by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: One of the things that probably makes the NFL so popular is that it's a very predictable thing. Outside of Monday night, and now the weekly Thursday game, your team will be playing on Sunday. That makes it easy to fall into a ritualistic appreciation of Sundays.
Mike: Particularly if, like me, the fan in question is busy Saturdays and is not sitting around watching football games. Well, I am watching football games, just not the ones everyone else is watching. Saturdays are usually underclass high school games for me, working on skills and helping younger officials. This year, college work has crept into Sundays, which hasn't been great for my free time (watching games on tape during the week). That's done with for now, however, so things are going back to normal.
Tom: I am, sometimes, but as the years have gone on, I've become less involved in sitting in front of the television on Saturdays. Sunday is definitely the biggest day of my week.
For many people, that ritualistic appreciation includes tailgating before attending home games. But we're both out-of-market fans who don't regularly attend games. Even as out-of-market, non-attending fans, though, we can still have our rituals and regular habits of behavior. Do you do anything like that, Mike, or is it just sitting on the seat in front of the viewing apparatus when you get the chance to do so?
Mike: Well, when we first were married, Sunday was kind of our family day. The wife and I would just sit down together and watch all of the football, which was nice considering I was a student and she was working full time. So football was our couple thing.
Now that we have kids, it's a bit more complicated. Beatrix likes football, so she'll sit and watch with us off and on, but Sylvia is too young for TV and we try to get her to play in the play area behind the couch. We have had varying success in this endeavor.
Tom: That's one of the big parts of the ritual, getting together with somebody else. Common among out-of-market fans, at least some of them. A former co-worker, also out of market, would get together weekly with a friend.
Mike: At their home, or at a bar, or what?
Tom: At the home of the one with Sunday Ticket, most weeks, or the other's home when the team was on local television. I feel like about the only fan who's never spent a Sunday when not out of town at a bar. I'm in my ninth consecutive season with Sunday Ticket, so of course it's not like I need to go to a bar to see the Titans.
Mike: See, we never went to the bar. Part of it was probably that my wife is a Browns fan, and Browns games have not been appointment viewing since the Bernie Kosar days. And as we have spent much time chronicling, Steelers fans are extremely paranoid. So not seeing our teams' games live was never too much of a problem.
Tom: Hmm. Yeah, even when I didn't have Sunday Ticket, I would still pay attention to Titans games even if I wasn't watching them.
Mike: Oh, we pay attention to them. We have a laptop on the coffee table with Game Center open for our games, just not the video feed. And then I sit in IRC for updates on all the games on which I'm not keeping tabs. It's a nice way to immerse one's self in football.
Tom: Do you do anything surrounding the games? For me, the Sunday morning ritual of levying provisions and preparing for the long day of watching is almost as much a part of Sunday as screaming about conservatism on fourth downs. And when I really get things right, the brats are ready to come off the grill right when halftime begins, for an uninterrupted eating session.
Mike: We make dip, usually. We usually have a soda during the second game. We are extremely boring. The wife has gotten into the habit of dressing Sylvia in a Browns sweatshirt one of my brothers-in-law gave Beatrix as a joke some Christmas past. Really, it's our chance to unwind a bit. And scream about players not running forward.
Tom: This may be the one time I am more wound up than you. One of the reasons for my level of bar aversion is I feel the need to restrain myself in public, with other people around, while at home, alone, I can unleash my inner nut. The whole jumping-up-and-down, screaming, and cursing bit is generally frowned upon in public.
Mike: Unless you are actually at the game, yes.
Tom: I don't know about you, but the cursing bit is usually frowned upon at games I've attended, too.
Mike: Yeah, not big fans of that.
Tom: Immediately after That Chris Johnson Run, I had to intentionally restrain myself from teaching the 9-year-olds sitting by me all sorts of new words. And I'm not talking about things like "alluvial," "arrogate," or "syncopate" either. Then again, I'm sure watching Trent Richardson will do plenty to educate those young Colts fans in all those special new words anyway.
Mike: You'd be surprised what young Bears fans have learned already.
Tom: I'm sure somewhere out there, some Bears fan offspring's first words are going to be "Fire Mel Tucker."
Mike: I learned this week that Miami and Detroit both deserve everyone's attention. It was interesting watching the very well-played match (aside from a weird back-to-back interceptions sequence) between these two perennial afterthoughts this past week. Yes, Detroit's rushing offense is terrible. I've been ringing that bell for the past year. Trust me, I know. But the passing game is coming to life on the wings of Calvin Johnson's return, and Matthew Stafford has finally become something slightly less than a discombobulated mess, mechanics-wise.
Meanwhile, miraculously, the Lions have found a defense, particularly against the run. They rank second-best in the league by Adjusted Line Yards, but most importantly are tackling well behind the big names on the defensive line, ranking fourth in Second-Level Yards and ninth in the league in Open Field rushing defense. All of this wrapped up by a performance by the secondary that is most likely a mirage, it's so good. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it while it lasts!
Mike: In fact, the only team with a better pass defense DVOA than Detroit is ... Miami.
Tom: The Dolphins are a team I'm just starting to pay more attention to, what with the destruction of San Diego last week. I haven't watched this game yet, though I probably will before Sunday. What about them stands out to you?
Mike: As we discussed before the season started, Miami has a great pass rush, and is sitting in fifth place with an 8.1 percent Adjusted Sack Rate. They're getting great pressure from their defensive line, and that's feeding into everything else. It was a bit bizarre watching a Detroit game that was all about defense, honestly, and that was a lot of fun. Miami can run the ball effectively, and Ryan Tannehill is competent, so it's not like you're watching film from the early-'00s Ravens.
So there are good things to watch on offense for both teams to pair with some nice defense. The game was a real treat, and I hope that it leads people to reconsider these teams.
Tom: It's nice to hear the teams that are currently sixth and ninth in DVOA can produce an interesting game.
Mike: Unexpectedly sixth and ninth, is my point!
Tom: Fair enough.
Do you remember about six weeks ago when Steve Smith, Esq., lit up his old Panthers team for 139 yards and two scores, and we were getting all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about how Carolina was so wrong about him?
Mike: No. Someone thought Carolina was wrong about him?
Tom: Some people did.
Now, he doesn't have 139 yards in his last three games combined. He's still a 35-year-old receiver. NFL seasons are long, especially at that age, and be careful before singing the praises of veterans with a lot of tread on their tires who have some success early in the season. If you sold Steve Smith in fantasy after his big day to an owner more willing to bet against Father Time, bully for you. If you decided to ride with his late career resurgence, I'm sorry, but it's too late. Carolina's problem was not losing Steve Smith, it was failing to adequately replace him. Then again, I suppose adding one useful receiver in Kelvin Benjamin and a bunch of really marginal players does more or less replicate what Carolina had at receiver in 2013. Carry on, Dave Gettleman, carry on.
Loser League Update
Full results for this week and the season to date for your Loser League team are available on the Loser League results page. Each week, Scramble for the Ball highlights the top scorers at each position.
Quarterback: Getting to double-digit Loser League points for a quarterback feels at times like scoring 400 points on the SAT, about as difficult as falling out of bed. Yet for the second week in a row, a quarterback sits at a lowly -2 points. This time, it was Andy Dalton for his three-interception, 86-yard performance in the wind of Paul Brown Stadium.
Running backs: Only one running back this week avoided the penalty and had less than 40 yards of offense without scoring a touchdown, so the leaders this week are a pair of fumblers. Charles Sims came off injured reserve for the Buccaneers and went 8-23 and 2-17 through the air, but fumbled and finished with 1 point (no partial credit in LL). DeAngelo Williams had precisely 10 more rushing yards (on five more carries) and the same number of receiving yards (on one more catch), also fumbled, and had 2 points.
Wide receivers: Amazing though James Jones' game against Denver was, it did not put him among the Loser League leaders for the week. Chris Givens averaged 0.5 yards per target and 1.0 yards per catch on his two grabs for 0 points. Teammates Marlon Brown and the aforementioned Steve Smith, Rules and Regulations, plus, shockingly, Jerricho Cotchery all had multiple catches for less than 20 yards for 2 points.
Kicker: If you did not watch or look at the box score of the Jaguars-Cowboys game, you might be surprised to see Josh Scobee with just one point after his team lost 31-17. Jacksonville had a safety and went for two after their second touchdown, though. Matching his 1 was Ryan Succop, whose Titans squad got their seven points the conventional way.
Keep Chopping Wood: Succop would not have ended up with one point had Shonn Greene not fumbled trying to reach the end zone on Tennessee's first possession. Bad offenses cannot afford mistakes like that. Greene, at least, has a good track record of ball security. The same is not true of the much more talented Bryce Brown, who also fumbled at the goal line, and in a game his team ended up losing by four points.
Mike Martz Award: Todd Haley apparently does not believe in the easy button. Ben Roethlisberger threw seven deep touchdowns in the Steelers previous two games. Against the Jets on Sunday, he only attempted four passes in the first half beyond the line of scrimmage. That might have been a good idea for the Bengals, in bad weather conditions with a limited quarterback. Against a secondary featuring New York's perhaps seventh and eighth cornerbacks, this strategy seems deserving of a Martz Award.
Lock of the Week
Tom: Mass hysteria! Cats and dogs living together! We both got our picks right! The Falcons took care of the Buccaneers. The Browns, underdogs though they were, defeated the Bengals even more decisively.
I am now 3-6 on the season, while you are 2-7. 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: Oh man, I finally get to use my voodoo powers to curse the Patriots. Or perhaps not, actually. I am genuinely surprised the Colts' defense is merely below average.
Tom: They were actually playing reasonably well until people wrote a bunch of articles about how surprisingly well they were playing. Greg Manusky was doing a great job creating pressure on a team that without Robert Mathis does not have any real pass rushers.
Mike: Inconsistent defenses and whatnot, yes. Still, I will give them the benefit of the doubt for now. I'll instead stick with my oath to stay in the NFC, although the last time I picked the Falcons it blew up in my face. That said, in a battle between teams with terrible defenses, I'll take the one that actually has a functioning offense. Considering what we just saw Mark Sanchez do ("not fall on his face"), Matt Ryan owners have to be salivating. Atlanta Falcons +1.5 at Carolina Panthers.
Tom: A couple interesting games this week. One is the Monday night contest, which DVOA suggests should be the Steelers by a point or a couple points instead of the Steelers -5.5. I lean odds over DVOA here, though.
Mike: Please don't say that.
Tom: Fine. Zach Mettenberger is the greatest *berger quarterback in the history of earth, and the Titans should favored by 55 points instead of 5.5-point underdogs. Happy now?
Tom: Even more interesting, the 49ers are favored by four points against the Giants in New Jersey. DVOA suggests that line is off by a bit, and the Giants should instead be favored. I know, Aldon Smith is back. I know, the 49ers just beat the Saints in New Orleans. I know, the Giants have offensive line issues and plenty of cornerback injury issues.
But I also know San Francisco has their own injury issues, with Patrick Willis headed to IR. I also know Rashad Jennings is back, and the Jennings-Andre Williams DVOA difference is in the neighborhood of 35%. With Jennings early in the season, the Giants had a run game that was somewhere between useful at times and highly effective. And if Odell Beckham can get open against Richard Sherman, he can get open against the 49ers secondary. Sure, the Giants do not have a strong run defense, which helps San Francisco, but I still don't trust the 49ers ground attack to control the game the way it did in 2012. I'll take the home team and the points. New York Giants +4 vs. San Francisco 49ers.