Scramble for the Ball

Fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness

Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: How do you feel about grooming, Mike? The Tennessee Titans told Zach Mettenberger to cut his hair and shave his beard since he was named the new starting quarterback.

Mike: What.

Tom: Yup.

Mike: The Titans are also apparently run by '50s dad.

Tom: Mike Munchak was also '50s dad, ordering the team to wear suits on the plane.

Mike: Suits, I can see. It is still within social norms that a bunch of rich professionals would be wearing suits. And we do see athletes wearing suits all the time when they're out on business. But we have long since moved beyond the idea that facial hair makes a man untrustworthy or unprofessional. That was largely a construct of post-WWII society, anyway.

Mettenberger, Before And After
Image courtesy Jim Wyatt on Twitter

Tom: Like tattoos, I always and everywhere consider facial hair a questionable decision. With tattoos, I have philosophical reasons for that. Facial hair, I just generally think it's an unwise idea.

Mike: You are also the world's most boring person.

Tom: In neither case do I consider it a major hygiene/suitability issue, which is my understanding for the reasoning behind the military's haircuts.

Mike: To be fair, I do know people for whom it is a hygiene issue. I get the sneaking suspicion that images of That Guy are playing in the heads of guys like Munchak. Either that or he was completely unmanned by another man's resplendent beard at some point. Which is common. Some people just cannot handle the more majestic examples of the species.

Tom: I think this ties into a broader issue, though, which is (a) to what extent coaches are control freaks, and (b) to what extent they should be. I'll admit to being extraordinarily boring, but I also tend to be fairly tolerant. I may think your beard is silly, but I'm not going to tell you to cut it unless it prevents you from doing a job-related task. Whisenhunt also indicated that he would give more leeway to a veteran quarterback. Indeed, Charlie Whitehurst was allowed to keep his facial hair and long hair when he started games. And somehow the world did not end.

Mike: Because if there is one thing quarterbacking experience in the NFL does, it teaches you how to cope with having a beard. Only the most rigorous training will suffice!

Tom: I should mention this is not exactly a new debate in the NFL. The Raiders were famous for being accepting of things like long hair in the 1970s, contrary to what most of the league permitted.

Mike: It is strange that one of the signs of biological maturity is viewed as a sign of emotional immaturity. Particularly in the hyper-masculine NFL, you'd think that you'd have players trying to out-do each other with facial boufants. But even aside from that, a good beard can be a trademark. How many people know who Brett Keisel is just because of his magnificent beard?

Tom: That's the thing. Mettenberger was known for his beard...

Image courtesy Zach Mettenberger on Instagram

... which he'd had back at LSU.

Image courtesy Zach Mettenberger on Instagram

Making him shave was, as Ken Whisenhunt described, a statement the Titans have a specific way they believe he should look as the starting quarterback of the team.

Mike: "Incompetent?" Going by his predecessors, at least.

Tom: Maybe I just need to adjust my mental model of a Whisenhunt quarterback to be tall, strong-armed, clean-shaven pocket passers. Mobility and accuracy may be pluses but not required.

Mike: True, he wants someone like Tom Brady, I imagine. Who, of course, has the male model equivalent of a beard.

Tom: I can't even imagine what Whisenhunt thinks of Uggs.

Mike: The noise that honest, god-fearing clean-shaven men make when they are hit by four defenders simultaneously.

Tom: Which, hey, is a familiar sound to Whisenhunt from watching John Skelton and Ryan Lindley play behind the 2012 Arizona Cardinals offensive line.

I know I should let this go, but it just feels like the ne plus ultra of what Daniel Jeremiah described as the transition in scouting from character being 25 percent of the process when he started at the turn of the century to being more like 75 percent of the process when he took a media job a few years ago. There's certainly a legitimate place for some to most of that evaluation. As Matt Waldman has written before, though, it's a sour cocktail offered up by people who do not seem well-suited for the job.

Mike: The thing to remember is that anyone who is that high up in an NFL organization basically has no life. The NFL is all-consuming and destroys your free time and often your family.

Tom: I have no life either!

Mike: Yes, but they're busy actually being productive! And when you're that productive and spend all of your time locked in an office or watching film in a dark room, your ideas of propriety and character and all the outward manifestations thereof become horribly skewed. You become the rich, famous version of Milton, basically.

Tom: OK, I have no life in a way that allows me to retain, at least in some small ways, a sense of perspective. That lets me be monomaniacal in some ways, but I recognize there are things that are not about the thing I have a monomaniacal focus about.

Lessons Learned

Tom: What did you learn this week, Mike?

Mike: This week I learned that the NFL seems to still think they can make NFL Network-exclusive games A Thing. As you know, for the first half of the season everyone could watch Thursday Night Football, thanks to a deal between the league and CBS. However, in the second half, those games will be moved back behind the NFLN curtain, available predominantly to those who shelled out silly money to their cable provider to get an extra sports tier of programming.

Tom: Yes, I am one of those people who shells out silly money to their cable provider, and mostly for the privilege of watching a miserable Titans team live at home each Sunday.

Mike: Yes, well, at least your Internet is finally stable. That's the only thing about this column that has improved over our tenure.

The problem, as ... well, nearly the entire history of Thursday Night Football has shown, is that the quality of games on Thursday night is terrible. From the start, the tradeoff made a sort of sense; the NFL wanted to get into the broadcasting game, but the league's television broadcasting contracts were too lucrative to move quality games or rivalry games away from network broadcasts accessible to millions and onto a cable broadcast accessible to ... a significantly smaller number of millions, I suppose.

That calculus worked out when TNF was a miserable but unopposed game viewed only by the truly die-hard football fans. Everything fell apart this year, however. Moving the games to CBS was likely designed to induce people into buying into the premium service NFLN is packaged with. The quality of games, however, stayed the same.

Tom: Moving the games to CBS was mostly about CBS paying more money to the NFL than they got running all the games on NFL Network, I think. But you can't take away all the games from NFL Network, or else it's not worth as much, and I think the NFL does want it to be worth as much.

Mike: So instead of the NFL showcasing an amazing product that true fans should open their wallets to purchase, the recalcitrant fans' look behind the curtain revealed that Thursday Night Football is pretty terrible football, partly due to the absurdity of the schedules it creates, but mostly due to the NFL's ulterior motives. TNF serves no purpose if it isn't a way to drive NFLN subscriptions. So yes, you can't take away all the games.

Tom: Thursday is the biggest TV night. CBS is paying the NFL an extra boatload of money for the Thursday games.

Mike: And CBS would gladly, I imagine, pay for all the TNF games. Yet half of them are on NFLN. That is strong evidence that the experiment is still ongoing.

Tom: The NFL struck a balance. It wants more eyeballs and more money, but it still wants to support NFL Network.

Mike: But, based on the putrid play TNF viewers are accustomed to, and now the general populace is now aware of, I doubt it will have people signing up in droves for the NFL Network.

Tom: I think your CBS games as leaders for NFL Net's Thursday games idea would be a lot more plausible if it was the first year of Thursday night football, or even the first year of NFL Network Thursday night football. I think you're trying to impute motives, when cupidity is all the motive you need.

Mike: I think the NFL has an underperforming product and struck a deal to give it more exposure. Which is basically step 1 to bolstering a flagging product with high upside. The games are just terrible.

Tom: I wouldn't have said underperforming. For cable broadcasts, NFL Network games drew relatively well. People watch the Pro Bowl, for cryin' out loud. But there's little question in my mind that they're making more money off CBS for the eight games than they were when they were on NFL Network. This is all part of Roger Goodell's drive for $25 billion in annual revenue.

Mike: Yes, that is what "underperforming" means. It's based on expectations and opportunity cost. Not beating out Extreme House Flippers.

Tom: I think they looked at putting all the games on NFL Network as an investment. It didn't pay off as well as they wanted it to, so they cashed out some.

Mike: ... None of this contradicts anything I've said.

Tom: Our disagreement, to the extent there is one, is largely one of form rather than of function, yes.

So, we had four quarterbacks on Sunday go over 400 passing yards? Did that mean anything to you?

Mike: That it's impossible to play defense with the rules as they are currently interpreted?

Tom: Sure, but we already knew that. To me, it's just a statistic that can be used to indicate the NFL as it is, but it doesn't really tell us anything new. I don't really have anything to add to that.

Mike: That's not much of a lesson!

Tom: It's easy to accumulate passing yards in the NFL. Teams will continue to accumulate passing yards, even if we don't see four quarterbacks throw for 400-plus yards again. Sometimes the lesson is there's not much of a lesson!

Mike: How Jedi.

Loser League Update

Full Loser League results for your team for this week and the season to date are available on the Loser League results page. Each week Scramble highlights the best scorer at each position.

Quarterback: Joe Flacco and Cam Newton each failed to crack 200 yards passing and turned the ball over twice and ended up with 6 points. Honorable mention to Geno Smith, who finished with 9 points despite getting the 15-point penalty for not having enough attempts.

Running backs: Doug Martin managed less than 30 yards on his 10 carries. Ditto Jeremy Hill, though Hill at least added some receiving yards and made it to 4 points while Martin was stuck on 2.

Wide receivers: Wes Welker may be playing on the best offense in football, but he did almost nothing against the Chargers, recording only two catches for five yards for 0 points. Matching him precisely was none other than his designated quasi-replacement in New England, Danny Amendola.

Kicker: Honorable mention to Josh Scobee, not for sitting at the top with 5 points but for failing to get the ball through the uprights in a manner that counted until his third attempt. Low man for the week instead was Greg Zuerlein, who had -1 points when his lone field goal attempt came from the right hash and stayed right.


Keep Chopping Wood: A joint award this week, to a trio of Falcons with crucial miscues in the final two minutes of Sunday morning's collapse against the Lions: James Stone with a holding call to stop the clock on offense; Julio Jones with a drop on the next play; and then Paul Soliai with a defensive holding infraction to give the Lions a clock stoppage and a new set of downs when Jim Caldwell tried to earn the Martz Award for failure to attend the Marv Levy Seminar on the Wisdom of Settling for Long Field Goal Attempts.

Mike Martz Award: Honorable mention to Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze for giving his shaky quarterback a chance to lose the game in regulation in a system where one (more) loss carries the real possibility of ending your season. The actual award this week goes to Mike McCarthy for his curious decision-making in the first half of the loss to the Saints. A surprise onside kick is not a bad strategy per se, but it is generally an underdog strategy rather than one by the team that was better coming in. The truly Martzian move was the slant pass to Julius Peppers, not in a late-game situation where the game had already been decided one way or the other, but in tie game in the first quarter. When a defensive player drops a pass, it is not his fault for being thrown the pass in the first place.

Please End The Hurting Locks of the Week

Tom: Well, Mike, we can't win for losing.

Mike: That ... is a tautology.

Tom: The Philadelphia Eagles got into Arizona territory eight times, but only found the end zone twice. They played Arizona close, but lost by 4 points. The line was 2.5. Seattle beat Carolina, stifling their offense. But they struggled on offense themselves, only scoring 13 points. They won 13-9. The line was 4.5. I am 2-5, while you are 1-6.

As per normal, odds 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: At least this was a close failure. I'm slowly improving?

Tom: Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear warfare.

Mike: Honestly, on the scale thermonuclear warfare operates on, I don't think close really cuts it there, either.

I really want to let my homer flag fly and go with the Steelers at home in a pick 'em, but that seems really unwise, considering Pittsburgh's suspect defense and Joe Flacco's recent attempts to live up to his contract. The real problem with this week is that there are too many multi-score lines. Yes, the Raiders are terrible and the Seahawks are pretty good, but does anyone really trust Seattle to beat Oakland by three scores? Enough to put money on that result, at least?

Tom: I would never put money on a line greater than 12.5 or 13 points, and would prefer to avoid any line that goes into double digits.

Mike: Wise guidelines.

Tom: Not that I actually put any money on football in the first place, though that would change if I lived within walking distance of a sports book.

Mike: Considering your record thus far, it's a good thing you don't. Anyway, I'll take the game that everyone thinks will be extremely close, but really should not be close at all. Denver is one of the best teams in recent memory, having performed well against other top teams. The Patriots, Brady's amazing performance against the Chicago Bears Defense Experience notwithstanding, are an above-average team getting really fat on cupcakes.

Tom: You may also thank me for not taking the Steelers last week. Sorry, Kevin from Philly.

Mike: New England simply cannot run the ball, and even if they were better at doing so, Denver is third-best in the league in run defense DVOA. The Patriots' passing attack is good, but no team can be successful when it is forced to be one-dimensional, especially considering the Broncos are also quite good at defending the pass! Perhaps not so great against tight ends, Tom Brady's favorite weapon, but the fact remains that the Broncos are either the best or close to the best in the league at basically everything. Yes, they're playing in Foxboro. Yes, it's Brady-Manning. The Broncos are just too good this year. Denver Broncos -3 at New England Patriots.

Tom: Hmm. I'll give the Eagles game a pass this week, even though Weighted DVOA in particular suggests an even game rather than Philadelphia as the favorite in Houston. Miami favored at home over San Diego also doesn't seem quite right, though DVOA suggests it's a good line.

Mike: Yeah, Miami is quietly competent this year. It seems strange and I think it's snuck up on people.

Tom: That, or perhaps San Diego is looking more like the San Diego we expected -- a really good offense and not a good defense -- than the really good team they looked like after the first couple weeks.

I'll instead look at the Thursday night affair. The Saints of course played very well on Sunday night. Their road results have been unimpressive this year. They're 0-4, losing to Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, and Detroit.

Mike: "Unimpressive" is an amazing understatement.

Tom: They did beat the Eagles on the road in the playoffs.

Mike: Everyone knows my opinion of the Eagles.

Tom: So they're 2-8 in their last ten road games, defeating the Eagles and a 2-8 Falcons squad. Well, the Eagles weren't terrible. They've lost road games to some pretty lousy foes. And what's the line for Thursday night? They're favored in Carolina. DVOA suggests this line should be closer to a pick 'em. My eyes don't like New Orleans, seeing their defense as vulnerable as DVOA thinks it is. Yes, Carolina has struggled on run defense, and Sean Payton could just choose to run the ball a lot and do it fairly successfully. The Saints still have to stop the Panthers, and with Jonathan Stewart back, the Panthers have a run game outside of Cam Newton. Kelvin Benjamin, dropped touchdown pass Sunday notwithstanding, is turning into a very effective receiver, and the Saints are 29th in DVOA against opponents' top receivers. I'll take the home team and the points. Carolina Panthers +2.5 vs. New Orleans Saints.

Send suggestions for Tom's Bucket List to!


20 comments, Last at 31 Oct 2014, 12:48am

1 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by RickD // Oct 29, 2014 - 7:59pm

The Patriots' ability to run the ball depends a good bit on who's actually playing on the O-line. I'm not saying they'll run on the Broncos with success, but if you look at the season-long stats, you'll see an average that understates how well they can run with Stork at center (and the rest of the regular starters in).

Given Mike's dismal record of picking locks, I probably should be happy that he's taking the Broncos -3.

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2 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by dbostedo // Oct 29, 2014 - 11:53pm

"The Tennessee Titans told Zach Mettenberger to cut his hair and shave his beard since he was named the new starting quarterback."

Brings this to mind :

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20 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by The Hypno-Toad // Oct 31, 2014 - 12:48am

I was crossing my fingers when I clicked the link, and you came through with flying colors. That was exactly what I hoped to see.

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3 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by hatersgonhate // Oct 30, 2014 - 3:14am

The thing about global thermonuclear warfare, is that the only winning move is not to play.

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6 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Bright Blue Shorts // Oct 30, 2014 - 6:49am

It's a curious game ...

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8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by rfh1001 // Oct 30, 2014 - 7:23am

Demonising gamers as all being people who bring the world to the brink of catastrophe during the Cold War is the sort of unethical crap I expect from the so-called journalism in this comment section.

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19 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by MilkmanDanimal // Oct 30, 2014 - 3:35pm

#scramblegate #scramblejusticewarriors #notyourshielditsgoodells

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10 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Paul R // Oct 30, 2014 - 8:59am

How about a game of chess?

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4 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by theslothook // Oct 30, 2014 - 3:26am

Passing numbers as a whole may be way up, but efficiency numbers seemed to have plateaued since the 2011 season, going by a smoothed week by week series. I also get a bit peeved when people say you can't play defense when last year the seahawks showed no one could effectively pass on them(aside from maybe the colts for one game). And the cardinals, 49ers, and Panthers were all really good on defense too. Having charted a few games, I've seen teams play effective zone and man defense. Sure, sometimes those red zone pick plays become very tough to defend, but effective zone coverage techniques and great play from outside corners who use the sideline well can do a good job against any passing game.

I'm more inclined to think last week was a wild week, but hey, you never know.

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5 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Paul R // Oct 30, 2014 - 4:26am

Beards are fine, but we haven't seen a high-quality handlebar moustache in pro sports since Rollie Fingers! I wish someone would bring it back.
Peyton Manning would look good with a handlebar.

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7 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Bright Blue Shorts // Oct 30, 2014 - 6:52am

You're discounting Aaron Rodgers flirtation with the handlebar in 2011?

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9 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Andrew Potter // Oct 30, 2014 - 8:05am

In neither case do I consider it a major hygiene/suitability issue, which is my understanding for the reasoning behind the military's haircuts.

Doesn't it have more to do with secure fitting of items like gas masks?

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11 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by SFC B // Oct 30, 2014 - 9:18am

That is the utilitarian argument for why males are required to shave their face, but, honestly, if you're not walking around with your protective mask then it is silly. The reailty is that the power-that-be don't want men with facial hair. It is a wholly subjective decision. Should a Chief of Staff come along who really digs Civil War hair styles then the rules will change.

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14 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Tom Gower // Oct 30, 2014 - 12:52pm

I was thinking the short haircuts as a lice prevention measure.

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16 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by ChrisS // Oct 30, 2014 - 1:41pm

I think it is more of the Uniformity of the Uniform, i.e. an army works best when everyone is a uniform faceless cog

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12 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Pat // Oct 30, 2014 - 9:47am

I think you're trying to impute motives, when cupidity is all the motive you need.

'Impute'? 'Cupidity'? In Scramble? What's next, we start debating the finer points of 1800s English literature?

In all seriousness that sentence was an impressively long-winded way to say "Dude, they just want the money."

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13 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Kevin from Philly // Oct 30, 2014 - 11:51am

Hmm...first you pick my Eagles, and now you refuse to pick against them? I'll have to go back and see if you took the Under on them before the season.

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15 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Tom Gower // Oct 30, 2014 - 12:53pm

Yes, I did in fact take the Under on Philadelphia.

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18 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Kevin from Philly // Oct 30, 2014 - 2:36pm


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17 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Goatee No-tee

by Ezra Johnson // Oct 30, 2014 - 1:49pm

They should simply have the Thursday games coincide with bye weeks. Of course, that would entail having fewer Thursday games, which probably won't happen. If they haven't already, the NFL will at some point reach a saturation point of diminishing returns.

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