by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
As we have discussed before, having an All-Star Game in a sport like football where intensity is the selling point is kind of a silly exercise. Last season's Pro Bowl was apparently better than usual, but I didn't watch it.
Mike: That was largely because the players were told that the game might be canceled if they all phoned it as per usual.
Tom: Still, our take is that if you're having a silly exercise, you should go for maximum silliness. Every team, no matter how bad, must be represented in the Pro Bowl.
Mike: But yes, this would bring the Pro Bowl more in line with the superior MLB All-Star Game
Tom: From what I know of it, the MLB All-Star Game has trended in its own direction of silliness, which is what prompted Bud Selig to link its result to home-field advantage in the World Series in the first place. Your wacky enjoyment of baseball aside, this column gimmick is indeed a direct ripoff of that game's requirement.
Thankfully, the Pro Bowl's hodgepodge selectorate did a reasonable job for us, picking at least one player from 28 of the 32 teams in the Pro Bowl. The four teams excluded were the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, and Tennessee Titans. Three of those actually have a fairly clear-cut choice for who we can stick in. Jacksonville's best candidate is defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, whom Cian profiled in Film Room back in October. The challenge is figuring out which of the large men who are very good at playing football we want to kick out of the Pro Bowl to make room for him.
Mike: The official page is a mess of scripts. That have now crashed. Seriously NFL. L2internet.
Tom: I had no issues with it. Alternate link.
Mike: That is much better, thanks. Let's actually start with the easy one.
Tom: Odell Beckham?
Mike: A list without Odell Beckham is not a real list.
Mike: I'd go with Green, honestly. He has had an unimpressive year. And it would still leave one Bengal on the roster ... a punter! Kevin Huber.
Tom: Well, Green has missed three games and been active for two others where he didn't have a catch, including on Monday night.
Mike: Yes, if you have no impact on a third of your team's games, you should not be in the Pro Bowl unless those last two-thirds are really amazing. Green's weren't.
Tom: Absolutely. I was prepared to make a similar sort of argument about Megatron, but it's probably even more true for Green. We're settled, Beckham is in and Green is out.
For Tennessee, the only player that really makes sense is tight end Delanie Walker. Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Julius Thomas, and Jimmy Graham are all ahead of him by DVOA and DYAR, but even a banged-up Cam Newton isn't Jake Locker, Zach Mettenberger, and Charlie Whitehurst.
Mike: That is a really rough list.
Tom: Thomas is the candidate who first shows up to me -- he has only played in 12 games and has less than 500 yards receiving. He does lead the Broncos with 12 touchdown grabs, but is that enough to make up for 350 more yards and Walker's bigger role in his team's passing game?
Mike: Does it matter? He's the weakest of that bunch, so he must go!
Now we must find a spot for Marks and a Vikings representative.
Mike: The Vikings are going to be the hardest. I can't think of anyone on that team I would honestly say is a Pro Bowler.
Tom: That's kind of why this is an exercise in silliness.
Mike: To be fair, the Vikings are just incredibly terrible.
(Ed. Note: Actually, they really aren't. The Vikings are 24th in DVOA, roughly even with Cleveland at this point. But they have no standout players. Just a lot of average and below-average-but-not-horrible. -- Aaron Schatz)
Tom: The standouts may be Everson Griffen, justifying the contract they gave him based largely on potential with 12.0 sacks, and safety Harrison Smith, not that I've really watched enough of the Vikings to evaluate their safety play this year.
Mike: The Vikings secondary has been ... all right, I suppose
Tom: From what I've seen, their safety lapses in coverage have mostly come from Robert Blanton.
Mike: Yeah. The problem is finding someone from that list of safeties to push off. It's a pretty good list.
Tom: It is. Tashaun Gipson is the only non-name, and he has had a good season from what I've read and seen. Plus, he has one more pick and more interception return yards than Smith, so we can't knock him off because of that like it's the Pro Bowl or something. If that made any sense.
Mike: Absolutely none.
Tom: I was trying to make fun of the silliness of Pro Bowl voting, and how they'd judge safeties by interceptions and interception return yards, because those are numbers you can easily find. And we can't even use that flimsy metric to say Smith was better than Gipson.
Mike: Flimsy, even by Pro Bowl standards.
Tom: The one thing to say, though, is that the Browns secondary has two representatives between Gipson and Joe Haden, while Glover Quin is the only Lions player on the team. If you want to find a space for Smith, it's probably Gipson, or we kick off an edge rusher for Griffen.
Mike: Johnson is the other Lion, and that's where I was looking. It's ... a hard list also. Honestly, they did a really good job this year.
Tom: Sorry, Quin is the only Lions secondary player. And we should recognize that pass coverage unit. It hasn't all been the front four, good as they are.
Mike: I think it has to be Robert Quinn, unfortunately.
Tom: It's bizarre, because Quinn is such a good player who has been playing so well lately.
Mike: It is, but the only option I can see is Mario Williams, considering Buffalo has two tackles on the team, but that just doesn't seem right.
Tom: But St. Louis is still represented, and the other guys have been so good. On an absolute basis, even this season and disregarding their age, I'd take Quinn over, say, DeMarcus Ware, but in terms of their play and impact on the team over the course of the year, Quinn probably is the guy.
And funny you mention those two Buffalo tackles. We need a space for Sen'Derrick Marks still, and that's where I was looking.
Mike: Poor Bills. They finally get their act together and we try to kick them all out
Tom: That defensive line is fantastic. They deserve to have three Pro Bowlers.
Mike: Yes. Thank god our game doesn't mean anything. Still, one of them must go.
Tom: But we're committed to our exercise, even if it makes the Pro Bowl team worse. Marcell Dareus has 4.5 more sacks.
Mike: That is almost certainly the only difference we're going to find. As stupid as it is, goodbye, Kyle Williams.
Tom: Welcome to the Pro Bowl, Sen'Derrick Marks.
Aggrieved we kicked one of your favorites off the Pro Bowl roster? Think there is somebody else we missed from the four snubbed teams who should have made it instead? Correct our correction in the comments!
Mike: I suppose my lesson is that Rex Ryan still has a lot of fight left in him. His defensive game plan against the Patriots was great. His offensive game plan was unfortunately "the Jets' offense." Which probably is less a plan and more a sequence of increasingly unfortunate events. But he said he would get to Tom Brady. And he did. And it worked well. He's going to make someone an outstanding defensive coordinator next year.
Tom: If he has any interest in being a defensive coordinator for no net money, instead of going to TV for millions of dollars that don't offset what he'll be due from the Jets.
I'm tempted to make the argument that we saw serious cracks in the AFC's acknowledged top two, in that the Patriots struggled with the Jets and the Broncos lost to the Bengals with Peyton Manning thowing four interceptions. Then again, we have seen the ongoing evolution of the Broncos offense, and Rex Ryan has a long history of playing quality games against the Patriots (any Pats fan who brings up 45-3 will be sentenced to watch the Jets-Pats game that followed that one).
I mentioned this in Audibles, but it has now been in my head for a week. I always wonder why coaches are so intent to fail conventionally. Ryan Lindley wasn't going to do anything against the Seahawks. It's hard to do things against the Seahawks for even good players, and all available evidence on Lindley is that he's a very bad one. When I wrote the Arizona Cardinals chapter for Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, I was very skeptical about Bruce Arians' prospects. He has done great, but at a certain point you have to recognize the limitations of your own genius.
Mike: Well, what else is he going to do?
Tom: That, in effect, is Bill Belichick's genius, that the limitation of his own genius is the recognition that other teams are really good too, so you should beat them however you can. We saw this notably earlier in the season, when the Patriots rolled the Colts with Jonas Gray and then sent Gray, and the six offensive lineman sets they used so effectively, and the run game in general, to the bench as they rolled the Lions the next week. Be really good at and believe in what you do, but recognize the limits of what you are best at, and if that's not your best option for achieving your goal, then try something else.
Loser League Update
Full Loser League results for every team for this week and the season to date are available on the Loser League results page. Each week, Scramble for the Ball highlights the top performers at each position.
Quarterback: If you inexplicably picked Andrew Luck for your Loser League team, this may be the only week of the season you come out looking smart, as he had 1 point thanks to no touchdowns, no rushing production, and a pair of interceptions. Josh McCown's 5 points was the lowest among quarterbacks who might have been taken in Loser League.
Running backs: Arian Foster is very good. Alfred Blue is not, picking up just 6 yards on eight carries against Baltimore's strong defensive front for 0 points. (For the curious, the post-merger record for fewest rushing yards on eight or more carries seems to be -14 by LaRod Stephens-Howling as part of the great 2012 Arizona Cardinals offense.) Doug Martin (no fumble) and Julius Randle (fumble) were runners-up with 1 point each.
Wide receivers: Ricardo Lockette, Donte Moncrief, and Josh Morgan each had multiple receptions and fewer than 10 yards receiving for 0 points. Of those, only Moncrief was started by a current Scramble writer as part of a winning championship effort.
Kicker: The Seattle Seahawks almost completely shut up the glass-completely-empty pessimist in their dominating win against the Arizona Cardinals. The reason they could not completely shut them up: Steven Hauschka's lousy performance, in which he missed three field goals and ended up with -1 despite making five extra points.
Keep Chopping Wood: There was a lot more to the Vikings' loss to the Miami Dolphins than long-snapper Cullen Loeffler bouncing a snap to punter Jeff Locke in the final minute to create the situation for a punt block and a game-deciding safety, like the offensive tackles' toreador-like performances in pass protection on the drive that created the punting situation in the first place, or a defense that gave up four touchdowns on four second half possessions, but none of that carries quite the same sort of You Had One Job implications.
Mike Martz Award: As head coach of the Chicago Bears, Marc Trestman has control over the starting lineup. We learned that this past week, when he made the call to bench Jay Cutler and play Jimmy Clausen, only afterward informing general manager Ray Emery he decided to play Jimmy Clausen, so awe-inspiring as a Panthers rookie that he had not started since said rookie season, against a fearsome Lions defense. The result: 14 points, with one scoring drive starting at the Detroit 11 after a bad turnover and the other getting to fourth-and-23 and only ending up in any points because the Lions roughed the punter. Bonus: Clausen got hurt, so Cutler is back in the starting lineup. Thus endeth perhaps the most obvious "starting quarterback as organizational power play" move this side of Josh Freeman on Monday Night Football.
Fetal Position Lock of the Week
Tom: Mike and Tom's "no money down, guaranteed to be wrong or your money back" picks lived (insert direction here) to their reputation last week.
Tom: The Jaguars, favorites for the first time in more than two seasons, beat the Titans and covered. The Ravens not only didn't cover, but they were defeated by a Case Keenum-led Houston squad.
Mike: We're not even reliably useless.
Tom: We are now both 4-10 on the 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: +5 seems really optimistic for the Kyle Orton machine, but New England has less than nothing to play for. They already have the first seed locked up. They're healthy but not tremendously so. The Patriots will not have a functioning offense and the Bills will be playing to vent some frustration after they fell out of the playoffs picture.
Tom: Yes, the great Week 17 dilemma. Do you try to pick a line in a competitive game, or do you try to pick a game between teams with nothing to play for?
Mike: I think that the Bills' defense is good enough and motivated enough to cover. Buffalo Bills +5 at New England Patriots. Even if we did kick half of them out of the Pro Bowl.
Tom: Hmm. The San Francisco-Arizona line is in line with what Weighted DVOA suggests it should be. That's with Logan Thomas starting, but it's Week 17 and a game that scares me given Arizona's status. If Miami wasn't eliminated, I would take them, but they are.
Instead, I'll bite on one of the games that matters most. Atlanta beat Carolina earlier in the season. They have one solid cornerback in Desmond Trufant, which is enough to match up to Carolina's one quality wide receiver. Matt Ryan is the better quarterback in the game, and Julio Jones is the most dangerous receiver. Weighted DVOA suggests this line should maybe be a point higher than it is. Atlanta Falcons -4 vs. Carolina Panthers.