
Mike: And that is different from the usual Arizona offense how?
Tom: While Arizona has a fine defense, they have been vulnerable to tight ends and have good corners. Well, the Chiefs don't have wide receivers and do have tight ends, including matchup threat Travis Kelce. Yes, Arizona is good against running backs, but I trust Jamaal Charles. This will probably be a low-scoring and competitive game, and I'm taking the Chiefs and the points. Kansas City Chiefs +1.5 at Arizona Cardinals.